Columbus Fans Are NHL’s Most Tormented
Washington. So close yet so far.
The Presidents Trophy winners were eliminated from the 2016 Stanley Cup playoffs by Pittsburgh on Tuesday night.
The Penguins have now eliminated the Capitals from the post season eight times in their 41-year history, going on to win the Stanley Cup in three of those years just to pour a little extra salt on the wound.
Caps fans could be forgiven for feeling like they are cursed this morning. Ralph Russo of the Associated Press even went as far as suggesting they were the most ‘tormented’ fan base in the NHL.
Despite another heart breaking loss on Tuesday, they are not.
That ‘honour’ belongs to Columbus.
Since their inaugural season in 2000/01, the Blue Jackets have made the playoffs just twice. Their first post season foray ended in a 4-0 sweep at the hands of Detroit, and it would be five more years before Ohio hosted playoff hockey again.
Still, at least they won a game (two in fact) during their second playoff appearance before being ousted by the Penguins…
On top of this exasperating lack of post season action during the past 15 years, Columbus has boasted just one player who could be described as anything like a genuine, bona fide franchise star: Rick Nash.
Eventually, even he couldn’t take it any longer.
They have attempted to replace Nash, sought other stars, only to find unwilling or uninterested talents wash up at the Nationwide Arena.
Jeff Carter was out the door after less than a year while Marian Gaborik was a shadow of his former self, spending more time in the trainers room than on the ice during his time with the organisation.
The ultimate kick in the teeth may have come in 2013, when both received Stanley Cup rings as members of the Los Angeles Kings.
Ryan Johansen might have developed in to the kind of player fans could be proud of, a guy to hang their hat on, but that relationship also went sour.
Even Jarmo Kekalainen much praised appointment as General Manager is now somewhat tainted thanks to the clubs status as a penthouse spenders with basement results.
Sure, Seth Jones, Boone Jenner or Ryan Murray may one day become ‘the man’ in Columbus, parts of something greater than we have seen thus far in Ohio; but right now, you’d be forgiven for feeling like you need to give a Blue Jackets fan a hug.
For a market so willing to embrace its sporting teams, the Blue Jackets have given Columbus exactly nothing to be proud of in more than a decade.
Blues fans will tell you they’ve endured near 50 years of hurt, but the franchise has at least seen the Stanley Cup final – albeit during a time when Montreal were mid-dynasty and Boston still had Bobby Orr at his peak – while perhaps boasting more quality in today’s line up than Columbus has had in their entire history.
Ok, that’s going a bit far. But the Blues have at least teased their fans with the idea that they could win over the years.
Add on top of this some Divisional title, a Presidents Trophy and a brief relationship with the Great One, and the Blues history is littered with a few small highlights to get nostalgic about, even as the sports biggest prize eludes them.
How about Florida? The butt of so many jokes down the years, their run to the 1996 Stanley Cup Final is still the thing of legends while they also got to appreciate Pavel Bure at his best.
Now, the future looks a lot brighter again after winning the Atlantic Division with a core largely comprised of young talent able to carry the franchise for the next decade.
Even the derisible Atlanta Thrashers had Ilya Kovalchuk and Dany Heatley for a period of time – two of the best offensive players in the world back then. It was a dumpster fire much of the time, but fans had someone to cheer for at least.
Likewise Washington, despite their disappointments, have seen perhaps the greatest goalscorer in NHL history do his thing for a decade, and the Capitals are, regardless of what people might try to tell you about curses, a competitor right now. A Stanley Cup contender.
Columbus? They finished inside the bottom three of their Conference for the tenth time and will add another top five pick at the draft. Perhaps this one will stick around to keep Ryan Murray company…
This is not a call to move the Blue Jackets. Far from it. Ohio loves hockey and deep down it loves the Blue Jackets.
But it’s hard to watch something you love sit there eating urinal cakes because it got pee’d on again and again.
The market deserves better. The market can sustain better. And the club clearly isn’t shy about spending money in order to try and make itself better. It just spends it badly, and one might say drafts badly too. Not a great recipe and one which seems to dog the franchise.
Overhauling can be tough, but fortunately for the Blue Jackets it does not feel impossible. There are green shoots and a turn around is very possible.
It’s just a shame we’re back to having this very same conversation which fans have already had too many times before in Ohio.
The Blue Jackets history is short compared to others, but it’s surely as hell painful.