By Libby Mislan, ’17
Following the summer that turned Cleveland into Believeland, the Columbus Blue Jackets’ success, or lack thereof, is evident. During its much shorter 16-year history the Blue Jackets have only qualified for the playoffs twice, failing to advance out of the first round both times.
After a 2014 season riddled with injuries, last season started with high expectations. Nick Foligno had just been announced captain and the team appeared to be healthier. Those expectations, however, were quickly destroyed after a 0-8 start, one of the worst in NHL history. Todd Richards was promptly fired as head coach and John Tortorella was hired as his replacement. The Blue Jackets finished with one of the worst records in the NHL and missed the playoffs for yet another year.
Despite the less-than-impressive history of the Columbus Blue Jackets, Upper Arlington students are excited for the season. Junior Caitlin Walker, a hockey player for the Blue Jacket’s AAA team, is optimistic about the start of the season.
“I think the team will be better than in previous years and I’m excited because they are off to a good start. They picked up a new defenseman, Zach Werenski who is looking pretty good. So far this season, they’ve looked faster and more disciplined,” Walker said.
With many young faces, the Blue Jackets have a lot of talented players who give fans hope for this season and the future. Nineteen-year-old Zach Werenski, a first round draft pick in 2015, scored his first NHL goal in just his second professional game. Defenseman Seth Jones, just 22, and left wing Brandon Saad, 24, are two young, key players that the Blue Jackets traded for. Both have signed six-year contracts with the Jackets and are important pieces to the success of the team. Walker has a few players on the Blue Jacket roster that she enjoys watching play more than others.
“I like watching Zach Werenski and Brandon Saad. I really like Alexander Wennberg. I think he’s a great player,” Walker said.
During his first full year as head coach, John Tortorella has said that he wants to change the losing culture and mentality that exists in the Blue Jackets franchise. Walker is cautiously optimistic about Tortorella’s ability to turn the Blue Jackets into a winning team.
“We will have to see if he is a good coach. I do think he’s good for the team because, before Tortorella came, [the Blue Jackets] were lackadaisical and no one expected them to win but he’s a lot stricter and has created winning expectations for the team,” Walker said.
One of the main goals for the Blue Jackets this year is to qualify for the NHL playoffs after failing to qualify last year. The last time the Blue Jackets qualified was the 2013-14 season. Walker believes that, despite youth, the team has what it takes to make it back to the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
“I don’t think they will be able to make it far into the playoffs for a while, that’s further down the road, but they should definitely be able to make the first round,” Walker said. “They’re a young and talented team that has a lot of fan support in Columbus.”
The Blue Jackets may not be a Stanley Cup-caliber team quite yet, but going to a Blue Jackets game at Nationwide Arena is definitely a worthwhile experience.
“Going to games is fun because there is a lot of positive energy and a cannon that goes off after every goal. There’s a great community vibe. It really feels like everyone there is in it together, cheering for the Jackets,” Walker said.