At last, the long awaited season wrap-up post. And yes, my lack of enthusiasm for writing this post pretty much sums up my feelings towards the sputtering end of the CBJ’s 2007-08 season. Or, to put it another way — I had a ticket to the last game and didn’t go, because I was tired and wanted to assemble my new kitchen table. Had the team been heading into the playoffs, could I have let the table wait and had an espresso? Probably. And, as it turns out, I didn’t miss much of anything in that last game (which I did watch on TV); the Jackets lost 4-1 to the Blues.
I struggle to wrap my head around this season. I’ve spent much of the year being irritated and demoralized by the constant negativity in some quarters. And yet, my own feelings about the season now that it’s all over are mostly negative and depressed. Yeah, it was the best season in their history, but I was really hoping for something more.
I didn’t expect playoffs this year. But I did expect a little better than how they ended up. Mostly, I expected they would at least be in the playoff race, and that we’d at least have some excitement in the last few weeks of the season. And I realize that they weren’t “mathematically” eliminated from contention until near the end, but honestly, it never felt like they were in it after they stumbled post-All Star Game. Yeah, they climbed up to around five points out, which is better than they’ve ever been before in the second half of the season. But to me, a team that’s really in the playoff race is going to be in that eighth spot for at least some time period after January. So that, to me, was very disappointing. Disappointment which was compounded by some of the terrible efforts we saw at the tail-end of the season.
Essentially this year showed how far away they still are. The big holes in the lineup going into the season continued to be big holes; no one stepped up from within to fill them. So the Jackets end the season as they started it — searching for a legit top line center and top d-man. Unlike some people, I’m comfortable with Howson not being a big player in the FA market last summer, but now that he’s had a season to assess the current lineup as they performed for a full year under Hitchcock, I do want to see more this summer.
But how much money will there be for signing FAs? We also saw attendance fall to near the bottom of the league this year, and for the first time, questions are starting to be asked about how secure the franchise’s future in Columbus is. While I don’t think we need to fear an imminent move to Kansas City, it’s a matter of concern. And creates all the more pressure for the team to win next year.
There were bright spots this season: Pascal Leclaire finding his form as an NHL keeper, Nik Zherdev playing (at least until the end of the year) like he wanted to be here, Rick Nash becoming the first homegrown captain in CBJ history. And there are always what ifs: what if Freddy Modin had been healthy, what if David Vyborny hadn’t gotten hurt in preseason?
Of course, like all fans of perennial losers, I maintain my faith — in the face of all evidence — that next year will somehow be different. Gilbert Brule will blossom, Jakub Voracek will be rookie of the year, Wade Redden will sign here as a UFA…okay, maybe not, but I do still feel like they’ve got at least some of the pieces in place, and with a few judicious additions, some consistent work, and some luck (for once), maybe April 2009 will bring with it playoff hockey at Front and Nationwide. And if not, well, the Crew have to be good one of these years, right? 1-1 so far, baby!
And on that optimistic note, I declare my spring-summer semi-vacation to be officially opened. I’m sure I’ll blog occasionally about the playoffs, draft, free agent frenzy, and whatever else goes on this summer, but not with any regularity. ‘Til September…