Today, the Blue Jackets will welcome in the Columbus media to talk about plans for the coming campaign, and set the public tone before going into this year's training camp.
Interestingly, while the sports media headlines in Columbus are being dominated by tonight's USA / Mexico match and the ongoing QB issues at Ohio State, nearly every major news outlet has commented on the fact that today is Media Day at Nationwide, and there's a current of...dare I say it...excitement? Anticipation? Interest? And it doesn't seem like they're just in it for the sumptuous buffet.
In the past, we've talked about how the team frequently tries to set a tone using the event, but this year the leadup has been a more self-assured thing. The club has stated that head coach Todd Richards, president John Davidson, and GM Jarmo Kekalainen will speak to the media. Unlike past years where a lot of the focus was on new additions or a shuffled coaching staff, the team is (generally) returning the same roster as last season, and there's no questions about the expectations - new Conference or not, the goal is a Stanley Cup, and missing the playoffs is not acceptable. The cultural shifts of the last few years have finally settled.
Here's what I'd expect to hear today (and we WILL be attending the event and providing updates this afternoon).
- Strong Foundations - Expect to hear a lot about Bob and the returning D-corps. This team is playing from the net out, and I expect the coaches / executives to reference that quite a bit
- Veteran Presence - While the team has several promising young players who are expected to take "the next step", I would expect we're going to hear the organization putting a lot on guys like Fedor Tyutin, Brandon Dubinski, Jack Johnson, and R.J. Umberger as leaders on and off ice.
- Embracing the Underdog - Despite the way a lot of fans around the NHL embraced the club in their playoff chase, not many expect them to make a big splash in a division that will include the Penguins, Rangers, Capitals, and Flyers. I think we're going to hear a restatement of the "never outworked" identity, and using that disregard as fuel to compete hard and make a bigger impact in the Metropolitan division than most expect.
Now, at the same time, there are some things I would NOT expect to hear today.
- No Guaranteed Spots - Not just in terms of performance, but in terms of younger players breaking into the lineup. As much as I think the organization would like to see Ryan Murray, Boone Jenner, or Ilari Melart push for a spot on the NHL roster, you're not going to see them handed spots before camp opens. This is going to be a very "Show Me" camp for the club's youth, and I'd even extend that to guys like Cam Atkinson and Ryan Johansen. Nothing is guaranteed, and they want to see everyone step it up a notch.
- No Captain On Deck - While some organizations have been announcing new Captains or leadership groups over the last few weeks, I doubt we'll have a similar announcement today, given that the coaching staff has avoided the subject when asked recently.
- No Roster Shuffles - We've seen a recent crop of veteran UFAs / bought out players being invited to camps around the league this week on tryout agreements, but barring an injury this week I wouldn't expect any more free agents to be signed or PTOs to be sent out. I think Jarmo and JD want to see the group as constructed take a step without messing with the chemistry that came together last season.
- No Sell Jobs - In the past, Media day has been as much about trying to sell the team to the local media and to show why they needed to cover the club. This year, the interest is firmly in place thanks to the strong finish last season, and the fanbase is strongly engaged - I'd even say that casual fan interest is higher than it was after the club's 2008-2009 playoff appearance. They don't need to explain why this team will be worth watching - the evidence speaks for itself.