Look out for the BlueJackets and Mr. Nash
- MacLean, Marchant high on Jackets coming out of the lockout
posted July 24 @ 14:17, EST
(CP) - Doug MacLean sighs at the end of the phone when asked how he
feels when time and time again his Columbus Blue Jackets get lumped with
Florida, Nashville, Carolina, Anaheim and Atlanta as markets that may
struggle mightily coming out of the NHL lockout.
"It irks me to no end," says the Jackets GM. "And I've said it on more
than one occasion to the ones who have said it. It just seems to be an
easy name to throw in that mix. It's out of ignorance is what it is.
It's a lack of knowledge of what's really going on in our market."
If ticket sales are any indication, the Jackets remain a hot item
despite the year without hockey. The club is sitting at over 12,000
season tickets, with 70 per cent of the holders keeping their full
investment on their account during the lockout. The Jackets averaged
17,376 fans per game at the 18,136-seat Nationwide Arena in 2003-04,
including 16 sellouts. They've sold out 95 of their last 138 home games.
"People who say they want to get rid of Columbus, that's just
frustrating," says Jackets centre Todd Marchant. "They've obviously
never seen a game there or else they would never dream of thinking that.
"When we get a Pittsburgh coming in on a Wednesday night and we sellout
or close to, that says it all."
While apathy appears to reign in several U.S. markets, that's apparently
not the case in Columbus, where the Jackets are the only professional
team among the Big Four - though Ohio State football remains king.
Fans had just started to fall in love with the likes of Rick Nash and
Nikolai Zherdev in 2003-04 before the lockout cut that short.
"There's great anticipation here," said MacLean. "And I think it comes
back to our players. The last 20 games in our last season, when Zherdev
got rid of his issues (getting out of a Russian contract), Rick was in
the scoring race, the whole fan base finally realized: 'Hey, we've got
two of the best players in the world here.' That really jump-started it.
"Now there's a great buzz of where we're headed here. Everywhere I go,
every person I talk to in the city and the state, people are excited."
Marchant feels the sky's the limit for the Jackets, a franchise that
hopes to mirror the Colorado Avalanche or Dallas Stars in terms of
on-ice and off-ice success.
"I think Columbus will come out of this as good if not better than
anyone," said Marchant, a former Oiler. "We'll be able to compete with
the Detroits of the world. We have a great young core and unbelievable
fans. It reminds me of Edmonton that way - the fans are phenomenal in
The Jackets have an impressive young core led by Nash and Zherdev up
front, Rostislav Klesla on defence and both Marc Denis and Pascal
Leclaire in goal. Add in the likes of prospects such as Alexander Svitov
and Dan Fritsche, and you begin to see a franchise with solid building
Sure they would have loved to have won the draft lottery Friday, given
that they had three balls in it, but MacLean remains upbeat about where
his team is.
"I think we're in tremendous shape and really poised to take a major
step, from a personnel point and also from a fan, corporate and revenue
standpoint. I don't see any downside to be quite frank."
MacLean figures he'll have about 17 players under contract at around $17
million US heading into free agency Aug. 1. He's got plenty of cap room
to add a few free agents although he also has to re-sign Nash - a
restricted free agent who will be looking to cash in after sharing the
Rocket Richard Trophy as the league's top goal-scorer with 41 in 2003-04.
"Were' going to try to do some fun things this summer that's going to
make us a pretty good hockey team, I'm excited about that," MacLean said.
Nash, 21, returns to the NHL a different player, bringing his game to
yet another level after a sensational world hockey championship for Team
Canada in Austria in May and a superb season in Switzerland with Davos.
"It was the same for a lot of our guys," MacLean said. "He's the one
that obviously jumps out, but it was a good experience for Klesla to go
back and regain some confidence, it was great that Zherdev patched
things up in Russia, it was great for Svitov to have a full year in the
minors for the first time in his career and be an all-star, Fritsche
wins the Memorial Cup in London, David Vyborny is the captain of the
world champion Czech team in Austria - it was a huge year for a lot of