It's been over thirty years since the Miracle on Ice. Upon each anniversary, an increasingly smaller segment of the population can be heard to say: "I remember watching that game." Meanwhile in Columbus last year, the Blue Jackets had become so bad that an increasingly larger segment of a pissed-off fan base wistfully uttered that same statement whenever somebody would recall a regular season win over a division rival. But the times, they are a changin'.
Hardcore Blue Jackets fans already know this: John Davidson is a badass. Davidson, a former NHL player and hockey broadcaster (but not the same guy that hosted "That's Incredible"), took a bottom-feeding Blues organization and overhauled it into a top contender in the Western Conference during his six-year tenure as President of Hockey Operations. During that time, he leaned heavily on a young Finnish scout named Jarmo (pronounced "Yar-mo") Kekalainen (prounounced "Keh-ka-line-in") to help him rebuild the Blues by refocusing the team's effort to acquire two important resources that were dangerously in short supply . . . . talent and character.
As it turns out, teams that do well in the NHL, and most any other sport except Olympic Badminton, have at least two things in common — talent and character — and not just on the ice. Winning organizations value talent and character at every level, from the people who find the players, to the person who signs the players, to the players themselves, all the way to the person who does the laundry. Like St. Louis in 2006, Columbus in 2012 found itself lacking in these two important resources. And then John P. McConnell hired Davidson to run the hockey operations for the Blue Jackets.
Davidson likes to say that his success in St. Louis came from taking no shortcuts, by building "brick by brick." The Blue Jackets' sad history includes a pathetic misuse of high draft picks. With three first-round picks in the 2013 NHL entry draft, the time to bring in the wrecking ball and begin reconstruction was now for Davidson. When he hired Kekalainen last week to replace Scott Howson as GM, Davidson (or "JD" as he is lovingly referred to by CBJ fans) didn't just blow the place up. He already has the entire first floor rebuilt and ready for occupancy.
Not everybody is willing to forgive and forget. There are still pissed-off ex-Blue Jackets fans in Columbus. But surprisingly there are a lot more fans who see a light at the end of the tunnel and are extremely confident that it is not a train (or a bum lighting a cigarette butt). For a team that has pretty much sucked as bad as any professional sports team in America for the last two years, it's a strange sight to behold: a fan base as energized, hopeful and radiant as it ever has been. They have wallowed in the depths of suck. They know suck. And they know the Blue Jackets are getting ready to not suck.