As I await the game tonight with the Maple Leafs, I can’t help but be amazed of the progress that the Blue Jackets have made since Thanksgiving. At that time, the anti-Backman club was taking members while others were still complaining about Kris Russell. Nobody knew how strong Steve Mason was going to be, but he was handed the job after Pascal Leclaire’s miserable night against Detroit on November 28.
In seasons past, I always hoped for a Jacket victory and would look for chinks in the armour of their opponents to justify my hopes. But tonight, I not only hope for a victory, I expect one. I’ve stopped looking only for weaknesses that the team can exploit because this team has some strengths that opponents have to respect. You can see it if you watch how we are played: Teams take more runs at Kris Russell, trying to wear him down. Christian Backman is now taken more seriously as is Marc Methot, with teams trying to force them into turnovers. RJ Umberger has found his scoring touch again and you watch defenses close up the middle on him now, forcing him outside. The word is out that you might beat Steve Mason high on his glove side, if you see it. Rick Nash is still the One Who Must Be Stopped and he is paying a heavy physical price, but still does the job. You can look at nearly every player on the team and see real strengths, tangible ones, not the kind that scouts will try to sell you. What a wonderful journey it has been.
There is a chance that the team could stumble in the next 30 days and that would be tragic. But you have to admit that there is now a present and a future for the Blue Jackets. The present consists of finishing this marathon so that they can enter the playoffs. The future is nice because we have Derick Brassard and Nikita Filatov and Tom Sestito and maybe Stefan Legein waiting. These guys will step in to fill the holes that will develop over time. They will be ready quickly, (they have to with Ken Hitchcock as coach) but more importantly the team won’t be scrambling each summer as they fill the basic organizational rosters. There is a light.