For the fourth time in their 17-year history, the Columbus Blue Jackets have qualified for the NHL’s Stanley Cup Playoffs. You may remember they made the playoffs last year as well, marking the first time this franchise has qualified for the postseason in consecutive campaigns. Neat! To celebrate, I decided to update my bandwagon fan’s guide to the CBJ to cover all that’s new with our beloved hockey team.
If you missed the boat last year or lapsed during the regular season, we’ve got you covered. Consider this your unofficial primer to get you (re)started as a Columbus Blue Jackets fan. We’re glad to have you.
This portion of last year’s bandwagon post was incredibly grim. You can click on the link above to catch up, but here’s the short version: the Blue Jackets have been bad for a very long time. They made the playoffs in 2009 (against Detroit), 2014 and 2017 (both Pittsburgh), stacking up a meager body of postseason work that stands at a combined record of 3-12. They’ve never won a playoff series. Have you ever seen the famous New York Jets draft mistake compilation? You could make one of those with draft picks, roster decisions and in-game meltdowns from this franchise over its history.
That previous paragraph still reads fairly grim. But this year feels different. Buoyed by a smattering of young, bona fide stars, the Jackets proved that last year’s incredible season wasn’t a fluke. Coach John Tortorella seems to have genuinely changed the culture for a team that now believes it can win every game it plays. This is a relatively new—and monumental—development.
We’ll talk more about this season further in the post, but we’ve got to catch you up on some CBJ history. Here’s an admittedly incomplete list of important Blue Jackets moments to celebrate (before this season):
- Inaugural season, forward Geoff Sanderson scores 30 goals (2000-01)
- Forward Rick Nash shares the Rocket Richard Trophy for most goals scored (2003-04)
- Rick Nash scores The Goal against Phoenix (Jan. 17, 2008)
- Jackets qualify for the playoffs for the first time, goalie Steve Mason wins the Calder Trophy for rookie of the year (2008-09)
- Forward Vinny Prospal points at the scoreboard in a 3-0 shutout of Detroit (Mar. 9, 2013)
- In a lockout-shortened season, goalie Sergei Bobrovsky wins the Vezina Trophy for best goalie in the league (2012-13)
- Jackets qualify for the playoffs for the second time (2014)
- Columbus earns its first-ever playoff win thanks to a Matt Calvert overtime goal in Game 2 (April 19, 2014)
- Brandon Dubinsky scores with 22.5 seconds left in regulation to force overtime against Pittsburgh in Game 4, setting up Nick Foligno’s game winner in overtime (April 23, 2014)
- The Blue Jackets beat the Montreal Canadiens 10-0 (Nov. 4, 2017)
- Columbus wins 16 games in a row and posts a perfect record in December, the second-longest winning streak in NHL history (Jan. 3, 2017)
- Jackets qualify for the playoffs for the third time (Mar. 20, 2017)
- Sergei Bobrovsky wins the Vezina Trophy again (2016-17)
That should catch you up. There have been way more losses and sadness than good times, but the past handful of seasons have stood as the best in franchise history. Last season set franchise records for points, wins, wins at home, goals for, goals against and pretty much anything else positive you could think of. But after a five-game flameout to the Pittsburgh Penguins in round one of last year’s playoffs, it was easy to write off the Jackets as a 16-win wonder. Which leads us to...
Quick recap of 2017-18:
- A 10-game winning streak to break free of a winter slump and propel the team into playoff position
- A summer trade for Artemi Panarin from Chicago, after which the dynamic Russian forward promptly set the team record for points in a season (81)
- Rookie center Pierre-Luc Dubois blossomed as a future franchise anchor, exceeding all expectations to play in all 82 games and finish third in points (48)
- The emergence of defenseman Seth Jones as one of the best defensemen in the NHL, jelling further with 20-year-old Zach Werenski to form one of the league’s best pairs
- Four hat tricks in eight games from Cam Atkinson, Panarin, Thomas Vanek and Dubois
- Spotting the Edmonton Oilers a 3-0 goal lead and winning 7-3
- A 9-3 record in overtime, one of the best records in the NHL
Last year was a surprise. Nobody expected a team that finished 27th in the league to suddenly rip off 16 straight wins and finish fourth a year later. You can think of 2016-17 as the Blue Jackets’ coming out party. This season was more about “How far will they fall back to Earth?” Early returns saw the team sandwich small losing streaks between strong runs, keeping them in playoff position for Thanksgiving.
The CBJ essentially tread water and slipped in the standings until a dreadful February threatened to do them in, losing eight out of the month’s 11 games. What may have saved the Jackets came at the trade deadline, where general manager Jarmo Kekäläinen traded for a trio of players (former Jacket favorite Mark Letestu, defenseman Ian Cole and forward Thomas Vanek) on February 26. The team lost its next two games before winning 13 of its final 16 (and that season finale was a tank job that we’ll talk about in a second) to punch its ticket to the playoffs.
Last season was flashy; gaudy numbers, postseason awards and franchise records. But coach John Tortorella was fond of saying that the team only played “10 extra days” when it mattered in the playoffs. The Jackets had to show their work this year.
The Washington Capitals, the Metropolitan Division champions. You probably have heard of Alex Ovechkin, the future Hall of Famer who scored his 600th goal this season. The Capitals are perennial Stanley Cup contenders who always lose in the playoffs, often in agonizing (for their fans) fashion. This year’s Caps team failed to reach the regular season heights of years past, but profess a focus and eye toward playoff success. They got the better of the CBJ over the season, but the Jackets intentionally sat many of its best players in the season finale in order to nominally give guys some rest, but likely in reality to lose on purpose and avoid postseason bogeyman Pittsburgh. The Blue Jackets wanted the Capitals and they got them. We’ll cover the heck out of this series in the coming days.
Players to Love
For you, the new fan, one question looms: who should I love? Good news: You have some incredible choices! Here are a few fan favorites in no particular order:
- Nick Foligno: The captain. American. Steady season as one of the oldest guys on the team at 30 years old. By all accounts, the nicest human to ever live. After every win, he stretches his arms wide to hug…
- Sergei Bobrovsky: Goalie Bob. Goofy, Russian and extremely good. Famous as a TSN (Canadian ESPN) anchor’s catchphrase. Didn’t post the same jaw-dropping numbers as last year when he won his second Vezina Trophy, but the Jackets are definitely not in the playoffs without him.
- Artemi Panarin: The Jackets shipped Brandon Saad to Chicago to bring Panarin to Columbus, a move that turned out to be a heist of the highest order. He set a new franchise record for points in a season, doesn’t speak a ton of English and films adorable videos with his dog. Everybody’s new favorite player.
- Cam Atkinson: A 28-year-old diminutive (5’ 7”) American forward who battled through injuries early in the season and has come on like a house afire lately. Loves to laugh.
- Brandon Dubinsky: A 31-year-old American forward who fell of a cliff in 2017-18, numbers-wise. A heart and soul guy sharing a long, storied history with coach John Tortorella. There are whispers that he may not be here for too much longer, despite earning $5.8 million dollars each of the next three years. Still, he’s given a lot to this club.
- Seth Jones: The team’s lone All-Star before an illness put Zach Werenski in the All-Star Game instead, Jones has become a 23-year-old team leader on defense. He and Werenski each scored 16 goals, a new CBJ defenseman record, and his 57 points ranks second on the entire team. He’s big, strong and skilled. Son of former NBA player and coach Popeye Jones, a fact you will definitely hear during the playoffs.
- Zach Werenski: Last year, he turned in the best season by a rookie or a defensemen in Columbus history. Took a puck to the head last year in the playoffs and then a fan made a shirt of his busted face. He’s been battling a mystery injury this year but he’s still an elite-level d-man and only 20 years old.
- Pierre-Luc Dubois: The Blue Jackets took no small amount of grief for picking PLD over another highly-touted player with the third pick at the 2016 NHL Draft, but he’s proven that choice correct this year. He set a new CBJ rookie record with 20 goals and has become the guy who loves to get under other teams’ skin. A big, Canadian center who will likely be a franchise keystone for years to come.
- Alex Wennberg: A quiet season by his standards, but he’s still devastatingly handsome. And Swedish.
- Josh Anderson: A big Canadian forward whose contract negotiations with Columbus stretched into training camp. He surprised everyone out of the gate, leading the team in goals through the first third of the season. He missed the final stretch with an injury but should be good to go for the playoffs.
- Matt Calvert: The longest tenured Blue Jacket playing in his eighth season for Columbus. A gritty, tough speedster, he matched his career-best in points. Has a knack for coming up with big moments.
If you’re lucky enough to catch one of the playoff games in Nationwide (or any game in the future), there are a couple of things you need to know to blend in with the locals.
- Leo Welsh sings the national anthem and he’s awesome. After he’s introduced on the PA, the entire crowd yells “LEO!”
- The Jackets own a cannon that fires when the team skates out and after every goal. Best goal celebration in the league.
- After the third CBJ goal, fans yell “CHILI!” to the tune of the Mexican Hat Dance, as fans get free chili the next day. It used to be Wendy’s, then Bob Evans, now it’s Roosters.
Favorite GIFs from this season
You’ve stuck with this guide long enough. We’re here to help your newfound fandom and our wonderful commenters will love to help you out in your journey. I’ll leave you with some of my favorite GIFs from this season.
Alex Ovechkin wanted to chat with the Columbus bench to start the second and Torts was not having it: pic.twitter.com/3m35o16bLz— x - The Cannon (@cbjcannon) February 27, 2018
Artemi Panarin will do it all by himself, thank you very much pic.twitter.com/3JpxSyxd4z— x - The Cannon (@cbjcannon) January 12, 2018
See you in the playoffs.