Over the last couple of months, both the coaching staff and the front office have been peddling the idea that the massive amount of injuries the Blue Jackets have endured this season are the primary reason for the team’s struggles. Brad Larsen used the line most recently when talking to Bally Sports prior to the game in Toronto. While the injuries have certainly played a role, I can’t help but feel like the front office is trying to position the blame away from themselves, their decisions, and the failures of the coaching staff.
Let’s take a little trip down memory lane. Zach Werenski was injured on November 10th against the Flyers. Prior to that game, the Jackets were 3-9 and had lost all 9 of those games by at least 3 goals. Jakub Voracek only played 11 games this season. In those games, he scored one goal and five assists. That stat doesn’t tell the entire story, however. Voracek’s CF% in those 11 games was a dismal 38.4% and his xGF% 32.4%. Justin Danforth was having a positive impact to both the scoresheet and the team’s energy level before his season ending injury, but you would have a hard time convincing me that he would be such a major addition to the team that it would have pulled them out of the hole they are in. Bean? Meh. Chinakhov? I like the player, but he’s not a huge difference maker, yet at least. Nyquist? The team still stunk for two-thirds of the season with him.
You can argue that the sum of all of these injuries made the team worse, but you can’t ignore the fact that the team was playing terrible hockey before the injury bug struck. It’s reasonable to think that this team wouldn’t be bottom three in the league if fully healthy, especially if Werenski and Jenner both did not miss time, but it’s ridiculous to insinuate they could have been playoff contenders. The biggest problems for this team continues to be defensive play, team structure, and misutilization of personnel. The latter of those has improved as of late, and the on-ice performance has been better as a result, but it’s all too little too late.
My biggest fear going into the off-season is that the front office will use the injury excuse to not make any major changes. The coaching staff needs to be replaced from top to bottom, but it seems like Jarmo Kekalainen has been leaving the door open to not making any changes by blaming man games lost. There are other issues that need to be addressed as well. Mathieu Olivier and Erik Gudbranson were added to increase the “size” and “grit” of the team, but neither have made a major impact on the overall toughness or compete level of the team. Hopefully the center position can futuristically be filled by Sillinger, Johnson, and this year’s first round draft pick, but the depth down the middle will hold this team back until then. All of that to say that changes need to be made in order for this team to be competitive next season.
The worst part of all of this is pretending that the fanbase can’t see the actual problems. It’s insulting to try and convince us that everything would have been fine if only everyone were healthy. Let’s not ask questions about why all of these injuries are happening and if they could be related to the team’s practice or conditioning habits. Let’s not address the glaring issues with the coaching staff. Let’s pretend that the boneheaded moves by the front office over the off-season didn’t happen. What the fans want is honesty and a willingness to admit mistakes and to move on from those mistakes. That can’t happen if those in charge are burying their heads in the sand.