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Look out for the BlueJackets and Mr. Nash

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  • David Elkin
    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
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 24 4:07 PM
      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
      Columbus."

      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
      blocks.

      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
      our guys."
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