How's this for a hopeful stat: Ken Hitchcock has never missed the playoffs with a team he coached for an entire NHL season. (In case you've been snoozing, you should know that this will be the first full season for Hitch as head coach of the Blue Jackets.)

Hey, on opening night, we've got as much hope as any team in the league, including defending Stanley Cup champs the Anaheim Ducks. Before the puck drops on the new hockey season tonight at Nationwide, check out the Blue Jackets season preview in today's Dispatch.

I consider myself to be an expansion hockey fan. I went to the very first Blue Jackets game in 2000 -- my first hockey experience of any sort -- and tried my best to follow along; though I obviously missed the subtleties of the game, I had a great time, and I was hooked. Hockey is very exciting to watch in person, so even novice fans can have fun.

Of course, in the last seven years I’ve learned a lot too (I credit Michael Arace’s excellent reports in the Dispatch for the hockey education), and I now know enough to be disappointed and a little pissed off that the Jackets have never fulfilled their promise or potential.

This season is getting off to a different start, under the leadership of Hitchcock and new GM Scott Howson. What’s changed? The expectations. No one is promising a playoff berth this year, no one is boasting that this is the year everything comes together for the franchise.

Hopefully Hitchcock’s playoff streak will stay alive -- maybe this is the year -- but if so, you can consider it a pleasant surprise. Keep your expectations in check and enjoy ride as the Jackets’ young talents continue to grow and build toward the future. Because next year is the year.

WHAT: Anaheim Ducks vs. Columbus Blue Jackets WHEN: Friday, October 5 WHERE: Nationwide Arena, Arena District WEB: bluejackets.nhl.com