MIXOLOGY: Welcome to the neighborhood, Columbus
Well, this ought to be fun.
Let me rephrase: huuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuge.
Think about it: road trips are significantly reduced, you can pretty much wave "bye bye" to this 10 p.m. and later start times out on the west coast, and those two-week gaps between home games at Nationwide Arena? See ya later, alligator.
If my name is "the 7 p.m. time slot," I'm going into marathon-training mode the way I'm going to get used over the next few years and beyond. That coffee maker you tend to fire up when the Blue Jackets are out west? Let him rest after dinner time -- you won't be needing him.
After this season is complete, it's going to be like moving into a new neighborhood. Over the next few months, take your time in awkwardly looking around and checking out what car the guy who lives two doors down is driving and try to get accustomed to that annoying dog in the backyard behind you.
You'll soon find out who mows their lawn on a normal schedule, and who prefers to let it grow out and masquerade their mailbox. Whose kids are flat-out obnoxious, and whose would you welcome into your home and look the other way if they slammed handfuls of Oreos? In a roundabout way, this is NHL realignment: sure, the Blue Jackets aren't entering an entirely new world but the surroundings are going to be fresh.
No longer are Chicago, St. Louis, Nashville et al the "division rivals" that make up the bulk of the second-half schedule. This is a brand new ballgame featuring neighbors in Pittsburgh, Washington, Philadelphia, New York, Toronto and others...the Eastern Conference is the new cul de sac of unpredictability for Columbus and it will be for a little while, but sometimes, change is good.
All of this got me thinking -- where do the new rivalries begin?
I talked to Michelle Crechiolo, who covers the Penguins with Sam Kasan for the team's official website, and we agree that Pittsburgh-Columbus is a rivalry that makes too much sense. Here's her take on things:
"I think the relatively short distance between Columbus and Pittsburgh is a huge reason why this matchup could become something special. It’s only about a three-hour drive between the cities, which makes it easy for fans to jump in their vehicles and make the drive to support their team in a road city. It’s always a blast taking a trip into enemy territory to see a hockey game, and I think Penguins and Blue Jackets fans enjoy that aspect of playing each other.
In addition, the Blue Jackets have a tough, gritty team. They have players that are expert at agitating, like Brandon Dubinsky. The Penguins saw a lot of Dubinsky when he was with Atlantic Division rival New York Rangers, who tried to match him up with Evgeni Malkin. Nick Foligno is someone else who’s mixed it up with a Penguins star, as he and captain Sidney Crosby mixed it up last season. I think the games between these clubs can get chippy and physical, which adds to the matchup. Finally, Columbus has a promising young blue line with size and skill that will be a challenge for Pittsburgh and its talented offense when realignment begins."
The "newness" isn't apprehension, but excitement -- and the housewarming party is a year long, which can't be all that bad depending on the company (we all know those people). And if you ask me, our next door neighbors are going to provide the greatest source of entertainment, and knowing some of their staff and fans well, I can report that they aren't the type to toss your kids' toys in the street if left in their yard.
Or maybe that was just my neighbors.
It just feels right, like the neighbors you'll always get along with despite each one of you trying to get a leg up on the other. Best-looking gardening? It's on. Smartest kids? Up for debate, but you get my point: watching this rivalry grow is going to be awesome, and I can't wait to get started.
The first step is building the foundation, and if you've been reading this space over the past few months, we'll be doing it one way: one brick at a time.