COLUMBUS, Ohio — At one point, not too long ago, there was talk of the Blue Jackets being one of the top teams in the Metropolitan Division. The team had very little roster turnover during the summer months and the prevailing thought was that they were poised to take the next step.
But, the contract negotiations between budding star Ryan Johansen and the organization have dragged on since July. Neither side wants to concede too much to the other. Which side is right or wrong has morphed into the very real possibility that the ongoing impasse will see Johansen watch opening night via a television.
Training camp opened with no Nathan Horton (back) and Ryan Murray (knee) taking part in on-ice drills with the team. One week ago, Boone Jenner took a puck to his hand resulting in it being broken. He had surgery last week and is sidelined for the first few weeks of the season.
Sunday, the team placed Jenner on Injured Reserve. They also placed Horton, Murray and prospect Sonny Milano on the injured non-roster list. At the same time, they announced that they had claimed former Blue Jacket Jack Skille off waivers from the New York Islanders.
Some of the rookies have made an impression with their play that makes for difficult decisions within the organization. Michael Chaput has virtually cemented his lock on the fourth-line center position. Alex Wennberg and Marko Dano have played very well and could likely be suiting up for the team on Thursday.
Also Sunday, on the WTVN "Hockey Hour" radio show, Columbus President of Hockey Operations John Davidson said that they are prepared to go with the guys they have for opening night. This would, in all likelihood, make them the youngest team in the league, once again.
All of this has caused some consternation as to how this team will fare four days hence. On the one side, there are those excited to see what the rookies that make the team can do once the games count for real. On the other hand, there are those that see this as a sure sign that the team will struggle out of the gate.
The claiming of Jack Skille saw many within the fan base welcome him back into the fold. There were also some who wondered aloud why he was claimed when Brian Gibbons and Jerry D’Amigo are already here. To be clear, Gibbons and D’Amigo have not shown anything that would secure a spot on the roster. Skille is a known commodity to the team, having scored four goals in 16 games and played in all six playoff games last spring for the Blue Jackets.
Although the team would like Johansen and the scoring touch that he showed last year, they are preparing for the season without him. Dano has not looked out of place on a line with Artem Anisimov and Scott Hartnell. Likewise, Wennberg has played very well on the line with Mark Letestu and Nick Foligno.
Does this mean that the team will face an uphill struggle to score and make headway in the muddled Metro? Prevailing wisdom would say yes to a team that is basically missing their entire top line to start the season. And yet, there are variables to which a statistic cannot be applied.
The "all for one and one for all" mentality of this group of players means that scoring is done by committee. They savor the fact that many don’t think they can have a successful start with so many regulars missing. They don’t care what the pundits think and only believe in each other.
The power of that belief, and what it translates to on the ice, is not measurable with a mere statistic, fancy or otherwise. The intangibles of belief and heart have seen them achieve what many thought they could not. This is as tight and bonded a group of players as has ever been seen within the friendly confines of Nationwide Arena.
Does that mean they have nothing to worry about? Of course it doesn’t. There are enough variables in the game of hockey to make one’s head spin. It only means that they believe they can do what others say they can’t.
They have the shared experience of building something that could one day be very special in Columbus. They have "bought in" with the very fibers of their soul to what it means to be a Blue Jacket. They care about the city. They care about the fans that support them in their quest. But, and this is probably the most important aspect of the team, they genuinely care about each other.
This team is used to having adversity thrown at it. Rather than a setback, they view it as a challenge. At the end of the day, they know that they have to rely on each other. That belief has shown to hold them in good stead in the past. With a new season dawning, it’s them against the world, again. In that regard, nothing has changed.