Straight Jackets: How quickly things change

Jim Fischer
Columbus Alive
A solitary person walks outside Nationwide Arena on Thursday, the day when the Blue Jackets were to have played the Pittsburgh Penguins there. Earlier in the day, the NHL decided to suspend its season to aid in minimizing exposure and transmission of the coronavirus. [Doral Chenoweth III/Dispatch]

It seems like longer than a week ago that Straight Jackets used this space to complain about the hockey gods and their treatment of the CBJ this season.

How quickly things can change.

The day the last column appeared online, Gov. Mike DeWine placed restrictions on live, indoor athletics, writing on Twitter that the city should host “no events with spectators other than the athletes, parents, and others essential to the game."

The Blue Jackets initially announced, later the same day, that games would continue to be open to the public. "We have been in contact with the National Hockey League and, given the facts before us, it has been determined that our scheduled games … will go on as scheduled and be open to ticketed fans that wish to attend," the team wrote in a March 10 statement.

Like I said, it's hard to believe that was just a week ago.

Two days later, the NHL suspended its season. A league statement, released on Thursday, March 14, read, "It is no longer appropriate to try to continue to play games at this time."

So much has happened in the real world since then that it almost feels like weeks since there has been an NHL game.

To bring the matter back, momentarily, to the Jackets injury-riddled season: I recently joked that the CBJ stands to lose the fewest man-games to the COVID-19-related league suspension because of the number of players already out for other reasons. It's not a funny joke, but more one of those weak attempts at mood-lightening in the face of crisis. (I mean, technically, Seth Jones, Oliver Bjorkstrand and the rest of the Jackets players who stood to miss most, if not all, of the remainder of the regular season are missing those games due to injury anyway. Right? Oh, never mind.)

Indeed, what's happening with the coronavirus-driven shutdown of all of the pro sports leagues has become a nonstory. Recall that, in the first couple days after the NHL suspended action, there was some thought that it could benefit the Jackets, either via delaying games until injured players were back in the lineup, or by some form of abbreviated season adopting a formula that would again place the Jackets in the postseason rather than requiring the team to fight for its playoff life for the next month.

How often have even diehard fans thought about those possibilities in the past four days?

The only real subsequent information from the league -- and it's telling if you're in the business of reading tea leaves -- is that players have been permitted to travel home while the league is on hiatus. “Home” meaning where a player is from originally and/or where they live in the offseason, i.e. all over Canada, the U.S. and Europe, if so desired.

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman has said he still hopes to complete the season and "award the Stanley Cup." As the sports media is filling time, a handful of concepts for how that could be accomplished have been proposed by writers, analysts and the like.

Any scenario that allows for even an abbreviated conclusion to this season would be welcome, of course. If for no other reason than it means the world has returned to some semblance of normalcy.

For Jackets fans, whose team has been hanging by a thread for weeks but was still, against all odds, in the hunt, it could mean anything from simply playing more games to getting another shot at the playoffs.

We'd take any of it.