Wounded black and Blue Jackets ... still not dead
Pardon the puns, but the puns are intended.
The Columbus Dispatch’s Brian Hedger put it perfectly.
If this were a movie, the Jackets would be a zombie that's been shot, stabbed, sliced open, shot again, stabbed again, impaled on a pitchfork and beat about the head with a garden shovel ... and, yet, somehow still gurgling and moving forward.— Brian Hedger (@BrianHedger) February 21, 2020
Are they dead yet? We'll see.#CBJ
That tweet preludes the injuries to Elvis Merzlikins and Riley Nash Monday night against the short-handed Senators. The Blue Jackets are like that clown in the movie that can’t die, no matter how much you throw at it. Foligno’s face, alone, depicts the past season for his Jackets. Two black eyes and two goals in Monday’s win to lead the way, helping end an eight-game skid, and another goal Tuesday night at the Wild.
If you thought I was going to throw dirt on the supposed corpse then you don’t know me. Though the wind did go out of my — and I think the Blue Jackets’ — sails once Seth Jones was sidelined the rest of the regular season with a sprain and hairline fracture of the ankle, and then Oliver Bjorkstrand went down with the same injury for the same length of time, and the losses pile up, Columbus is still, amazingly, alive in the playoff picture.
However, even I can’t deny that for a team literally limping along, it doesn’t exactly look promising.
The fact this team has abled to withstand the amount of injuries — league-leading 375 man-games lost and counting — as well as speaking to the amount of prominent Blue Jackets names lost through the course of the season speaks wonders. Though currently in the playoff picture, while odds may seem more likely Columbus’ season could end without a fourth-consecutive trip to the playoffs, let’s not go all doom’n-gloom here. There’s a lot that we’ve seen to like!
The goaltending is looking like a strength for the organization. Merzlikins, nearly unbeatable for over a month’s time, makes one wonder what happens with a little scoring support. Then there’s Joonas Korpisalo who turned into an All-Star.
There’s more in the wings of the organization.
There’s also Thome in the system. Can’t forget about him either.— Brian Hedger (@BrianHedger) February 15, 2020
Back in October 2018, I asked #CBJ goaltending coach Manny Legace about the talent that was in the franchise’s pipeline and before I could finish, he said, “Ridiculous. It’s just ridiculous what we have.” https://t.co/xfyq92X5k0
The team is defensively sound. People will still jump to their Twitter feeds offering up Zach Werenski in any and all trade proposals. He’s not his counterpart in Jones, from the defensive element of the game, but who is?
Oh yeah, it’s obvious just how truly valuable no. 3 is. Maybe even more so based on his not being available now. There’s more to the bunched up losses since he went down, but they’re not so exclusive.
Speaking of Twitter (isn’t it great) I actually saw someone from earlier this season say they weren’t impressed with Vladislav Gavrikov. He’s proven he belongs in this league, his first full NHL season. We haven’t even expounded on Ryan Murray who is a great player when healthy, but he’s never healthy.
Mash unit meet Monster mash
We’ve all marveled at the Monster(s) impact of young guys from Cleveland. But then there’s the 5’4” veteran Nathan Gerbe, who we’ve seen become a roster mainstay since his call-up around Christmas. We’ve seen a fighting spirit from this club that even the most negative can’t deny, and Gerbe, unleashing the monster from within, has been a symbol of that.
Dude’s a beast.
Forget everybody else. Nathan Gerbe for President in 2020. #CBJ pic.twitter.com/s0OCjnjSTP— The Cannon (@cbjcannon) February 21, 2020
It’s encouraging, top to bottom, what we’ve seen from the organization. Players have proven they can hang. With Calvin Thurkauf making his NHL debut last weekend at the Predators, the Blue Jackets tied their franchise mark of eight rookies in a game lineup since 2008, and Thurkauf is the ninth Blue Jackets player to make his league debut this season.
Nick Foligno with good stuff about the bevy of young players that come up. Said once you put the #CBJ sweater on, you’re one of us. They’ll carry on business as usual in the heat of this playoff race.— Mark Scheig (@markscheig) February 21, 2020
The summer ahead
Looking ahead at CapFriendly, the Blue Jackets have several RFA, and a few UFA, to work out, namely Pierre-Luc Dubois, Korpisalo, and Merzlikins. All three are making under a million dollars, and Dubois is certainly up for a big raise from his sub-million deal. He’s never a missed a game either (knock on wood). RFA Josh Anderson, out most of the season, will seek his next raise up from $2.1 million. Murray will still have one more season at $4.6 million. Maybe they look to move him as he can never stay healthy?
As of right now, Columbus is drafting in every round minus the second and third. There’s a bunch of prominent NHL free agents on the horizon. What does Jarmo Kekäläinen do this summer?
Food for thought
The odd thing with the Metropolitan Division right now is despite the Blue Jackets losing nine of 10, they’re still just eight points out of first place as the Capitals struggled mightily for a while, too. They’re also currently in the second wild card, and just four points out of second in the Metro behind the Penguins. But the Rangers are surging and the Hurricanes are just two points back of Columbus.
It feels bleak for the overall playoff picture this season, because of the injuries, but the Blue Jackets keep managing to get to overtime as they are 1-4-5 over the last 10. Imagine if they converted even half of the 14 overtime losses this season; they’re 0-4 in the shootout. And yet, here this team is, somehow even in the race at all when they probably should have been buried the way things were looking around Thanksgiving.
This is what the team is.
For better or worse, through the deadline, they’ll sink or swim with their next-man up mentality. Say what you want about John Tortorella but few coaches and teams succeed leading the league in man-games lost. I think every season I get to a point — probably post-trade deadline — where I’m literally shrugging off everything up to that point. Just win. You’re right there. That was the sense of relief I saw from the players on the ice following Monday’s win against the Senators.