In first place despite not always looking like a top team, there's plenty for which to be thankful with this bunch of Columbus Blue Jackets
A friend texted me the other day: “Does it feel like the Jackets are a first-place team to you?”
(This same friend and I also exchanged opinions regarding Maxwell's 2001 cover of Kate Bush's “This Woman's Work” (bad) and floated the idea that some songs just shouldn't be covered. But this is a CBJ-themed column, so…)
A quick check of the NHL standings at the time, and again Tuesday morning — even following a tough loss to the Maple Leafs in Toronto — showed that, indeed, the Blue Jackets were in first place in the Metropolitan Division, looking down at the Rangers, the defending Cup champion Capitals and, all the way down there at the bottom of the standings, the Penguins. And yet, somehow, I understood what my friend was getting at.
Nearly 20 years of slumming it in the standings, not quite matching up and early playoff exits will do that to a fan's perspective.
So, yeah, there have been some troubling trends in the first quarter of the season, but still the good guys find themselves atop the division standings. And, yes, there are some long-term concerns (not the least of which is the status of forward Artemi Panarin and goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky).
But, in the spirit of Thanksgiving, there is plenty to be thankful for with this edition of your Columbus Blue Jackets. (And, no, “having NHL hockey in Columbus” no longer counts as something for which to be thankful.)
An injury slowed him to start the season and he hasn't been his sharpest — yet — but this is a player who's legit one of the top 3-5 defensemen in the league and should be a regular candidate for the Norris Trophy, awarded to the league's best defenseman. And you're watching him in his prime, as he becomes not only a dominant player at both ends of the ice, but a leader on the team. He's also signed to a reasonable contract for the next three seasons.
All the promise of the team's prior young, #1 center without all the drama. Dubois is a load, but with skill, and this season I feel like he's proving he's not just a product of playing with Panarin (and Cam Atkinson, who we'll get to momentarily). He might never be an elite scorer, but if he could be the Jackets' version of Ryan Getzlaf, we'd take that, right?
With the departure of Matt Calvert in free agency, Atkinson is the unquestioned senior Jacket. And he's our success story — a sixth-round pick who developed in our minor league system and who's gotten better and better pretty much every season he's been in the league. He's a treat to watch play the game.
I was not a fan of the hire, and I think there are still some shortcomings in his player usage, but … he's proven entertaining without being the shit-stirrer he's been at previous stops in his coaching career. And he appears to be sticking faithfully to a plan to get the best out of his players.
Playoff Bob and petulant Bob notwithstanding, his play has come around and you just know you're watching one of the best. Enjoy him while he's here, since it looks like this season will be his last in Columbus.