The Columbus Blue Jackets are in the midst of an incredible winning streak - the best in franchise history. Despite the win streak and the fact the team is currently in a playoff position, attendance at Nationwide Arena is actually down from last year. Their average attendance is 13,608 per game which ranks as the third lowest in the league ahead of only the Islanders and Coyotes. That attendance leaves them at just 75% capacity. Imagine going to a game and every fourth seat is empty. It's incredible to think how far this team has come in recent years only to be struggling so much with ticket sales.
This is a new adventure for the Blue Jackets. They began play during the 2000-01 season and just two years later hitched their wagon to franchise player Rick Nash to start the 2002-03 season. Player after player via trade, free agency and draft were brought in to try to help Nash develop himself and the Blue Jackets franchise into a legitimate contender. Up through the years, take a look at some of the forwards who became Blue Jackets to solidify the roster. Note that only one still remains a Blue Jacket:
Ray Whitney, Andrew Cassels, David Vyborny, Nikolay Zherdev, Todd Marchant, Sergei Fedorov, Jan Hrdina, Manny Malhotra, Frederik Modin, Jason Chimera, Anson Carter, Gilbert Brule, Mike Peca, Kristian Huselius, Jakub Voracek, Derrick Brassard, Antoine Vermette, Vinny Prospal, Jeff Carter and last, but not least, RJ Umberger - the lone survivor.
This is by no means a shot at Nash, but more of a look at how a franchise needs to build a team and not around a single element. The organization reached the playoffs just once in Nash's tenure in 2008-09 when they were swept by the Detroit Red Wings. I think when they took a 13 point step backwards in 2009-10 the writing was on the wall that winning with Rick Nash as the focal point just wasn't going to work. Then the trade winds picked up. The last shot they had to win with Nash was when the Jackets pulled the trigger on a deal that sent Jakub Voracek, a 1st rounder (Sean Coutourier) and a 3rd rounder to Philadelphia for Jeff Carter. When that experiment went haywire, two things happened: Nash's tenure was at it's limit and in came the arrival of Jack Johnson (acquired in the Jeff Carter to LA trade). To go along with the previously acquired James Wisniewski from Montreal for just a 7th round pick, the Blue Jackets suddenly had two fantastic defensemen reaching their prime years and the ultimate trading piece in Nash. You have to give the Blue Jackets a lot of credit for waiting to get the best deal in return for the face of their franchise.
On July 23, 2012 the Columbus Blue Jackets traded Rick Nash, Steve Delisle and a conditional 3rd rounder to the New York Rangers for Brandon Dubinsky, Artem Anisimov, Tim Erixon and a 1st rounder in 2013. Erixon, once a first round pick, is still developing and will not be rushed along. Anisimov adds a big body down the middle who provides secondary scoring and a solid two-way game. Dubinsky has been the real prize in this deal for the Jackets. The organization currently lacks a Captain, but Dubinsky would be an ideal candidate. In 44 games this season, he has recorded 126 hits and won 55.5% of his faceoffs. He has chipped in 11 goals and 34 points, has a +8 rating and 78 penalty minutes. He does everything the Blue Jackets need from a leader. Mix this deal with the moves for Wisniewski and Jack Johnson along with the up and comers like Ryan Johansen and Cam Atkinson and old standby's Nick Foligno and Fedor Tyutin and this Jackets have a winning combination. Oh yeah, did I mention reigning Vezina Trophy winner Sergei Bobrovsky is regaining his form as is the recently healed Nathan Horton? This team is on the upswing and is actually very entertaining and exciting to watch. Columbus isn't a hockey town just yet, but this hard nosed team will find it's niche.
Now what this team really needs is a full arena. Make no mistake, the capacity may be lacking, but the fans this team does have are rabid. Look through social media and converse with some of their fans and you'll see a market that is ripe for the taking. Winning will likely be the only cure for the empty seats, but don't wait much longer because the band wagon is going to be full in no time.