COLUMBUS - Not so long ago, contending for an NHL playoff spot until the last few weeks of the season would have exceeded the paltry hopes of Columbus Blue Jackets fans.
Not anymore. After seven years of broken promises and wildly erratic play, they want more. That's one reason why attendance has plummeted by almost 2,000 per game in the last year.
General manager Scott Howson looks at the Blue Jackets' franchise-record 80 points in 2007-08 and knows it is not nearly enough. Even though the team finished 11 points behind Nashville for the last playoff spot in the West - the closest the franchise has ever come - he is well aware that the fans have grown tired of annual excuses.
"It's a small step," Howson said. "We're not near where we want to be. We're getting better, but we've got a long way to go."
Give Howson, coach Ken Hitchcock and the Columbus front office this much: They know that the club needs a lot of help to become a solid contender.
"We know we have to start making some progress," said Rick Nash, who led the team with 38 goals and 69 points and was selected as team captain late in the year.
"And we have. Next year's going to be a fun year."
Fans can count on Howson trying to make up that difference by adding quality players. He will have around $20 million to spend on re-signings and free agents this summer.