Work in Sports
CENTRAL DIVISION |
5 Columbus Blue Jackets
Team Page | 2000-2001 Schedule | Roster
Sports Illustrated Ranking: 28
By Mark Bechtel
in 1997 Peter Karmanos, owner of the Hartford Whalers, announced his intention to move his NHL team, preferably to Columbus, Ohio. He was so intent on taking the Whalers to Columbus that he excitedly talked up the town to the players. "He told us, 'Don't worry, we're going to Columbus. It's an awesome city,'" remembers wing Kevin Dineen.
As it turned out, the Ohio city's unwillingness to build a new arena for Karmanos persuaded him to move his team instead to Carolina. Now Columbus has a new, privately funded arena and an expansion team, not to mention Dineen. How "awesome" he will feel in March after six months of thrice-weekly shellackings remains to be seen. "It's going to be tough," says general manager Doug MacLean.
At least Columbus has MacLean, who knows a thing or two about coaxing wins from a new team. In 1995-96 he coached the Panthers to the Stanley Cup finals in their third year of existence. One lesson MacLean learned is that a good goalie can keep a team in a game. To that end he signed 32-year-old unrestricted free agent Ron Tugnutt, who last season led the Penguins to a first-round upset of the Capitals, and acquired highly regarded 23-year-old Marc Denis. He also went after "character people," vets like Dineen and forward Geoff Sanderson.
While character might give you intangibles, it doesn't necessarily give you goals. Dineen scored 35 in 1992-93, Sanderson had 41 in '93-94 and wing Steve Heinze had 26 three years ago, but none scored more than 13 last year. To address that possible deficiency, MacLean scoured the ends of the earth looking for players who could light the lamp. His dragnet yielded forwards Espen Knutsen, Jan Caloun and David Vyborny, who were the second-leading scorers in the Swedish, Finnish and Czech elite leagues, respectively. "It's a gamble to take these guys," says MacLean. "They've scored in every league except the one that counts."
Unless MacLean's U.N. goal-scoring force pans out, Blue Jackets fans' better hope that stellar goaltending leads to a few wins. Beyond that, they'll have to wait patiently for MacLean to locate and develop some talent, a task he's embarking on without a three-year or five-year plan. "I've got a day-to-day plan," says MacLean. "That's as far ahead as I get.
Issue date: October 16, 2000
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