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03-30-2013, 07:25 PM
  #56
Mayor Bee
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Part 2: The Setting

Contrary to popular belief, Columbus is not "a Sun Belt team". It's not a "failed franchise". It's not "doomed to fail". It's not "an experiment". It's not whatever porcine oafs like Bruce Garrioch declare it to be.

Columbus is located right smack in the middle of Ohio. It's the capital, largest city, and 3rd-largest metro area in the state. And Ohio isn't some open wasteland; it's the 7th-most populated state in the country. Columbus itself also has over 100,000 college students at any given time.

What Columbus has is a long history of hockey. What Columbus has never had is a long history of grassroots hockey. Pro hockey was basically unstable minor league teams, so the grassroots efforts were never there. There were only three ice surfaces in all of Central Ohio, none of which were year-round. One was at Ohio State, one was the Fairgrounds Coliseum, and the last was in Newark (an hour to the east). High school participation was basically non-existent due to the expense and the incredible logistical headaches associated with it.

High school hockey was confined mostly to Northern Ohio. It clusters around Toledo and down to Bowling Green, and the entire quadrant of Northeast Ohio has high school teams all over the place. Ohio has produced less than 25 NHL players, every single one from either Northeast Ohio and Toledo, with one coming from Bowling Green. The most prominent is probably Dave Ellett, born in Cleveland only because his father was a minor-league player.

What this has meant is very simple. As it currently stands, no one in the NHL grew up a Blue Jackets fan; it was impossible. A handful of current prospects did, but among current players in the NHL, no one makes that claim. Columbus has the perception of being "the new kid". Most American NHL players grew up in Minnesota, Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, New York, or New England. They grew up with a local NHL team. Ohio's current crop of NHL prospects, 4 of whom took home gold medals in the WJC this year, did as well. Current NHLers? Not so much.

With the perception and the lack of history, signing high-level free agents simply isn't going to happen. There is no All-Star veteran "going home". There is no respected top-liner "contributing to his native community". There is none of that. The only way to get someone who grew up a CBJ fan is to draft them, and none of them are even close to hitting the age of free agency anyway.

This cuts the other way too. A pending UFA playing in Columbus is more likely to want to test free agency. They come from Ontario, Quebec, western Canada, etc., not from Ohio. The only way to convince a free agent to stay in Columbus is to pay more. The only way to convince a free agent to come to Columbus in the first place is to pay more. Between 2000 and 2030, Columbus will not have the ability to keep players at market price or to acquire players at marketplace; it's simply impossible to do so.

This is the reality of the situation. Jeff Carter was traded to Columbus and couldn't be located for four days, then had to be convinced to come to Columbus at all. James Wisniewski had to be signed to a contract that's probably $500-750K over his annual value, not because of a GM decision, but because the only way to convince him not to hit free agency and sign with Detroit (his hometown team) was to do that. Ditto RJ Umberger, who may well be in Pittsburgh right now, or Derick Brassard, who could be in Montreal, and so on and on and on.

It's impossible to simply brand a GM in a small market as a success or failure based merely on the dollar amount or term of pending free agents. Large-market teams have absolutely no concept of what it's like to have one or two B-level options in free agency, knowing that the A-level guys won't even take your phone calls. That's not just one or two A-level guys, that's any of them.

Side story. Back in 2008, Columbus tried to sign Wade Redden when he hit free agency, back when Wade Redden was regarded as an A-level player. Supposedly, Columbus was told that they simply did not possess the means to sign him; they offered more cash and a longer term than the Rangers did, but the Redden camp had zero interest. Dodged a bullet, true, but it still reflects a reality of small-market life.

Next up. Part 3: goalies

[May a venomous duck slowly consume your most valuable appendage if you quote this entire post to reply to it.]

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