Monday, August 08, 2005

The Columbus Blueline Jackets

photo: Columbus Bluejackets
Fear the Bug!
Hockey's most unfortunate excuse for a mascot takes on Brutus Buckeye in a battle for the hearts and minds of Columbusites

CasonBlog's second "UFA Winner, winner, chicken dinner award" goes to Doug MacLean and the Columbus Blue Jackets. Much like counterpart Mike Keenan, Doug MacLean seized the opportunity offered via the new CBA to leverage a healthy salary cap margin and create a little GM magic. Unlike the Florida Panthers, the Blue Jackets enjoy some pretty strong fan support. Columbus is a city that embraced hockey long before the arrival of the NHL. When I lived in America's grayest city during the 1990's, a Friday night ECHL Columbus Chill game ticket was just about the hardest thing to get. By the time the NHL was ready to expand again in 2000, Columbus was a town ready to rise above being Buckeyeburg and ready to join the ranks of other big league cities. If Cleveland and Cincy already had the market cornered in three of the big four sports, by God, Columbus would own the fourth.
Now after four years in the league, Doug MacLean realizes that the Jackets are just about to wear out their warm welcome. Jackets fans are sophisticated and faithful-more willing than those in many other hockey nubile burgs (like South Florida) to await the emergence a competitive team. The Blue Jackets are solid in goal and young and talented up front with Nash, Zhverdev and Vyborny. God I love Rick Nash! I saw him during his rookie year in Raleigh, and he is the prototype power forward for the 21st Century. Huge, powerful, fast, and blessed with soft hands, he can either bowl you over or blow by you-which is his choice, not yours.
Last week, MacLean skillfully addressed his team's most glaring weaknesses. The Jackets ranked 24th in the league in '03-'04 on the power play and 29th in the +/- column. First, he brought in Adam Foote, one of hockey's most physical defensive-defensemen. With his name emblazoned twice on Lord Stanley's cup, Foote brings instant impact to the Columbus blueline, and instant leadership on the ice and in the clubhouse. Can you imagine the dasher collisions that await during this training camp between Nash and Foote? Next, MacLean beat out several other teams to land coveted free agent blueliner Bryan Berard. He now has the power play quarterback his team sorely lacked. In a matter of days, Doug MacLean has moved to keep the faith with the Nationwide Arena faithful. Rick Nash is now signed for five years, Foote for three and Berard for two. Unlike Mike Keenan, who needed to invest in the here and now by bringing in the AARP line of Roberts, Nieuwendyk, and Gelinas, MacLean knew he could still leverage the good faith of the Jacket faithful and invest in the future of the program. Solid in goal with Denis, and even more solid with the departure of the grumpy Arturs Irbe and arrival of rising star Martin Prusek, teams in the Western Conference will soon learn to Fear the Bug!
Note: CasonBlog received no financial compensation for this very over-the-top glow

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