Blue Jackets’ Injury Woes Doesn’t Excuse Need for Development

Have you lost track yet? Don’t worry you are not alone. When it comes to the current state of the injured list for the Columbus Blue Jackets, it seems like something is changing on a daily basis.

Substack Subscribe to the THW Daily and never miss the best of The Hockey Writers Banner

We thought this would be a good time to summarize the entire situation in one place for you. As of this writing, the Blue Jackets have eight players on injured reserve including two players on long-term injured reserve. Given the prognosis, it could stay this way for the foreseeable future.

As a result of this onslaught of injuries, the Blue Jackets are in 31st place in the NHL standings. The outlook for the rest of this season is bleak at best. Not only is it the volume on injuries, it’s the impact of the players that are injured that has created this situation.

First, we’ll summarize where things stand on the injured list. Then we’ll try to tackle the question about how to handle the rest of the season. The rest of the season is proving to be a test not only to the coaching staff, but to management as well. How they handle this will go a long way in determining what the future will look like.

Summarizing Injured Reserve

The Blue Jackets have eight players on injured reserve. Here is what that looks like.

  • Zach Werenski: Placed on injured reserve retro to Nov 12 with a separated shoulder and torn labrum. He was placed on long-term injured reserve on Nov 19. He is having surgery this week. He is expected to miss the rest of this season.
Zach Werenski Columbus Blue Jackets
Zach Werenski won’t be back until next season. (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)
  • Patrik Laine: Placed on injured reserve retro to Nov 12 with a sprained ankle. He is expected to miss three to four weeks. On this timeline, he would be expected to return sometime in early December. Dec 10 would be four weeks.
  • Jake Voracek: Placed on injured reserve on Nov 11 due to an upper-body injury. He is out indefinitely. There has been no recent update from the team as to when we could see him again.
  • Adam Boqvist: Placed on injured reserve on Oct 26 due to a broken foot. He is expected to miss six weeks. On this timeline, he would be expected to return sometime in early December. Dec 7 would be six weeks.
  • Jake Bean: Placed on injured reserve on Nov 17 due to a shoulder injury. The exact nature of the injury has not been released yet. He is out indefinitely. Head coach Brad Larsen summarized this situation as “not good.” From these indications, we shouldn’t expect to see Bean for a while.
  • Justin Danforth: Placed on injured reserve on Oct 25 due to a torn labrum. He had surgery and is expected to make a full recovery in six months.
  • Elvis Merzlikins: Placed on injured reserve retro to Nov 15 due to a hip injury. He is expected to miss one to two weeks. On this timeline, he is expected back by the end of November. Nov 29 would be two weeks.
  • Nick Blankenburg: Placed on injured reserve on Nov 11 due to a broken ankle and a high ankle sprain. He is expected to miss six to eight weeks. On this timeline, he would be expected to return either at the end of December or early January. Jan 6 would be eight weeks.

This list comprises of the Blue Jackets’ number-one goalie, four of their top defensemen and three of their most important offensive contributors. Between them, their cap hit is $38.66 million. Because Werenski and Boqvist are on long-term injured reserve, the Blue Jackets cumulative cap hit is over $86 million thanks to the Trey Fix-Wolansky recall from Sunday morning.

If this doesn’t illustrate how bleak things have been for the Blue Jackets this season, I’m not sure what will. Any team that endures this kind of blow would have a hard time keeping pace. Then when you consider where the Blue Jackets are in the cycle, it takes on a whole new meaning. After Sunday night’s game against the Florida Panthers, the Blue Jackets still have 64 games to play. But doesn’t it already feel like the playoffs are out of reach for them?

The Biggest Test of All

This story isn’t getting much play at the moment. But it should. Given the situation with the injured list, how the team maneuvers through this will set the course for how future seasons will go.

Let’s set the scene. As mentioned above, the Blue Jackets have 64 games left to play this season. For them to get to 100 points now would mean securing 87 points in those 64 games. That would mean finishing the season going 40-17-7 or equivalent in those 64 games. Given the injured, is this really possible?

Latest News & Highlight

Now that you see the tall mountain staring at them, the next question is what comes next? This is where every decision should be viewed under a microscope. There’s player development at stake. If there’s one thing the Blue Jackets must come out of this season with, it’s tangible evidence that their young talent is experiencing growth. There are no exceptions to this under any circumstances. Failure to do this goes straight to management and the coaching staff. That’s when it would be appropriate to start asking if this management is capable of doing what is required to get the team heading in the right direction.

Kent Johnson Columbus Blue Jackets
Players like Kent Johnson need to develop in the right situation. (Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images)

While the injuries are certainly a big factor, they are not an excuse to limit proper development. The Blue Jackets have an important decision to make now. What is their best course of action to maximize development while setting course for that bright future everyone (myself included) seems to keep talking about?

An Idea to Consider

Know that the Blue Jackets are having daily discussions about this right now. They know the urgency of the situation. As the days go on this season, we will see their decisions play out.

Let me offer an idea for your consideration. This would help maximize development while making sure the long-term plan is still in a good place.

Related: Blue Jackets Can Still Make Most of Season Through the Monsters

The time has come to let the young players play bigger minutes. If you’ve watched the games of late, this has happened in some spots. Yet it hasn’t happened enough. Mistakes are going to happen no matter what. They happen to everyone. However punishing a player by dropping them multiple lines does nothing to accomplish what they’re trying to do.

Let the players play and let them make mistakes. How does one learn and get better? They learn and get better through their mistakes.

Kent Johnson needs to be in their top-six, period. The fact that he’s not there consistently given the rash of injuries is a concern. Larsen said recently that Johnson has a lot to learn. That’s definitely true. But if he’s the one who’s going to be an important part of their core, free him. Let him play those top minutes so he can see firsthand what it takes to play in that role. Again, it’s about development.

This is not only true for Johnson, it’s true for other players also. Cole Sillinger comes to mind. Yegor Chinakhov comes to mind. These are the players that need to learn and get those opportunities now. Playing your fourth line more minutes than these guys in a year where development is the top priority is not only unexplainable, it’s completely unacceptable.

Watch back the game against the Detroit Red Wings. The final score was 6-1. It was just 1-0 after the first and the Blue Jackets scored early in the second to make it 1-1. From then on, the Red Wings scored five unanswered goals. Why is the fourth line getting more shifts in the third than the guys that need development?

The injury situation should have already clarified what the Blue Jackets need to do for the rest of this season. You can still be competitive and win games while making development your top priority. Thus far, there hasn’t been enough evidence to suggest this philosophy change has taken place.

Whether it’s putting some young players back to Cleveland to play or giving your younger players an increased role on the Blue Jackets, there are multiple ways to get a desired result in development. The time has come to make it happen. No more riding the fence on this one.

Then when it comes to the trade deadline, the Blue Jackets need to decide who’s part of this moving forward and who isn’t. They have an opportunity to gain valuable assets that could help them in the future.

The Bottom Line

The injury situation is awful no matter how you look at it. Losing those caliber of players will derail just about anyone. But it doesn’t excuse other poor decisions that happen as a result of the injuries.

The time for development is now. Not tomorrow. Not next week. But right here, right now. If these Blue Jackets want to be taken seriously and want to be looked at as an eventual playoff and Stanley Cup contender, they need to start prioritizing development more than they have shown.

You Might Also Like

If they can’t do that, then perhaps it’s time to start asking if this staff is the right one to lead the Blue Jackets into the future. One playoff series win since 2012 and over $86 million in cap to be sitting in 31st place shouldn’t sit well with anybody. No one is immune to accountability. That’s especially true now.

Development or bust. That should be the Blue Jackets’ motto for the rest of the 2022-23 season no matter who is on injured reserve.