By Michael Arace
The Columbus Dispatch WEDNESDAY MAY 30, 2012 5:38 AM
The scoreboard does not lie, and it has not been kind to the Blue Jackets, not for many months. From the James Wisniewski suspension to the 3-13-2 start to the Scott Arniel firing to the Rick Nash trade request to the last-place finish, hope has progressively dimmed. The function of this column is, in large part, to right the scoreboard. It can be depressing, not to mention monotonous.
Today, we take a respite by handing the floor to defenseman Jack Johnson. If there is a beacon, he is it. He arrived in the Jeff Carter deal right before the trade deadline and played like a horse as the Jackets won 10 of their last 14 games.
Johnson went on to captain Team USA to a quarterfinal finish at the world championships, returned home from Finland and went into offseason training with his Michigan mates in Ann Arbor.
Last week, he was asked whether he had a message to deliver to Jackets fans. He was game for the opportunity, and he submitted to an hour-long telephone interview. In part, this is what he said:
I understand why people are frustrated. I haven’t been here that long, and I haven’t seen that much of the city, but I can understand why. In 12 years the team has had one go at the playoffs.
I’ll say this: I was shocked in every way — in every good way — when I first landed here. I came into the locker room after a 5-0 loss to the Colorado Avalanche (Feb. 24) and I was kind of expecting doom and gloom, but I was pleasantly surprised. It was an upbeat, positive environment. It was like, “We’ve got another chance tomorrow night.” I hadn’t been around that in a long time.
It started with the coaches; they created an environment where you wanted to be at the rink. They came down on you if you were not performing, but the vibe was positive. Everyone told me it would be completely different — a completely different culture — and if that was the case, the culture was changing, in my view.
I was excited about the talent level and the leadership. Successful teams have to be led by committee, and it was a lot of fun playing with James Wisniewski, Derek Dorsett, R.J. Umberger, Vinny Prospal. It started with Rick Nash, but a lot of guys keep it together to create a proper environment. I’d love for Nash to still be there, but if something happens, we as players understand the business side, and the Blue Jackets will go on.
When we put distractions aside, we were winning hockey games. Some people said, “Oh, those games don’t count, the pressure is off, they don’t mean anything.” I don’t buy that. We were dealing with our share of injury issues — and the teams we were playing, they were playing their best hockey, and the games definitely meant something to them — and we were winning.
Columbus is a great city, and I think everyone knows it’s not even close to where it could be as a hockey market. If we start winning, it could really blow up. Most people understand that it’s not going to happen overnight, but the one thing you can’t be afraid to say is what the goal is. We want to be like the Detroit Red Wings or the New York Yankees and be a contender every year. You should make the playoffs. Half the league makes the playoffs. For the most consistently successful teams, there is only one goal, and they’re not afraid to say it.
From right now, we’re setting a whole new standard. These guys care. A bunch of us have already gotten together and talked about it. We feel like we’ve got things where we want them, emotionally. By the time camp starts, we’re going to be where we want to be in terms of condition. Everyone is working to be in the right place from game one. We want to prove that this is a good hockey team, and not as far off as people may think.Now, back to our regularly scheduled programming.