The Columbus Blue Jackets are now 20 seasons into their NHL history. Beginning as a new expansion team in 2000, the team has slowly grown into a competent and competitive team. As an expansion team, there were bound to be growing pains and struggles. With a few successes here and there. From draft picks to playoff success to fan supports, let’s take a quick look at the Columbus Blue Jackets 20 seasons in.
Columbus Blue Jackets Seasons: 2000-2020
The draft has been both good and bad for Columbus. Every team’s draft history is filled with busts and successes and Columbus is no exception. The first pick in the franchise’s history was defensemen Rostislav Klesla. All told, in the 2000 NHL Entry Draft, they chose four defensemen, two centers, and four wingers. The next year they chose Goalie Pascal Leclaire 8th overall. That draft was more offence-heavy with nine of the eleven picks being either centers or wingers.
The 2002 NHL Entry Draft was a turning point for the Jackets. After swapping 1st and 3rd picks with the Florida Panthers, Columbus took Rick Nash first overall. Nash turned into the first franchise player. A dynamic scorer, who would become the franchise’s top player and most-watched player during the early years. Outside of Nash, the Jackets hit on some solid players over the years. Notably Jakub Voracek, Steve Mason, Cam Atkinson, Derick Brassard, and Ryan Johansen. All of whom are still in the league, on another team, or retired.
On the Ice
The Early Seasons and Playoff Futility
On the ice, the Blue Jackets faired as many expansion teams do, Golden Knights excluded. In the first season (2000-01) the team earned 71 points, not good enough for the playoffs, but a respectable start. The next season saw a less than stellar output with the team scoring 57 points. Making them one of the worst in the league for the year. From the 2002-03 season to 2007-08, the Jackets averaged around 70 to 72 points. The one highlight during this period was Rick Nash winning the Rocket Richard Trophy. By winning, that meant sharing it with Ilya Kovalchuk and Jarome Iginla, as those three tied with 41 goals that season.
2008-09 was the best year for the Blue Jackets in the 2000s. Under Ken Hitchcock, they earned 92 points and won 41 games, a team record for the time. Nash led the team with 40 goals, 39 assists, and 72 points. But the team wasn’t limited to him, though. Also, players such as R.J. Umberger, Kristian Huselius, and Jakub Voracek all made solid contributions. Steve Mason led the way in goal with a Save Percentage of .916, a 33-20-7 record in 61 games started, and a Goals Against Average of 2.29. These numbers were good enough for Calder Memorial Trophy.
So how did they fair in their first playoff appearance? Well, they got swept by the defending champions Detroit Red Wings. After that, Columbus wouldn’t make the playoffs again until 2013-14. Which they lost in the first round again to the Penguins, 4-2. 2014-15 and 2015-16, resulted in missed playoffs.
The Blue Jackets Shock the Lightning
Since 2016-17 they have made the playoffs consistently. The only thing that has eluded them is a playoff series win. Until it happened. The lowly Columbus Blue Jackets went against the mighty, unstoppable Tampa Bay Lightning. On paper, this series should have been a walkover for the Lightning. Merely, a confirmation of their excellence that year.
The Lightning won 62 games, the Jackets 47. Tampa Bay scored 128 points, Columbus just 98. Tampa had the President’s Trophy, the League MVP, the Vezina Trophy winner, and a plethora of All-Stars. No way the Blue Jackets could win this right? A 4-0 sweep. The thing is, this series wasn’t even close. Outside of a 3-0 lead the Lightning had at the end of the 1st period in Game 1, Columbus never trailed in the series. This domination came behind goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky. If you want to read more, especially in the immediate aftermath, you can click here. The next round wasn’t as good as Columbus lost to Boston, 4-2.
This year the Blue Jackets made the playoffs via the Qualifying Round due to the abrupt end of the season because of the COVID-19 Pandemic. Their opponent, The Toronto Maple Leafs, were not as spectacular as Tampa, but extremely potent on offence. Columbus could show they are more than a historic sweep and they could add to Toronto’s playoff futility. Well, that’s exactly what they did. In the best of five, they won 3-2. Even though the Leafs, like the Lightning, had more talent, higher payroll, and a better offence.
Fan Support Over the Years
Fan attendance of the Blue Jackets has been up and down for most of the team’s existence. In the first two seasons, the Blue Jackets had one of the best average attendances in the sport. In 2000-01 and 2001-02, the Jackets averaged 17,457 and 18,136 fans. However, those numbers would decrease more and more as the years went on.
Since 2002-03, the Blue Jackets’ average attendance has fallen from 17,000 and 16,000 to 14,000 and 15,000. These numbers are good enough for an attendance ranking between 20th and 25th in the league. In the last three years, the attendance has gone back into 16,000s as the team has consistently made the playoffs. The problem the Blue Jackets have is the lack of consistency and success on the ice.
So in 20 seasons, the Columbus Blue Jackets have totalled six playoff appearances, one series win, one Calder Memorial Trophy winner, one Rocket Richard Trophy winner, average attendance of around 15,000, eight head coaches. No conference titles, Presidents’ Trophies, or Stanley Cups. The best season of 50 wins and 108 points. An all-time record of 660-672-33-147.
The best player for the Blue Jackets in 20 years has been Rick Nash. Nash still leads the team all-time in goals (289) and points (547). Even now, when people think of the Columbus Blue Jackets, they think of him. The man really was the franchise’s first great player and, in most years, the best they had to offer.
After 20 seasons, the Columbus Blue Jackets have been a typical expansion franchise. Filled with struggles and brief moments of success. Here’s to 20 more seasons.