Take it from a Blue Jackets fan-this is just the beginning
The Columbus Blue Jackets have qualified for the NHL Playoffs for only the second time in franchise history. The previous playoff run, at the end of the 2008-09 campaign, ended swiftly when the team was swept in four games by rival Detroit Red Wings. Those same Red Wings will join the Blue Jackets in the playoffs this year-but it's their 23rd consecutive trip.
Being a longtime Blue Jackets fan has been a trial by fire. Nothing this team ever does has come easy, but after a while you start to like it that way. It's a rollercoaster ride that forges a bond among the loud and proud supporters of the CBJ.
Fans for teams like the Red Wings have what I like to call rich-people problems. They know their team will make the playoffs every year, so they have to resort to complaining about things like not winning a Stanley Cup since 2008. Those are the kinds of problems for which any Columbus hockey fan would sign up in a heartbeat. Blue Jackets fans have endured such a sustained run of bad hockey it would be comical if it weren't so unrelenting. There have been years when the only thing to cheer for was getting the first pick in the draft. There were times the team made bold trades or signed big-name free agents, only to realize the players were past their prime, a bad fit for our club or simply didn't want to play here. The all-time low was trading away the face of the franchise because the losing became so pervasive even he couldn't take it anymore. Through it all, a core group of Jackets fans have never left.
The bad old days now appear to be over, and the new-look CBJ are showing results. The team has hired a new president, general manager and coaching staff within the past three seasons. The new regime has built a team that plays a gritty style of hard-nosed hockey fans can rally around. The team's strong veteran leadership goes along with a core of raw, talented young players. In goal to clean everything up is the reigning Vezina Trophy winner, selected by all NHL general managers as the best goalie in the league. This team has good depth, too, running four strong lines every night that take the battle to the opposition.
This year's playoff run isn't the end of the story, but it's a great chance for Columbus to take a fresh look at the Blue Jackets. This team is being rebuilt with an eye toward the future. The team's real goal is that this is just the start of something big.
Jamie Grube lives on the East Side with his wife, baby girl and dog. Find him on Twitter at @jbgrube21 or at firethecannon.com, where he's a contributing writer.