Turning the corner - The Blue Jackets then and now

BY foxsports • October 1, 2013

This is Part One of a two-part series leading up to the home opener for the 2013-2014 season delving into the “then and now” of the Columbus Blue Jackets.
There’s a palpable feeling that the Blue Jackets are on the verge of something special. The words of John Davidson, President of Hockey Operations, set the tone for a belief among not only the players and the organization, but also the fans.
“There’s only one way to build it, and that’s one brick at a time. We love this challenge. The players, the fans… We’ve been through a lot together. But, we’re getting our confidence and we’re going in the right direction. We’re going to be a hard working, honest, no short-cuts allowed hockey club. Your players know how hard they have to work. You’re going to win; and we’ll win our share. These fans are behind us and they believe in us. We’re going to bring them something that this city will be very proud of.”
For the first time since the puck dropped on the inaugural game in Nationwide Arena between the Blue Jackets and the Chicago Blackhawks on October 7th, 2000, this club has a true identity. This has not always been the case. The club has been in search of an identity for thirteen years. According to psychologist Erik Erikson, the definition of “identity crisis” is “the failure to achieve ego identity during adolescence. They often seem to have no idea who or what they are, where they belong or where they want to go.”
There are a few players and coaches who have been here through the transformation and the forging of an identity. Head coach Todd Richards joined the club as an assistant coach in June, 2011. Does he think there was an “identity crisis” with who and what this team was, at that time?
“I think so”, Richards said. “I think that went through the whole organization. I don’t think it was just the team. Again, a credit to JD (John Davidson), because, I think he came in and helped start that process. It’s easy to follow underneath JD. I think, as a coach, you have certain things that you want. It’s easier to follow and establish things when the people above you are demanding similar, or the same things.”
This has not always been the case for the Blue Jackets. While they have had a few notable players don the Union Blue for the club (Rick Nash, Sergei Federov and Ray Whitney for example), Columbus was a team that was existing, not flourishing. But the question remained, what was their identity? 
RJ Umberger was acquired by Columbus in 2008 at the NHL Entry Draft from the Philadelphia Flyers. He’s seen, firsthand, the forging of their identity. “I think it’s a clear message from the top about how we’re going to play”, he said. “The work level up there (front office) trickles down to everybody. There’s one clear message.”
“They’ve brought in a great many players that have a drive, competitiveness and a great deal of passion. As players, we’re able to push each other in the locker room.”
Whereas before, there might be a few players who stood out among the rest by giving everything on every shift, there is a collective “lunch pail” mentality of hard work and the drive succeed that permeates the very fabric of the organization, especially the players. “That’s good”, said Todd Richards. “I don’t mind that identity.”
Fedor Tyutin is another player that has been in Columbus since 2008, after being traded to the Blue Jackets from the New York Rangers. He, too, has seen the transition from “who are we, as a club” to being known as a team that won’t be outworked.
“There’s a lot of new guys and a new coaching staff”, said Tyutin. “There are a lot of things that have changed since my first days here. We just got on the right path, the right track. Luckily enough, all the young guys are thinking that way, too. We need to keep going in the same way. The way it works, it’s ‘contagious mindset’. Everybody chips in.”
In twelve seasons playing in the NHL, Columbus has a grand total of two winning seasons. This goes beyond “rebuilding” and borders on the merely “existing”. Every club goes through ups and downs in their history. With the lack of a clearly defined goal, they were just showing up and playing a game. The changes in the last year have reinvigorated the franchise, from the players to the fan base.
Jared Boll was drafted by the Blue Jackets in 2005 and has played, while wearing Union Blue, since 2007. He’s spent his entire career with the Columbus organization and lived through the rollercoaster ride as they searched for an identity.
“The culture change has been the biggest difference”, said Boll. “Once JD (John Davidson) and Jarmo (Kekalainen) got here, they made it pretty easy to get the message that we’re going to play hard, that we’re not going to get outworked. That’s going to be our identity. Whether a team comes here or we go there, they are going to know that they played us.”
Everyone who was interviewed for this article took great pains to not denigrate the players and staff that came before them. The people that came before them did their best to build the franchise, the result of which is that there is a depth to the organization that was hitherto unseen.
“It’s tough for me to comment on if this is the best it’s ever been”, head coach Todd Richards said. “But, over my three years of being here, I’d say yes to that question. I think that JD and Jarmo have done a great job of acquiring guys. But, you also have to give credit to their predecessors. There were some good players in place. I think that John (Davidson) and Jarmo have done a great job of coming in and adding to that with some really good, young talented players.”
Part Two of this will run on Friday, October 4th, prior to the home opener for the Columbus Blue Jackets.

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