“Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.” – Andy Dufresne
With the recent play of the Blue Jackets, there have been a fair number of discussions regarding the future of the team- should we fully embrace the tank, are we ruining the future of the franchise by winning now- it’s been hectic and occasionally heated. At the heart of the discussion (and really, the root cause of the discussion in the first place) is the youth of the team. Seth Jones, Ryan Murray, Alexander Wennberg, Boone Jenner, Brandon Saad- the future of the team, young and under control for the foreseeable future, have led the team on a winning stretch (their first of the year) since the New Year, and particularly since the All Star Break.
I’m not here to tell anyone how to feel. I’m not here to say that you should embrace the tank, or that you’re wrong for embracing it. Each one of us is entitled to our own opinions, and whether you think we’re on track to land Auston Matthews or we’re on track to be the NHL’s version of the Milwaukee Bucks, that’s your opinion and you’re entitled to it.
Instead, I want to talk about hope. Not the reasons for the hope- that’s been covered- but hope in general. As Andy Dufresne mentions in The Shawshank Redemption, hope never dies. As Blue Jackets fans, it seems like we haven’t had much to hope for until recent years. The first ten years or so of the franchise’s existence, save for one run by a rookie goaltender, the team was mired at the bottom of the standings. There was little faith in the team or the front office, and hope was at an all-time low.
With the addition of John Davidson and, later, the addition of Jarmo Kekalainen, fan optimism was through the roof for the first time in the history of the franchise. After the playoff run, hopes were higher still.
As we all know, those hopes have come crashing down with a resounding thud. After an injury filled campaign last season, the Blue Jackets have spent most of this season mired in last place in the NHL, seemingly in the driver’s seat for Auston Matthews, the prize at the top of the 2016 Entry Draft.
Recently, however, the Blue Jackets have rediscovered the concept of “winning hockey games.” This recent stretch has lifted the team out of last place, cast doubts on the future of the franchise (especially with documented roster issues and cap issues), and divided the fanbase. Should the team shut guys like Sergei Bobrovsky down to ensure health and optimize chances at getting Matthews? Should they embrace winning games, even at the cost of draft picks?
Hope is a funny thing. At our core as Blue Jackets fans, we’re all hoping to see the same thing- we all want the opportunity to vociferously boo Gary Bettman before he hands Nick Foligno the Stanley Cup. There are disagreements in how we get there, but through it all, that hope is there. It’s what keeps us buying tickets, going to games, commenting on these articles, discussing the team with friends- we hope that one day, we can look to the ice and see our guys celebrating as confetti falls.
I may not know each of you personally, but I know you, if that makes sense. You’re reading this because you love this team. It hurts when this team struggles. It was agonizing seeing this team start 0-8 this year, but even then- at our lowest point- we still hoped (or at least I did) that this team might be able to get it turned around and go to the playoffs. That never happened, obviously. But, as this team has started winning lately, it’s gotten me thinking about what it means to hope.
Each game the Blue Jackets play, I want this team to win. I want us to run roughshod over the league and play pretty hockey while we do it (I want them to be the Washington Capitals, basically). I recognize that Auston Matthews represents the best hope for that right now, but I cannot embrace the tank. I love winning too much. I hope they keep it up. The last few weeks have been fun- for the first time since last April, I’m having fun watching the Columbus Blue Jackets. I hope this continues.
Hope has been a hard thing to come by this season. Seth Jones, Cam Atkinson, Brandon Saad- they’ve done their best to give us reasons for optimism going forward. Things aren’t all doom and gloom in Nationwide Arena.
I will spend the remainder of the season looking for reasons to hope for the future going forward. Trade deadline moves, the development of the youth, the wins- those all give me hope for the future of this franchise. I’m not going to spend the rest of the season being pessimistic. It’s exhausting and sports are supposed to be fun.
I hope next season we come out and play better. I hope to see this franchise improve. I hope for a Stanley Cup.