Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Reality Check: Off-Season Optimism

Preseason is a time of optimism for every franchise and their fans. Ask a Leafs, Ranger, Devils, or Jackets fan and each will tell you that their team has a shot to contend this year. Weaknesses are brushed aside, because come on, it’s only September, the front office has the next six months to sort those out! As a Cleveland sports fan, I am no stranger to preseason optimism and the inevitable crushing letdown once the real season begins. I’m not here to be a buzz kill,  but while optimistic about the upcoming Blue Jackets season, I do have concerns that the team will not live up to the off-season expectations brought on by their surprising finish to the 2013 season.

The Blue Jackets are a year and two months removed from the franchise changing Rick Nash trade. It has only been seven months since Scott Howson was relieved of his GM duties. Remember during all of this upheaval it was widely accepted that the rebuilding of the Blue Jackets would be a multi-year process. But then the Jackets caught fire, what was expected to be another bottom finish turned into a race for the playoffs, and the expectations for this year’s team grew.

Do I expect the 2013-14 Jackets to crash and burn, much like their 2009-10 counterparts did after their first playoff season? No, I do not. Jarmo Kekalainen and John Davidson have built a great foundation and have transformed the culture in the locker room. This team will not be the one-hit wonder that the 2009 playoff team was.

So what are my expectations for the 2013-14 Blue Jackets? Considering Bobrovsky must live up to a nice contract extension and follow up his Vezina performance, I would be surprised if he had a few rough games out of the gate. What the Jackets must do is not hit the panic button and let Bob work out the kinks.

With the new division play, I would be fine if the Jackets finished the first month at .500, or hopefully slightly above. The move to the Eastern Conference and Metropolitan Division is a big adjustment. Last year’s team got off to a rough start and really dug themselves into a hole early on. I expect this team to avoid that, but again, I do not expect a hot start.

Mandatory Credit: Russell LaBounty-USA TODAY Sports

Can this Blue Jackets team make the playoffs? I believe they have the talent to do so. However, that is not my expectation or my way of gauging the success of this season. I expect the Blue Jackets to contend this season and be in the playoff picture right down the stretch. In my Early Playoff Predictions post in August, I felt that the Jackets would once again narrowly miss the playoff bubble. I know this would be disappointing to fans, but I would not see that as a failure, but a sign that this team is really a contender.

Believe in the Blue Jackets this season and welcome the optimism of preseason, but also remember where this team is coming from. They have made some great strides in a very short time and this is still a “brick by brick” process. Understand that a small step back or some under performance this season is not a reason to hit the panic button. A young team in a new conference and division will hit some bumps in the road. How they react as a team and how we react as fans will determine whether the Blue Jackets are truly contenders or not.

Tags: Columbus Blue Jackets

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