Columbus finally front and center
Dan Di Sciullo - NHL Editor|
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
The Columbus Blue Jackets had to wait a while for their chance to host the NHL's brightest stars, but, at long last, the franchise's moment has finally arrived.
Unfortunately for hockey fans in Columbus, Ohio, and everywhere else, the honor of participating in All-Star weekend is not as luring as the prospect of some much needed time off from the grind of the regular season.
Some players will skip the festivities due to injuries and other big names simply declined to put themselves up as replacement options.
Even this weekend's hosts were not immune to the trend, as Sergei Bobrovsky, Columbus' star goaltender, will be forced to miss the All-Star activities due to a groin injury.
The recent announcement that Pittsburgh Penguins stars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin both will rest nagging lower-body injuries rather than go to Columbus is another blow for an All-Star weekend that will not feature some of the league's most recognizable faces.
In addition to Bobrovsky's absence, goaltenders Jimmy Howard, Henrik Lundqvist and Pekka Rinne will not participate. Howard and Rinne are sidelined with injuries, while Lundqvist was snubbed but hinted he'd rather use the break for rest anyway.
There also will be no Zdeno Chara, as Boston's mammoth defenseman was not picked to be an All-Star and his absence will be noticed most when the players line up for the hardest shot competition at Saturday's skills showcase.
But, of course, the show must go on. Even though some of the sport's most recognizable faces won't be a part of All-Star weekend, this is still a great moment for the Blue Jackets, and one that was a long time coming.
Columbus was originally slated to host All-Star weekend two years ago before the lockout knocked out half the season along with the midseason showcase. Last year's Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia pushed back the Blue Jackets' All-Star obligations even further, but like Norma Desmond, the franchise is finally ready for its close-up.
Ohio's capital city has never been considered an ideal locale for an NHL franchise, but the Blue Jackets enter this moment in the sun healthier than they have ever been.
Columbus only has made the postseason twice in its first 13 seasons, but one of those times came last season when the Jackets gave the heavily favored Penguins a run for their money before exiting the first round in six games.
Sure, the 2014-15 season has been an exercise in patience for Columbus and its fan base. The club was beset with injury issues from the start of the campaign and the fact the Jackets enter the All-Star break 14 points out of a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference is in large part due to the team's inability to stay healthy.
A terrific December seemed to put the Blue Jackets on track to make a run at the playoffs, but a 4-6-0 record in January has derailed those dreams temporarily. Columbus will need to jump out of the break playing near flawless hockey to qualify for the postseason.
But even if they miss the playoffs in 2014-15, time still is on the Blue Jackets' side. Bobrovsky recently signed an extension to stay in Columbus and with young forwards like Nick Foligno and Ryan Johansen in the fold (and also representing the Blue Jackets in this weekend's activities), the once-derided expansion team could be on the verge of a renaissance.
So, even if this All-Star contingent may not represent the absolute best and brightest the NHL has to offer, it's going to be tough to dampen the mood in Columbus. The franchise has rarely held the spotlight since joining the league over a decade ago, and fittingly, the Blue Jackets are more prepared than ever to be the center of attention.