The Columbus Blue Jackets never advanced beyond the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, that is until this year.
The Blue Jackets chose to be buyers instead of sellers at the NHL trade deadline in late February, and rather than dealing players with expiring contracts, the front office added talent around the core group and it resulted in a first-ever trip to the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs where they pushed the Boston Bruins to six games before bowing out.
“Why be in the NHL if your goal isn’t to win the Stanley Cup?” Columbus general manager Jarmo Kekalainen said after exit interviews with the players. “It’s the only trophy, for teams, that’s worth competing for. I don’t think any team is happy if they win the Presidents’ Trophy or go out in the first or second round. Who cares? I’m pretty sure they would all say the same thing.
“It’s the Stanley Cup that everybody wants to win. Until you do that, you’re going to keep working at it. The first-round win is not good enough. A second-round win is not good enough. I’ve said that when people were challenging.”
The Blue Jackets did not just make it to the second round, they made a little history doing so.
The last team to qualify for the postseason, the Blue Jackets swept the Presidents’ Trophy winners, the Tampa Bay Lightning, a first in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and by doing so, Columbus captain Nick Foligno believes they earned a measure of respect in the National Hockey League.
“I don’t mean this disrespectfully, but there was a time where this team was not looked at very highly,” Foligno said. “I think the credit goes to management for putting a foundation down and the players for following it, trying to come in here and build something here.”
Although the Blue Jackets earned some respect with their run to get into, and later, advance in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, Foligno and his teammates are not slowing down one bit. Rather, they are more motivated to put in the work during the offseason to make possible a deeper postseason run in the future.
“I think that’s what I’m most proud of to this point,” Foligno said. “It’s been seven years now. It’s been three years in the playoffs. We’re building something here, and the job is not done. I think that’s what I’m taking away from this. I’ve learned that moral victories suck, but if anything, I’m excited about what’s ahead now. We’re building something here.
“Let’s make sure everyone, with this feeling in our stomachs right now, let’s use it to our advantage this summer and come back and be a better team, a better version of ourselves next year. Whether who’s here or not, it shouldn’t matter. We have a core group of players, so however it’s going to work, that’s on us as a core group and leaders to push this even further down the road.”