When one thinks about the NHL and its greatest rivalries, what comes to mind? Boston-Montreal, Chicago-Detroit, NY Rangers- NJ Devils, and Pittsburgh-Philadelphia are a few off the top of my head. These rivalries are forged by not only geography, but good old-fashioned dog fights in the playoffs. In the scant 13 years the Columbus Blue Jackets have been in existence, the post-season has only been reached one time in 2009. In that series against the Detroit Red Wings the overpowered Jackets were swept in four games, with only really being competitive in the final game. We as fans of the Blue Jackets wanted so badly for that series to go the distance. That was it. That was the moment that Detroit was finally supposed to become the rival of the CBJ, but it did not happen. This franchise is still looking for a rival. It is looking for that team we all love to hate, and they love to hate us back. I suggest maybe the Jackets don’t need to search for long, as they’re rival has been right in front of them the entire time: themselves.
After a home and home series with the Pittsburgh Penguins, both flat losses, this got me thinking. Columbus tried to make Detroit into a rival but never could compete, and now there was an attempt to market Pittsburgh as a possible new rival and the results ended the same. Sure there are have been a select few games that have been great, but the whole body of work suggests that there is no team in the NHL that looks at the Blue Jackets and it gets their blood boiling. Jackets fans are not even trying to keep Detroit or Pittsburgh fans from taking over the arena, and its the same every year. Years of terrible teams and some embarrassing losses at the hands of both of those teams shows the obvious: the Columbus Blue Jackets need to quit worrying about who is going to hate them and focus on icing a competitive team and attitude.
Fans that have lived with this team from day 1 have seen draft busts, failed trades, captains bail, coaching failures, and upper management problems. After watching the CBJ play two in a row against this ‘new rival’ from Pittsburgh, I’m not so sure the attitude has changed. The Jackets’ didn’t look at all like they were ready to play their best hockey against the top team in their new division. They were getting out-worked, out-hustled, out-passed, and flat-out beaten Saturday night. We’ve seen this team play far more competitively in the past, including this season. This shows that the number one thing standing in the way of the Jackets’ success this season is themselves, and it always has been this way.
With Jarmo Kekalainen and John Davidson they have gotten the upper management problem out-of-the-way. It looks like the draft they just completed is a solid one. The captaincy and leadership group appears to starting to take shape. The jury is still out on if Head Coach Todd Richards is the right man for taking this team forward, but he’s done an admirable job since taking over for the train wreck that was the Scott Arniel experience.
I think as fans we want to look at all this and say the attitude and culture has changed for the Blue Jackets, but if they can’t get up for a game against the cream of the crop of the league, has it? I would say that this weekend the Penguins didn’t win so much as the CBJ lost. I think in all the losses this year our own team was the one standing in the way.
In the end the Blue Jackets and their fans need to worry less about who is going to hate us, and more about how to get the team to get out of their own way. I was so angry after losing both to Pittsburgh I realized the team I love to hate the most is the Blue Jackets, and if that doesn’t describe a rivalry, I don’t know what does.