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Heads-up: This is about Jared Boll. It’s about Jared Boll and it’s a bit personal and it’s not about how he should be playing in Springfield. Or playing in Kalamazoo. Or washing someone’s car.
If you draw a line through the team’s first 14 seasons after April ends, this year will probably end up in the top half. That’s not great. This franchise, as much as I love it, has not been historically successful. We know that. Everybody knows that. Which makes something I've seen a lot of this year much more difficult to stomach: Jesus Christ, everybody, lay off Jared Boll.
In the most recent disappointing season of a franchise chock full of ‘em, Jared Boll’s the guy we've decided to go after. This team’s been banged up to hell, absolutely, but first rounder Alexander Wennberg has one goal in 36 games. Matt Calvert has 12 points in 37. Cam Atkinson has 17 points in 42 games. But a fourth-line grinder who plays 7:30 a night is public enemy number one?
Boll started with Columbus the year I started with Columbus, when I first followed the team around 2007-08. I wasn't a fan since the team’s inception because I didn't go to college in Ohio until 2005, and even then it took a while for the Jackets bug and its neon-green histamines to take hold. That first year of my fandom was, like almost every other year in franchise history (this one included), pretty bad. The Jackets finished fourth in the Central, 13th in the West and missed a playoff spot by 11 points.
Through those 82 games, Boll stuck out. You knew when Boll was on the ice. He'd charge people and fight people and score sometimes (Five goals! 10 points!) and people liked Jared Boll, man. They put him on the Bud Light best friends poster in 2009-10, the year after they made the playoffs for the first and second-to-last time. The Jackets finished 14th in the West in 2009-10.
Jared Boll has played in 459 games and is the longest-tenured Blue Jacket since he first laced up his skates as a 21-year-old debuting for a franchise that only recently has gotten its shit together. Boll is not a great NHL player. He’s clearly a great hockey player, insofar as he is one of 700 men out of seven billion people to play in the world’s best hockey league. He’s not a great player in that league, though. He makes a million dollars for playing 7:27 a night, and that irks—not unfairly—a lot of people too.
I know why people don’t like Jared Boll. He’s a dinosaur, a goon in a league that rapidly moved away from goons in the past couple of seasons (albeit a goon that’s only been suspended once for a game and fined once for $2,500. Pretty good!). He tweaked his game and helped the Jackets reach the playoffs last season, but he still can’t score and a lot of times resembles lukewarm garbage. He misses checks and flies in to where the puck just was and has been known to take a bad penalty.
I’m not saying he should be in the lineup, necessarily. But Jared Boll has clearly never stopped caring. Jackets fans have put up with a lot of—I dunno, horseshit seems like the right word here—for a very long time. Bad play, bad management, bad everything. But through more than half of CBJ history, Jared Boll has suited up and played like he gave a damn—almost literally all you can ask of anyone who played for this team. "Captain Coast," people called the best player in franchise history. The three biggest enemies in CBJ lore are all people who didn’t want to play here—Adam Foote, Jeff Carter and Rick Nash. Remember when Derick Brassard took heaps and heaps of crap for dogging it? Yet here’s Boll, still plugging away and skating like a bat out of hell on every shift.
Again: I KNOW HE SUCKS (relatively). But you and I don't—and will never—play in the NHL or earn the keys to run a pro team. Eight years later, Boll has survived two different general managers and three different coaches. You don’t do that if you're not up to par or aren't good in the room. Boll clearly is, and he’s given us some memories. Remember when he broke Paul Bissonnette’s nose? Or scored a goal where Jeff Rimer broke out one of the most groan-inducing lines in his horrible career? And I'm well aware of how scientific this is, but Boll has "lost" only one fight out of nine this season on hockeyfights.com. Think what you want about fighting in pro hockey, but he’s still 28 and at least he can still do that.
This team is not going to make the playoffs. A slew of injuries derailed all hopes for that a long time ago. Yet Jared Boll’s the whipping boy, taking heat from everybody within 200 miles of Columbus who has Internet access. A lot of people have not liked Boll for a long time, and I respect those people. But Boll has always played the way you'd want your favorite team’s players to play: Hard, fast and with passion. There hasn't been much to cheer about over the past 15 years, but you can always be proud of players like that. And when Boll leaves the Jackets, whether it’s this year or later, I sure hope people in Columbus remember him more kindly than how they seem to remember him now.