Compared to a decade ago, these Columbus Blue Jackets have a lot going for them.
While not expected to be heavy hitters this season, the Columbus Blue Jackets have a combination of young, talented players (Patrik Laine, Oliver Bjorkstrand, Zach Werenski, etc.), a veteran presence (Boone Jenner, Gustav Nyquist, Sean Kuraly), a fantastic pipeline (Kent Johnson, Cole Sillinger, The Russian Trio, etc.), good goaltending, and with two more first round picks coming after the season, the future looks bright for the Nationwide Arena faithful.
That future, one decade ago this month, looked very different. The team looked even worse, and careful, 5th Line: this trip down memory lane may bring back some angst.
The start of the 2011-12 season was the second for head coach Scott Arniel. After a very pedestrian first season, where the Blue Jackets went 34-35-13 for 81 points, Columbus found themselves with a number of veteran players and a relatively shallow prospect pool. Rick Nash was there, but the clock was ticking, the writing was on the wall, and the season would be Nash's last in Columbus before being traded to the New York Rangers.
Aside from Nash, though? The team had only one other player who had more than 41 points (which averaged to a half point per game), and that was the 36-year-old Vinny Prospal, who had signed with the team over the summer. A great player, a passionate player, but not the kind of player that gets top minutes at that stage of his career. Prospal averaged 17:53 of ice time per game, third amongst Columbus forwards.
The young guns of the club that season saw mixed results in the long-term. It was the first season for a 22-year-old named Cam Atkinson, who scored seven goals and had seven assists in the first 27 games of his career. It was also the debut of young defenseman David Savard, who, at 21, played in 31 games and had ten points.
Atkinson and Savard would be two of the three youngsters who would go on to have long-term success with the Blue Jackets. It was the second season for Matt Calvert, who stuck around the league for more than a decade until his retirement over the season. Calvert would score 72 goals and add 77 assists over his eight year career with the team, but was one of the most recognizable Blue Jackets in the community. Oh, and a few years later, he scored a double-overtime goal to give Columbus their first ever playoff win.
The team did have other young talent, but they didn't pan out - at least not in Columbus. It was the rookie season for Ryan Johansen, the 4th overall pick by the club in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft. Johansen would play just two full seasons with the team (2013-14 and 2014-15) before being traded to the Nashville Predators. The Blue Jackets did get Seth Jones out of it, so it wasn't all bad.
But the other top prospects at that time? There were no Johnson's or Sillinger's, no Adam Boqvist's or Kirill Marchenko's. Instead, there were missed opportunities and poor drafting:
- 2007 1st round (7th overall) pick Jakub Voracek had just been traded to the Philadelphia Flyers for Jeff Carter. More on that momentarily.
- 2008 1st round (6th overall) pick Nikita Filatov scored six goals in 44 games with Columbus and spent the 2011-12 season playing nine games in Ottawa, which would be the final nine of his NHL career.
- 2009 1st round (9th overall) pick John Moore was in his first full season with the club, but would see only 17 games with the team after the end of the 2011-12 campaign.
- 2010 1st round (4th overall) pick was Johansen.
The Blue Jackets did not have a first round pick in the draft entering the 2011-12 season, but did use a second rounder on Boone Jenner. It was needed, because aside from the names above, the Blue Jackets had their hopes pinned to the likes of Maksim Mayorov and Tomas Kubalik.
And then there was Carter. (FJC, indeed.) One does not need to watch the entire five minute interview below to see that he did not want to be in Columbus.
Carter was traded to the Blue Jackets just before the 2011 draft, with the Flyers acquiring Voracek, a first round pick, and a third round pick. That first rounder was the 8th overall, and the Flyers used it on Sean Couturier. Without this trade, the Blue Jackets may have selected Couturier, who is still with the Flyers and has 443 points as a top line center of his career. (If the Blue Jackets were thinking defense, they may have gone with Dougie Hamilton, who was drafted right behind Couturier.)
The 26-year-old Carter was described as a cancer in the locker room, gave minimal effort on and off the ice, and whined his way through 39 games with the team before being dealt to the Los Angeles Kings in exchange for Jack Johnson.
The worst part, in the eyes of many Columbus fans, is that Carter would win two Stanley Cup's with the Kings. In other words, the bitching paid off.
Eventually, the Blue Jackets would find some footing. The pipeline wasn't as deep as it is now and the star power of a guy like Laine didn't exist, but these were the final days of the Blue Jackets being in the "laughing stock" category of the NHL.
Hang tight, 5th Line.