When a team runs into a rash of injuries, it’s easy to say that it creates an opportunity for someone else, that injuries can’t be used as an excuse, that organizations should have enough depth to recover and that everybody just needs to play harder.
And some of those things are true. But then you have the Columbus Blue Jackets, who until recently were losers of nine straight games and currently 10 of their past 12. There’s a time where injuries have to stop being an excuse. But, when you look at it objectively, this is not one of those times.
At the GM meetings in Toronto Tuesday, Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen said he was recently told that the Blue Jackets have lost seven man games due to injury for every game they’ve played this season. “Somebody also told me that you have no chance of making the playoffs if you have 300 man-games lost to injury,” Kekalainen said, “and we’re on pace to be almost double that.”
There is some hope here, though. After a 5-0 loss to the Detroit Red Wings on home ice Tuesday night, the Blue Jackets have a 6-11-1 record. That’s not good. It’s also not good that the Blue Jackets essentially mailed in the third period against the Red Wings. But the thing is, last year at this time, the Blue Jackets were 6-10-2. Injuries were not the issue last year, but the Jackets rallied to go 37-22-5 the rest of the way and make the playoffs.
This year’s Blue Jackets are at a similar crossroads. If they can start getting some of their injured players back, there’s nothing to suggest they can’t elevate themselves back into the playoff race, particularly in the Eastern Conference. A three-game win streak could be enough in this conference. But if they continue to flounder and lose players, they’ll end the season as a draft lottery team. The worst thing for the Blue Jackets would be to be somewhere in the middle.
But they have to start getting bodies back. Matt Calvert and Jack Skille could be back from their ubiquitous upper body injuries by this weekend, so that will help. The biggest boost, though, will come when Brandon Dubinsky returns from abdominal surgery, which could be next week. Mark Letestu’s groin injury will likely keep him out for a couple of weeks and Nathan Horton’s back/spinal troubles have been well-documented.
On defense, Ryan Murray is a concern. He’s a little young to be having these chronic knee problems and he’s out indefinitely, which is an enormous chasm to fill. Fedor Tyutin is probably three-to-five weeks away, which leaves the Blue Jackets without their top two defensemen. That, in turn, forces too much ice time on Jack Johnson and James Wisniewski and has others in roles for which they’re not suited. It was originally thought Cody Goloubef was going to be out for the year with a knee injury, but that apparently is not the case.
There was a time this season when Ryan Johansen was their only true center and he had missed all of training camp with a contract dispute. Dubinsky, Artem Anisimov and Letestu were hurt, leaving an enormous hole up the middle. (And let’s not forget that the Blue Jackets were without Vezina Trophy-winning goalie Sergei Bobrovsky for eight games, seven of them losses.)
Part of the problem is that the Blue Jackets have pinned their hopes on building a team that forechecks hard and is dogged on the puck. Dubinsky, Calvert and Boone Jenner are all those kinds of players and all have missed significant time this season. The problem with the forwards missing so much time is the same as it is on defense. Recently the Blue Jackets have used the likes of Corey Tropp and Adam Cracknell on their third line and these two guys, on most teams, would be borderline fourth-liners.
So if there were ever a team that could legitimately use injuries as an excuse, it’s the Blue Jackets. And if they think they deserve a mulligan for this season simply because they couldn't ice a competitive team many nights, we're willing to give it to them.