The Blue Jackets Are Good, But It’s Not Enough

Maybe not in the way you’re thinking, though

A few years ago, a four-minute clip of Louis CK on Late Night with Conan O’Brien went viral. You’ve probably seen it, but here you go if you haven’t. And if you’d rather not watch an admitted sexual miscreant (understandable) talk on television, here’s the gist: we live in amazing times where we have the best of everything, and nobody’s happy. You’re flying through the sky, your phone is a modern marvel, but it could be better. You can probably guess where this is going with respect to the Columbus Blue Jackets.

At the time of this publication, the Blue Jackets sit third in the Metropolitan Division after last night’s tire fire against Boston. Last week they were in first place, with the defending Stanley Cup champion) Pittsburgh Penguins out of a playoff spot. We’re six days from Christmas, and the historically stinky Blue Jackets are one of the league’s premier teams for the second straight season. Why, then, aren’t we happier about it?

I don’t have to tell you that the Blue Jackets are good. If you didn’t believe it from their point total, every other tweet from Sean Tierney (@chartinghockey) and Jeremy Crowe (@307x) and Micah Blake McCurdy (@ineffectivemath) will show you that the underlying analytics place Columbus as a top-tier team. Zach Werenski has avoided a sophomore slump to become a bona fide star. Seth Jones has joined him to come an elite top-pairing. Artemi Panarin makes plays Jackets fans have never seen on a nightly basis. Sergei Bobrovsky is one of the two best goalies on the planet. Last year was supposed to be a fluke, an aberration before a 2017-18 market correction. But that hasn’t happened.

Yet there’s a palpable turmoil in the fan base. Two big blowouts in less than a week will do that, coupled with some other irritating losses. It’s a frustrated energy, but it’s not at panic yet. Perhaps a resignation that this team has hit its ceiling.

There’s no question a large part of the team has under-performed through the first three-plus months of the season and they’re mired in a slump at the moment. The struggling old guard of Cam Atkinson, Brandon Dubinsky and Nick Foligno has allowed the Josh Anderson/Pierre-Luc Dubois/Panarin line to flourish with the young defensemen. That bit about “future of the club shining” would normally make Jackets fans thrilled, but it’s not supposed to come at the expense of your other top players. Ideally, it’s not mutually exclusive.

Those aren’t the only concerns, to be sure. The power play is a disaster, Dubinsky’s broken face has exacerbated an already puzzling center situation and Bobrovsky has looked mortal over the past nine games. Last night didn’t help at all.

I don’t enjoy watching my favorite team lose. But it’s not even Christmas. We have four more months of hockey, and the Columbus Blue Jackets are a good team. This is what we’ve wanted for years—a team that can win games in the playoffs (we hope) and features some of the best young stars in hockey.

CBJ fans have long memories, though you don’t need a history lesson to understand the implication of “zero playoff series wins.” We’re always anticipating an impeding losing streak. This team’s own fans showed up to protest in front of the area six seasons ago. Hope is a scary thing (side note: Remember when getting out of the Central Division meat grinder was going to help?).

I’m not advocating fans should be happy to have a merely competitive club. Maybe we’re not used to success, though. We have 48 more games to watch before the playoffs. Plenty of time to snap out this skid and add some pieces. Everything may not be amazing, but we can still be happy.

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