As you may have surmised, as Blue Jackets’ injury woes have turned from a trickle into a full on stream, the Monsters were bound to fall victim to that. For a few months, they have managed to keep pace in a competitive division. Unfortunately a 3-9-0-1 stretch has sent the Monsters back into the basement. The rough stretch has Cleveland sitting at 14-17-2-2 and in seventh place in the AHL’s North Division standings.
Yes, they are currently in last place and seemingly destined to miss the playoffs yet again, but all hope is not lost.
It’s not all going to be doom and gloom in this month’s Going North!
The Monsters sit just a point back of the last playoff spot with a game in hand over Belleville. They can very easily get themselves back into playoff position. All they need is a little bit of help.
AHL or ECHL?
Many nights I watch the Blue Jackets and wonder if I am watching an AHL team. Similarly, if you’ve seen any of Cleveland’s games lately, you’d be wondering if they were an ECHL team. That’s how bad things have gotten for both clubs.
Coaching an AHL team has got to be one of the most frustrating jobs in all of hockey. Really by no fault of his own, first year head coach, Trent Vogelhuber, found himself putting together a patchwork lineup for much of the season. During the earliest days of the season, Cleveland was hanging out right near the top of their division and looking strong, especially offensively.
Then the injuries began.
It’s one thing to have your roster affected by injuries that happen while playing your own games. That is to be expected, but losing half of your starting roster due to circumstances beyond your control is just brutal. It’s really unfortunate to see what was once a promising season slipping away due to an unprecedented amount of injuries within the Columbus ranks.
Cleveland has been trying to get by with a team largely composed of depth pieces, ECHL call-ups, and PTO players. It is a great opportunity for lots of guys, but is not going to win many games down the stretch when all opponents will be gearing up for a playoff push.
Help on the way
Thankfully, reinforcements are on their way. In addition to all of the players that we get to watch in Columbus, the Monsters have been without some key players on their roster due to injuries of their own.
On offense, they have been without two of their top centers. Brendan Gaunce (10 games) and Justin Richards (4 games) have both missed time recently which has greatly hurt their depth down the middle. Joona Luoto has also missed the last six games for an injury of his own, further exacerbating their offensive woes. Those are some pretty big pieces to be missing out on during a crucial stretch the Monsters just went through, considering their replacements were mostly ECHL level players. The Monsters can’t get those guys back on the ice soon enough.
On defense, most notably they have been without their captain and veteran presence, Dillon Simpson, for the majority of the year. Simpson missed 29 games after having a tendon in his wrist lacerated by an opposing players’ skate. He just recently rejoined the lineup after that scary injury. Cleveland also welcomed All -Star rookie defenseman, David Jiricek, back to the team after his epic performance at the World Juniors. Although he’s been back for over a week now, he’s only appeared in one game due to illness.
By the way, did you hear he has been named to the AHL All-Star game as the second-youngest player to ever participate?
Those two aren’t the only additions for the Monsters to help get them back to their winning ways. Last month, they received Jake Christiansen back from the Blue Jackets and Marcus Bjork was sent down just this past week. That is four legitimate top six defenseman to inject back into the d corps. Not a moment too soon.
Hopefully, the Monsters can also get Daniil Tarasov back between the pipes as well at some point this year. Now that Elvis and Korpi are simultaneously healthy, he should get to see consistent time in net for Cleveland. His numbers haven’t been great in the AHL, but consistent playing time is what is needed for Tarasov, and the Monsters will gladly give it to him.
Save the season?
Jarmo Kekalainen has some big decisions to make in the near future. Clearly, his NHL club is (and have been for a while) playing out the string this year. Head Coach Brad Larsen’s lines and player usage makes one question how much development the young guys are really getting being with the big club. Does there come a point where the Blue Jackets shift their priorities to sending the young guys down and having them make a real playoff push and hopefully Calder Cup run?
I hope the answer is yes, because playing big minutes in meaningful games in the AHL, would benefit these guys more than getting stapled to the bench while Larsen “leans on his vets” in meaningless losses.
Now, doing this is easier said than done. Blue Jackets fans — season ticket holders especially — probably won’t be happy seeing some of their best prospects leaving the team, so a delicate balance must be struck there. But if Jarmo can swing it, he should be more than willing to take on salary at the deadline if possible to get some veteran depth pieces back to fill out the ranks to allow the Jackets to send down some young talent to put this Monsters team over the top.
Just imagine what an influx of players like Kirill Marchenko, Cole Sillinger, Kent Johnson, and yes even Liam Foudy can do for that team. One can argue Foudy should have been there all year (yes, he would require waivers), but that is its own article. Are they really developing much here, being benched late in games and playing 7-10 minutes a night? It is definitely up for debate.
I’m not a salary gap guru or anything like that, but I’d have to imagine there is something the Jackets can do in regards to Zach Werenski and Jake Voraceks’ cap hits in order to free up space to take on a few expiring contracts (and get some draft capital in the process) to help fill out the NHL ranks to allow them to send some guys to Cleveland.
What do you think? Should the Jackets’ brass make some bold moves to salvage the Monsters’ season?