It’s been awhile since I’ve done one of these, but I had some random thoughts on the Columbus Blue Jackets:
Boone Jenner’s injury
Following Friday night’s win over the Wild, we were concerned about knee injuries suffered by Jake Voracek and Patrik Laine. We waited for news on Saturday, but instead what we got was word that Boone Jenner was placed on the IR with a lower back injury. He is considered week-to-week. Per head coach Brad Larsen, Jenner had been bothered for a few weeks, and after another 20+ minute game, he couldn’t take it anymore.
What makes this worrying is that it isn’t Boone’s first back injury. He missed over half the season in his second year. That could have derailed his promising young career, but he played the full 82 games each of the next two seasons. He suffered another back injury in the 2017 preseason and missed the first seven games to start the season. He was fine after that, however. Certainly he is known for a style of game which would leave him more susceptible to injury, given the way he throws hits, and hangs around in high traffic areas around the net.
The timing of this is especially bad, since he was on pace for the most productive offensive season of his career. MrSwit13 wrote last month about his rediscovered scoring touch. Boone needs just seven more goals and five more points to match his career highs from 2015-16. With only 22 team games left, he can’t afford to miss too many.
There’s also the impact on his teammates. Somehow he ended up being the best center to play with Laine. He was trusted by the coaches in all situations, averaging an insane 20:27 per game. His intensity and his never-quit attitude served as an example for his teammates, proving why he was a natural fit as captain.
Never quit, never tank
Speaking of that, how about the resilience of these Blue Jackets? They lead the league with 19 comeback wins this season. Their recent skid put the playoffs out of reach, finally, but they’re still on pace to exceed most preseason projections.
Those projections had the Jackets in the basement of the Metro, and near the top of the draft. The team is in the process of rebuilding, so many fans adjusted their expectations accordingly. They wanted to see the Jackets get another high pick, and a .500 record jeopardizes that.
This bothers me, because it feels like it goes against the point of fandom. We want to watch our teams win, right? I don’t know about you all, but I’ve found the last month and a half (and the first two months of the season) to be a lot of fun. The team has discovered a scoring touch which they lost last season. We’re getting a first look at players that will be part of the core for years, including Cole Sillinger, Yegor Chinakhov, and Adam Boqvist. Andrew Peeke has taken a step forward and established himself as a partner for Zach Werenski on the top pair. Most importantly, Laine rediscovered his scoring touch. Front offices can tank, but coaches and players shouldn’t. They should try to win, and that’s a good habit to develop. The winning they do now is practice for future seasons. Teams that lose a lot can easily get into a rut of perennial losing, like we’ve seen in Buffalo for the last decade.
I go into each game wanting the Jackets to win. If they do lose, however, then their draft position is a pretty nice consolation prize. Plus there’s always Chicago’s pick. Currently they’re eighth worst by points percentage, If they sell hard at the trade deadline, they could drop farther.
Danforth cashes in
Another bit of news last week was Justin Danforth signing a two year contract extension that carries an AAV of $975,000. This raised some immediate questions, such as “him?” and “why?”
Among the Columbus forwards with 200+ 5v5 minutes, Danforth leads in CF% (50.22, the only one over 50%) and FF% (49.28) is second to Gregory Hofmann (woops) in GF% (54.55) and third to Hofmann and BJORKSTRAND in xGF% (50.28). He is seventh in 5v5 points/60 (1.69) and trails only BJORKSTRAND in shots/60 (8.45) while leading the forwards in individual expected goals per 60 (0.91).
Beyond the advanced metrics, he has a great story. An undersized forward, he was overlooked by the major junior leagues, was undrafted by the NHL, and spent four years playing college hockey. After that he bounced around the AHL and ECHL for a couple seasons before departing for Europe. He was a near point-per-game player in Finland’s Liiga and Russia’s KHL. The Blue Jackets signed him to a one-year, one-way contract last May. He didn’t make the opening day roster, but once he was called up, he made sure to stay there. Only an injury kept him out for a month and a half. He can play center or wing, and while he is mostly a checking line player, has filled in on a higher line. He provides a depth scoring threat, despite being deployed in a defensive role.
In addition to his on-ice value, I feel like it sends a good message to the locker room that the organization values his effort. That sets an example for the others. If they do right by a depth player, certainly they’ll reward someone more talented who works the same way — like Laine, perhaps?
Danforth turns 29 this week, so he isn’t part of the long term plan. A multi-year deal may seem excessive, but two years isn’t ridiculous. The cap hit is negligible, and can be parked in the press box or Cleveland if necessary, as younger, more talented players pass him on the depth chart. Even if they do, injuries happen and then we’ll appreciate Danforth as insurance.
Buckeyes headed to the Frozen Four
The Ohio State women’s hockey team earned the #1 seed in the NCAA tournament, and survived a scare to advance in their first match on Saturday. It took double overtime to defeat Quinnipiac, thanks to Corinne Schroeder making 73 saves.
Clair DeGeorge scored the game winning goal:
omg what a game winning goal by Clair DeGeorge to send Ohio State to the Frozen Four in double OT! pic.twitter.com/bcp9jy2BTw— The Ice Garden (@TheIceGarden) March 13, 2022
The team was recognized at the Jackets game last night, with coach Nadine Muzerall appearing on the pregame show:
Ohio State plays in the second semifinal on Friday night at 7 p.m. in State College, PA. Their opponent is Yale and that game can be seen on ESPN+. The Ice Garden has an article recapping all four exciting quarterfinal games.
Wednesday at Ottawa
Thursday vs. Washington
Saturday vs. St. Louis
Coming off of two straight home wins against playoff teams, the Jackets will face two more playoff teams at home, after a quick trip to Ottawa. Here’s hoping that Voracek returns soon, but in the meantime we’ll see which players can step up in his and Boone’s absence. Last night it was Sillinger and BJORKSTRAND. On Friday the hero was Chinakhov.
Play Me Out
Singer-songwriter Mark Lanegan passed away on February 22, 2022 at the age of 57. With the band Screaming Trees, he was part of the Seattle grunge movement of the late 80s and early 90s. He then embarked on a solo career that saw him branch out into other genres, often influenced by blues or folk. I’ve only started exploring that material after his death. Before, I just knew him from his tenure in the rock band Queens of the Stone Age. One of my favorite tracks of theirs is this Lanegan feature from the album Rated R. His raspy baritone was so haunting and beautiful.