My apartment is a shrine to the Columbus Blue Jackets. If you were to walk down my hallway, you would see a team photo, a team signed t-shirt from Season Ticket Holder Appreciation Day 2014, and the "We Are the 5th Line" sign all fans were given at Game 4 of the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs on the left hand side. Look to your right, and you’ll see a team signed stick, won in an R Bar raffle contest the morning of USA-Canada, mounted just above a 3 feet by 5 feet Blue Jackets flag. Straight ahead, between the closet door and my bedroom door hangs a Brandon Dubinsky photo, caught as it fell from the IGS Energy blimp last season.
Enter my bedroom, and you’ll find the "March On" flag from the franchise’s first playoff appearance hanging above my door. Several hats displayed prominently, all with signatures with varying degrees of fading. A scarf, a "Let’s Go Jackets!" sign that I don’t even remember where I got it, both hang above my desk. In my closet hangs a Jack Johnson sweater, several player t shirts (including Brandon Dubinsky, purchased minutes after his Game 4 heroics), and, somewhere in the depths with other things that will likely never see the light of day again, a Rick Nash sweater lies collecting dust.
My office at work is the same way. A Blue Jackets logo puck sits next to the tray that holds my business cards. Newspapers adorn the walls, reflecting various memories with the franchise. Displayed prominently is the one, my holy grail, simply stating: "A Night to Remember."
At the moment he let the puck fly from just inside the blue line against Phoenix, as Nationwide Arena drew its collective breath before exploding, I was on pins and needles. Columbus, so close to the playoffs, could all but seal it here. As James Wisniewski looked up and let loose with a pass from inside his defensive zone, there was no one on the team I would have rather had take the game on his stick as he crossed into the offensive zone unimpeded.
Shot. Goal. Pandemonium on the ice and in the stands. I ended up staying out far too late at R Bar celebrating, because I never wanted the feeling to end.
His goal and celebration were my happiest hockey memories to that point in my life (only to be surpassed a few days later, after being in Nationwide Arena for the first home playoff win in franchise history). At that moment, I honestly believed I was seeing the Columbus Blue Jackets turn the corner as a franchise- the kids were growing up before our eyes, loved playing together, and were ahead of schedule in their growth and development.
Ryan Johansen was traded to the Nashville Predators on Wednesday, January 6, for Seth Jones. It was a one-for-one deal, and easily the biggest trade thus far in the NHL this season. Johansen, seen as a cornerstone, a building block, a potential face of the franchise and a true number one center coming into the 2015-2016 season, was finally shipped out unceremoniously following months of speculation, trade rumors, benchings, and poor play on the ice. He has faced a healthy scratch in Arizona, a mysterious illness that sidelined him for two games early in the season, and a heart issue over the summer that left him hospitalized and, by his own admission, out of shape for the season.
Ryan Johansen ends his Blue Jackets career with the following numbers:
He scored 79 goals, 4th all time for the franchise.
He had 114 assists, 5th all time.
He had 193 points as a Blue Jacket, 4th all time.
Ryan Johansen played 309 games in his young career for the club.
There will be a time to address the loss in the scoring column, to analyze the growth of Seth Jones and then nitpick it some more, to shuffle the forward lines, and then shuffle them again in the second period because the Torts Line Blender™ never sleeps.
Ryan Johansen, for his time in Columbus, was many things. He was a top 5 draft pick, an All Star Game MVP, a healthy scratch in the AHL playoffs during the lockout season, a 70 point center, and out of shape. Like Tyler Seguin during his time with the Boston Bruins, both were plagued by on and off the ice issues, reportedly clashing with management, and scoring in bunches before being traded. As we know, Boston has come to regret that trade, as Seguin has blossomed into one of the league’s leading scorers. It remains to be seen if Columbus will regret losing Johansen in a similar manner.
I never really thought Ryan Johansen would be on the way out this season. I had heard trade rumors, we all had, of how various teams inquired about Johansen. Nashville was one, and it made sense- they needed a center, we needed a defenseman, and the Predators had more of them than they knew what to do with. At my core though, I could not sell myself on it. The Blue Jackets spent their first decade-plus of existence searching for a true goal-scoring number one center, and now they finally had one. Sure, Johansen had started poorly to start 2015-16. Who hadn’t on this team, though? Nick Foligno, a 70 point guy, has just six goals right now, the same number as Johansen, and far fewer assists.
When the news broke on Wednesday night, I was actually staggered. Tweets and texts flooded in, most of them shocked and upset, which I must admit were my initial reactions. How would this team replace his scoring? What else did they ship out with him? When that answer was "Nothing," I was more upset. The amount of pressure Seth Jones must feel, before even taking his first shift for the club, has to be immense. He’s expected to step in and be the defensive leader for the club at the ripe old age of 21. Good luck to you, Mr. Jones. I wish you all the best in that regard.
Ryan Johansen, it can safely be said, had an on-off switch. Other scouts have alluded to it, saying "He’s famous for the on-off switch," said an NHL scout when Johansen trade rumors started heating up in December. "It’s been with him a long time, and it’s probably never going to leave him." When he was on, the man was a dominant force on the ice, a puck controlling center that had vision unlike any Blue Jacket had before him. When he was off, however, lazy shifts in the defensive zone, reaching penalties, and sloppy turnovers ruled his play. That was, ultimately, the greatest frustration wish Johansen- we all saw flashes of absolute brilliance from him, but too often saw him take the next shift or the next game off. Johansen had, multiple times, showed up to start training camp out of shape, an issue the front office has expressed frustration with repeatedly. And yet, despite this frustration, Ryan Johansen has scored 160 points in 202 games since the start of the 2013-2014 season, good for 11th among centers during that time frame, according to TSN. Good and bad, almost from shift to shift. As a fan, it drove me absolutely nuts.
That’s why it was so hard for me to see him go. I genuinely loved the nights I saw him when he was on. The shootout move, the no-look pass no one else in franchise history could have made, holding off two defensemen as he skated into the zone- I was convinced he could put it all together for Columbus. As it turns out, he didn’t, and now he is a Predator. He might put it all together one day, he might not. I, for one, am glad I got to see him while I did. Unlike several other stars who have forced their way out of Columbus, I will not boo Johansen upon his return to Nationwide Arena. I will stand and I will applaud, because he was responsible for so many wonderful hockey memories during his short time here.
When I posted this on Instagram from my seats in Section 217, I was nearly in tears from pure joy. This team- the Columbus Blue Jackets- were all but in the playoffs. Chants of "C-B-J!" rang throughout the arena, and bounced around in my head for hours afterward. They were led by a young center who loved to be here, stood up for the team when others spit in their face, and scored goal after goal.
When I posted it, I made the comment on the picture: "Thanks for the memories this season. #MarchOn"
Thanks for the memories that season, and for all the other seasons, Ryan. I wish the best of luck to you in your career going forward.