How did we get here?
Injuries aren't an excuse. Or are they?
Note: This was written before the Blue Jackets managed to win the last two games, improving their record to 6-10-1. Regardless, the team remains in the bottom three of the NHL standings, and I feel these questions are still valid. Not trying to be a buzzkill as this team looks to turn a corner, but since we're not out of the woods yet, the following will be unedited to reflect any current positive feelings.
Here's the thing: It's hard to write about this team right now. The injuries are unbelievable. While the team has done their best to not use them as an excuse, they certainly are a great explanation as to the team's struggles.
Although there are some very clear reasons as to why this team is sitting at the bottom of the NHL standings - again - there are a few things that bother me with how this team got here, injuries notwithstanding.
Todd Richards has been stubbornly hanging onto the idea that this team can play dump and chase, bump and bang hockey with Alexander Wennberg and Tim Erixon and Michael Chaput in prominent roster spots. At a certain point, the coach has to adjust his game plan when the personnel doesn't match the playbook, doesn't he?
Jarmo Kekalainen has made some good moves - Scott Hartnell for R.J. Umberger is highway robbery, no doubt about it. But he's also been frustratingly willing to let guys go out there who are in over their head. Wennberg is going to be an outstanding player one day. Today is not that day. Even though Jarmo and John Davidson repeatedly state they're building this team brick-by-brick, the right way, and that no roster spots will be handed out... it sure looks like Wennberg's draft status earned him a seat at the big boy table, doesn't it?
Why not bring a backup goalie in on a tryout to push Curtis McElhinney? It's been painfully obvious for awhile now that McElhinney just isn't a great backup that the team can have faith in. Or what about a veteran to split the time in Springfield instead of relying on two very young goaltenders to carry the load?
Why get stingy with contracts and money for Derek MacKenzie when Jared Boll gets a comfy contract and a guaranteed (not earned) roster spot? If the argument is that Boll provides leadership, and energy, and grit, and is respected in the locker room, guess what? That could also describe MacKenzie, a player who's valuable in many situations, including on the penalty kill (and with the team currently ranked 25th out of 30, they could sure use him).
If this team hadn't claimed Jack Skille from waivers or been the benefactor of the Flyers' itchy trade finger, where would they be right now?
And why, year after year, is it supposed to be a good thing that this team is the youngest roster in the league? Veterans matter. I get the feeling that this team is waiting for the stars to align in some magical 3-5 year period. But what happens if Hartnell, Nick Foligno, Ryan Johansen, and others are playing their best hockey now? You can't just keep peeling off veterans and tasking young guys to step up. No matter how good he may be one day, Wennberg is not ready to step up right now. The apparent lack of understanding of that fact is troubling to me.
I have more questions than answers. It'd be nice if it didn't seem like the guys in charge had more questions than answers.
Truthfully, I don't blame any one person. I certainly don't believe Kekalainen or Richards should be fired. If this team had half as many injuries, they'd likely be in a playoff position. But I still can't shake the feeling that some of these moves - or non-moves - are curious.
This team should have a bright future. Enough prospects are on the way. Even if this year is a season of bottoming out, it'll likely be short-lived, maybe even similar to the '06-'07/'07-'08 Flyers, missing the playoffs only to make a run to the Eastern Conference Finals the next season.
Yet, I'm still left scratching my head. How did we get here?