No matter how exciting the Blue Jackets’ late season playoff run was last spring, one burning matter remained all summer: with a better start, they would have been in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
They may have been a slam dunk for the postseason if not for a 5-12-3 opening that put them behind the 8-ball with roughly two months left in the lockout-shortened season. The players knew it, the coaches knew it: no one wanted to go through the excitement-turned-disappointment that was the final game of the regular season again without the proper result.
And that has been a primary focus for the coaching staff and players throughout the summer – starting on the right foot and getting ahead of the game, and not having to play catch-up late in the year. One thing Blue Jackets management noticed was the team’s record improving as the season moved along, which John Davidson attributed to the players becoming comfortable with one another and everyone understanding their roles.
With the majority of the team returning in 2013-14, the Blue Jackets are confident that they can hit the ground running and avoid the opposite.
“For our club, we can just look at our win/loss record as it got better during the season, so we feel strongly as a group to have a full training camp (and how it helps),” Davidson said. “Everyone knows when training camp is, and as a player, you work with your body to get yourself into top shape and come into camp and go from there. Last season, with a looming lockout that turned into a lockout, there’s so many question marks – but there’s no excuses because some teams came out and played very well.
“That page is turned; we know what we are as an organization and we know what we demand from our players as a management group. We know how our coaching staff coaches and the players have a lot of knowledge built in already. I feel like we’re going to hit the ice with our feet going already. We should be ready to go and there shouldn’t be any excuses.”
One of the most valuable things the Blue Jackets can take from last season, Davidson said, is the experience gained from playing in meaningful games so late in the season. With a young group that’s surrounded by a strong leadership group, they developed a lot of trust and belief in each other by competing in tight hockey games that carried significant weight in the playoff race.
While they can’t just pick up where they left off, Davidson believes the Blue Jackets are in a much better position now because of what they went through a year ago.
“This club, late in the season, had to win games to be in the run for the playoffs and they did,” Davidson said. “They won a lot of games on the road, which is very difficult late in the season. I think they learned, as a group, what it takes to win some tough hockey games and I’m hoping they remember that.
“I’m convinced they will. The parity in this league is remarkable; every other club is trying to improve in the offseason as we did.”
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