Sunday, January 1, 2012

2011: Good Freaking Riddance...

2011. What can I say.. You were an interesting year.

I don't mean "intriguing" interesting. I need more along the lines of the old, oft-quoted Chinese curse: "May you live in interesting times."

That kind of interesting.

When 2011 began, the Blue Jackets were coming off a New Year's Eve victory over the Ottawa Senators, but were otherwise in the throes of a schneid that was very similar to the collapse they endured in January of 2010. The team pulled off the best start in franchise history, even doing better on the road than they were at home. Hoever, they discovered in December that they were actually quite mortal, and quite wounded. Just not mortally wounded.

Still, the Jackets were having some tough times. They lost five straight, and fell to .500 just past the midpoint of the season. It wasn't until the Jackets earned three of a possible four points in a home and home with Detroit in mid January, that Coach Scott Arniel and the boys started righting the ship again. Though they had flirted with the Playoff line for the previous few weeks, the Jackets were in danger of falling off pace in the Western Conference. Still, the competitive nature of the Western Conference kept a lot of teams from pulling away, which perhaps kept the Jackets in Playoff contention longer than they might have been otherwise.

Still, that home-and-home with the Wings marked the beginning of a renaissance of sorts. Over the 15 games that followed, the Jackets went 10-3-2. during that span, Jackets fans cuaght their first glimpse of what Matt Calvert could do, including his hat trick and four-point night on February 25 against Phoenix.

A tough loss to Nashville in the next game immediately preceded the trade deadline, but with the Jackets in contention and sitting only five points below the line, the Blue Jackets acquired Scottie Upshall and Sami Lepisto. However, instead of helping the Jackets turn the corner, the Jackets fizzled down the stretch, and in perhaps the final insult of the season... fell below .500 on the night of the season finale.

The best start in franchise history ended with golf in April, and watching a spectacular Stanley Cup Playoffs at home.


With talk of Arena dealings and a hockey franchise that was hemorrhaging money, the front office vow to do what was essentially a top-to-bottom audit of the organization, to determine what the next steps would be to bring the Columbus franchise back into playoff contention. Howson axed the head of scouting and hired a full-time goaltending coach for Steve Mason. Houston made arguably the ballsiest move in franchise history when he snagged Jeff Carter via trade on the eve of the NHL Entry Draft.

Then he broke out the checkbook. With the free agency deadline looming, Howson made another ballsy move and got James Wisniewski from the Canadiens. Then he closed the deal by getting Wisniewski down to Columbus, and got the deal done before noon on July 1. Houston also added Mark Dekanich in goal, to back up Steve Mason, and Radek Martinek to help bolster the blueline with a veteran presence. After Kristian Huselius tore a pectoral muscle during a workout -- a vision that still makes me wince -- Howson went out and got Vinny Prospal into the fold as well.

As a result, the Blue Jackets' payroll ballooned into the top five, a hell of a lot closer to the salary cap than the floor.

Few things say "Win, or else" quite like a top five payroll in the NHL, on a team that has made the playoffs just once in its 10-year history.

However, the kind of bold moves that Blue Jackets fans had clamored for were finally happening.

In the middle of all this, the second annual CANNONFEST returned to Grandview, and fans and bloggers mixed and mingled with the people we read, watch, listen to and/or cheer alongside every game. We raised glasses, cheered our team, watched a pair of kickass videos... and essentially made a fan gathering into a holiday any diehard puckhead would be honored to attend.

And as the preseason opened, Jackets fans were chomping at the bit to get the season underway already. It was quite possibly the most highly-anticipated season in franchise history.

Then James Wisniewski got his hands up in Cal Clutterbuck's face, and Clutterbuck turned in an Academy Award-winning performance, earning Wiz an eight-game suspension from Brendan Shanahan. Then Mark Dekanich got hurt. Then Carter... then Martinek... then Mason. At least I think that was the order in which they happened.

Over the course, the Jackets sutumbled out of the gate. Actually, that wording is a bit kind. More like faceplanted out of the gate, then the horse turned around with the jockey's foot tangled in the reins, crashed through the gate in reverse and dragged the jockey into opposing horse traffic, before somehow, inexplicably, spontaneously combusting.

After a 2-12-1 start, the Jackets began to jell and managed to put together a 5-3-2 stretch.

Then the damn horse turned around again.

Though the Jackets reversed their fortunes a few nights back by finally holding onto a lead as time expired against the Stars, they reverted back to the third-period ways that have defined their December (at the very least) and gave up four third-period goals in not even seven minutes.

That was 2011 in a nutshell

Through the Jackets' current woes, I have been irked many times with the comparisons of team performance in which records and streaks include numbers from last season -- so-and-so road games without a regulation win dating back to March, etc. There are different personnel... this dwells too much in the past... and so forth.

However, it's pretty hard to ignore the fact that the Jackets played exactly 82 games in the year 2011. Yep, a season's worth.

14-20-10 in 44 games from last season... and 10-23-5 in 38 this season.

The total... 24-43-15.

And so, 2011... I say to you:

Good riddance... go to hell... and get your filthy hands off my hockey team.
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