Blue Jackets struggling in effort to make the playoffs for a second consecutive season for the first time
In April 2009, the Columbus Blue Jackets qualified for playoff hockey — the first time in the franchise's eight-season existence. It was a team with an established star in Rick Nash, budding stars in Jakub Voracek and goaltender Steve Mason, and a strong supporting cast including R.J. Umberger and Fedor Tyutin.
That maiden postseason experience wasn't the best, as the still-dominant Detroit Red Wings swept the CBJ on the way to its second straight Stanley Cup Finals appearance. Still, no shame for the Jackets in losing to a juggernaut, right? And the Jackets were a young team on the rise and getting stellar play in net from Mason, who won the Calder Memorial Trophy as the NHL's top rookie. The future was bright.
Until it wasn't. The team was middling to start the following year, and the bottom fell out in December. The team fired Head Coach Ken Hitchcock in February and stumbled to the finish, placing 14th of 16 teams in the Western Conference. Three more seasons of suck followed, including one in which the team finished with the league's worst record.
But in 2013-14, playing in the Eastern Conference after NHL realignment, the Jackets again qualified for the playoffs behind the play of budding star Ryan Johansen and goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, with support from James Wisniewski, Brandon Dubinsky and Nick Foligno. In a tightly played first-round series against the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Jackets took two games and never looked out of place against a new rival. A disappointing finish, for sure, but with young talent and high-character leadership, surely the Jackets were in for a string of postseason berths.
Until they weren't. The team struggled to open the following season, and missed the playoffs despite a 15-1-1 finish. Not what anybody wanted, but the team seemed to have righted the ship with its late-season surge and was primed to return to contention.
Until they didn't. An 0-8-0 start to the 2015-16 season all but doomed the team's chances from the outset. Head Coach Todd Richards was fired, replaced by John Tortorella. The team traded Johansen to the Nashville Predators in January.
So the team's success in the 2016-17 season was a bit unexpected. Certainly no one could have predicted an almost-NHL-record-setting 16-game winning streak. The Jackets finished near the top of the standings, earning another postseason matchup with the Penguins. The team was dispatched 1-4 in that series as Pittsburgh went on to win a second straight Stanley Cup. But with Tortorella, an established head coach, in place and a solid core, the Jackets were surely positioned for continued success.
Until… well, you get the picture. The team is currently in a playoff position, but is in a battle with maybe five teams for just three spots in the playoffs. The Jackets have played better of late, but so have most of the teams around them in the standings.
I'm as tired as the next person of losing first-round playoff series, especially to teams that are natural geographical rivals with built-in fan bases here in Columbus. But I'm more tired of the team failing to string together two playoff seasons in a row.
Just. Get. In.