For the first years of the Columbus Blue Jackets franchise, the team had spirited matchups with the Nashville Predators. These games involved fights, blowouts, and Columbus generally falling in the end. In the first decade of the Blue Jackets’ existence, the Jackets won just 30.4% of their games against the Predators, compiling a 15-35-1 record.
So why were these games considered a rivalry?
Because the Predators were mean, the games were mean, and these teams did not like each other.
Columbus won two games in Nashville during the 2000-01 season, and didn’t win two games in a season in Nashville again until 2013, the final year Columbus was in the Western Conference. From 2006 until 2012, Columbus did not win a single game in Bridgestone Arena.
But the seeds of animosity were there. Need proof? Check out this preview from On the Forecheck:
This is about as non-rivaled as a rivalry can get.
With that said, I’ve always kind of hated the Blue Jackets. I don’t really like Ohio and I’m not terribly fond of the Civil War, to which their name gives credence. I’ve had less than pleasant memories with a few Blue Jacket fans. Their mascot is a red-eyed drug addict who happily consumes endangered species as a delicacy—not a very wholesome message for kids. And he probably needs to lay off the “predator puree” whatever that is. I also still resent that when they made the playoffs for the first time in 2009, the league reacted with exaggerated praise that wasn’t given to the Predators in 2004.
So, please, Preds... put the Blue Jackets in their place: the basement of the NHL.
The Jordin Tootoo Factor
One of the critical players in the animosity between the two teams was Jordin Tootoo. Tootoo, a fourth round pick by Nashville in the 2001 NHL Entry Draft. Tootoo made his NHL debut in the 2003-04 season and immediately became a thorn in the Blue Jackets’ side. While he posted just 4-9-13 in 56 games against Columbus he also racked up an ASTOUNDING 135 PIMs, by far the most against one team in his career. The only other team Tootoo had 100 PIMs against was the St Louis Blues (108).
Tootoo played 559 minutes against the Blue Jackets in his career, nearly an hour more than he played against any other team in his career. Tootoo was a pest, and he was effective at his job. It seems like he threw a hard hit, got under someone’s skin, or made a play that led to a goal on every single one of his 802 shifts against the Blue Jackets.
One such highlight game occurred in 2013 in the season finale. Pale Dragon wrote about this game in depth in April, but this passage from Matt Wagner stands out, as he highlighted:
Tonight feels like a sea change for this team. Even though they were undone by circumstances beyond their control, we saw something today. It feels like this team really has become something greater than the sum of their parts, and something truly special is coming together here.
After so many years measuring themselves against a team that beat them like a drum, Columbus stood up, punched Nashville back, and set themselves on a course they find themselves on today.
Nashville may not have been much of a rival in terms of record, but they were a standard to measure against for the first decade of the franchise, a fellow expansion team to compare against. Finally, Columbus has managed to find themselves comparable to their one-time Central Division rivals.