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Could the Blue Jackets win the NHL Lockout?

By Tom

The end is nigh.  Seriously.  One way or another, the 2012-13 NHL Lockout will cease to be an issue.

If the National Hockey League owners and players can’t come to an agreement by mid-January, the season will likely be cancelled.

If the two parties come to an agreement, however, we’ll see a truncated season – likely 48 games or so.  And I’m hearing way too much scuttlebutt that the league is planning to start up again on Saturday, January 19.  Lots of rumor-driven smoke, but is there fire?  There’s just too much under-the-radar talk centered on that January 19 date, so I’ll work on the presumption that we’ll see some hockey.

If it’s true – that the lockout will end inside of a month – it’s probably time to assess where the Columbus Blue Jackets will be coming out of the lockout.  The more I consider the team’s offseason maneuvering, I can’t help but feel…positive…about what I’m seeing.  This opinion is founded on a handful of fronts:

SCHEDULING

Word came from the well-sourced Larry Brooks of the New York Post that:

“ Talk within NHL of flipping Winnipeg and Columbus for this year only pending future realignment…”

If true, that would mean that the Jets would take the CBJ’s spot in the Central Division  and the Blue Jackets would slot into the Jets’ position in the Southeast Division (which includes the Carolina Hurricanes, the Florida Panthers, the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Washington Capitals).  This, my friends, is huge.  Even if only for a year, it’s huge.  For a Blue Jackets move to the East accomplishes two things when looking toward a permanent place for the team in the Eastern Conference: 1) It acclimates the other Eastern Conference teams to the presence of the Blue Jackets.  2) It gives the Blue Jackets a leg to stand on when making their case for a long-term realignment to the East.

Then there’s the travel and time advantage.  The West Coast road trips would drop precipitously.  In fact, I’m hearing that the 48-game schedule could be conducted entirely within conference play, meaning the Blue Jackets would not have a Central, Mountain or Pacific Time Zone puck drop until the Stanley Cup Finals…if they make it that far.  Think about it, bleary-eyed CBJ Fan: Every evening game this season could start at 7:00PM or 7:30PM.  No more 10:00PM starts.

And that doesn’t even start to discuss the comparative advantage that the CBJ would have by playing in the Southeast instead of the Central.  No more Red Wings, Blackhawks, Blues or Predators.  I’m not saying the Southeast is a bad division, but the Central is murderer’s row.

LEADERSHIP

We’ve gone over this before, but I’m of the opinion that the John Davidson hire as Blue Jackets’ president of hockey operations is another tremendous move.  Davidson keeps telling us that the team will be built brick by brick, cautioning us for a rebuild that will take longer than a holiday weekend, but he’s proven with the St. Louis Blues that he can assemble a winning team with the right combination of players, coaches and hockey operations personnel.

The other leadership component that I think will go overlooked is the two-year extension given to coach Todd Richards.  I was beside myself in disbelief when he was brought in as an assistant to Scott Arniel, but his coaching performance last season in the face of a host of obstacles impressed me.  It will be interesting to see if he can continue make it happen when the lights are brighter and the games mean something.  If I was a betting man (and as a word of caution, I don’t win often when gambling), I’d side with Richards.  What can I say, I like the guy.

PLAYERS

Rick Nash is gone.  The soap opera is over.  The team can move on.  Hallelujah.  The team will miss his scoring, but they converted his salary into two legitimate NHL players (Brandon Dubinsky and Artem Anisimov) and a top prospect (Tim Erixson).  The Blue Jackets also will be forced to play a greater team game, and team leadership will come from more than just one All-Star.  All good things in my book.

But that was the past.  How about the future?  As my buddy Gallos so aptly reminded us over at DBJ, this lockout is forcing the Blue Jackets to put their younger guns through their paces in the American Hockey League instead of rush them into service in The Show.  Here’s what he said:

Brad Larsen is forging a winning nucleus for our club down in Springfield, and it keeps us from rushing many of our young players, which tends to happen due to the talent void at the parent club.  Every game they play down there is money in the bank for the CBJ.

This, again, is good…as are the results that the AHL’s Springfield Falcons are generating.  As I type, the Falcons are at the top of the AHL’s Northeast Division and sit in second seed in the AHL’s Eastern Conference.  And who’s playing for the Falcons?  How about Cam Atkinson, Ryan Johansen, John Moore, David Savard and Matt Calvert? Do those names ring any bells?  That’s right, the junior Blue Jackets are wreaking havoc in the minor leagues – a great sign going forward.

So add it all up — between suggested realignment-driven scheduling improvements, team leadership upgrades and player/player development improvements, can you think of any NHL team that has had a better lockout than the Blue Jackets?  I can’t.

To me, that means that the Blue Jackets are clear winners of this lockout…if not the winner.

That’s not to say that the team will be playing in August or whenever a Stanley Cup Final would be played (OK, joking about August)…but I have a sneaking suspicion that this team will be making some noise in a shortened 2013 NHL season.

Now, let’s get that collective bargaining agreement deal done and start playing some NHL hockey!

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