America is often tagged as a nation that has evolved into a countrywide landscape of commercial sameness.
On nearly every corner there seems to be a Wal-Mart, Panera Bread, Home Depot, Starbucks, Olive Garden, Hampton Inn, McDonald's and so on. Original, one-of-a-kind establishments are difficult to locate. Off-ramps are concrete slides swerving our shiny, metal boxes toward Homogeneous Avenue.
"OMG, it's a Subway!!! YES!!!!"
Combating the indistinguishable signage is our country's stunning and varied scenery. Just look. America is a certified, natural beauty. Get a plane ticket or jump in your car and get out and see it. Now.
Sports teams also interrupt the sameness. Think about it: There is only one of each. Yes, sports are corporate and regimented in many ways, part of organized leagues, but the logos and nicknames are different. The 30 NHL arenas have their own personalities even if they aren't all The Forum, Maple Leaf Gardens, Boston Garden or Pittsburgh's Igloo. The menu of players is obviously unique.
The NHL last expanded into the sameness of America in 2000, when Minnesota and Columbus began play and were teams No. 29 and 30.
St. Paul, Minnesota, was an obvious choice after the North Stars moved to Dallas for the 1993-94 season. It took seven years before the NHL finally returned the land of 10,000 skates for the 2000-01 season, and the soul of hockey in the United States resides in Minnesota. When you sell out an NHL arena for a high school hockey state tournament every year, you win. Game, set, match.
Columbus, Ohio, was not a natural choice. Yes, the economy has been relatively strong and diverse. The population continues to swell, and sports are an important value to the residents. Football is king in Ohio, though. Could the city, and towns within a two-hour radius, make a hockey team part of the fabric of their lives?
Ticket sales are OK, and local television ratings haven't been all that good, but the Blue Jackets have lasted longer than the Atlanta Flames did in Georgia. The Flames were epically terrible. Not only did they not win a playoff series in their eight Georgia seasons, but their playoff record was 2-15.
The Blue Jackets just finished up their 13th NHL season. In the playoffs, they were swept by the Detroit Red Wings in the first round in 2009 and won two games in the first round against the Pittsburgh Penguins this season.
Minnesota hasn't had much more success. Yes, the Wild did reach the conference finals in just their third NHL season, but that was the only postseason in which the Wild had won a series before this year's seven-game first-round triumph over Colorado. They seemed better than Columbus, though.
Together, these two teams were second-class NHL citizens, part of the mediocre sameness with all the personality of your local CVS. Switch their uniforms and you couldn't tell them apart. Especially when Ken Hitchcock in Columbus and Jacques Lemaire in Minnesota coached against each other for two seasons.
The treadmill was headed toward a slow arena exit and on a perpetual incline. The Wild had Marian Gaborik and the Blue Jackets had Rick Nash, but both would be gone at age 27 after their teams realized they weren't players to build around but rather ornaments for a bigger tree.