Testing the mettle of a man
The horn blares after the puck goes in, and then you hear… "For those about to rock, we salute you… BOOM!"
That refrain was heard four times on Saturday night within the cozy walls of Nationwide Arena. Four times the cannon belched with smoke as the loud concussion reverberated across the 14,892 that had assembled in the hopes of seeing their beloved team break a seven-game losing streak.
But when the Tampa Bay Lightning scored four goals before the Blue Jackets even knew what happened, the cannon’s report lost some of its brashness and luster. And the goal song itself (Locksley’s The Whip) really didn’t do much to get everyone excited at that point.
Fourteen games into this new season and the team is off to what would charitably be called a poor run of form. It would seem that they’ve lost their way, and lost their identity amidst the turmoil and adversity that has befallen them in the past few months.
But don’t feel sorry for them. This is certainly not a tale of "woe is me." They are not the only team that has to deal with this. It just seems like it’s hitting the Blue Jackets all at once.
After fourteen games, they have lost 92 man games to injury. Yes, that is quite a lot for this early in the season. Some might even call it a devastating blow to any team. But as cliche as this sounds, dealing with issues like this are what show the mettle of a man. Or in this case, men.
Columbus, at their current rate of man games lost to injury, would far surpass last year’s total of 297 man games lost (regular season). They had the second highest total of man games lost in the Metropolitan Division and the fifth highest total in the Eastern Conference of the eight teams that made the Stanley Cup Playoffs last year.
By contrast, the Pittsburgh Penguins lost 527 man games to injury last year, highest of any team in the league. Columbus had the ninth highest number of man games lost one season ago. The Blue Jackets were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs and the Penguins were eliminated in the second.
Of the other two Metro teams in the playoffs, the Philadelphia Flyers (206 man games lost) were bounced in the first round and the New York Rangers (125 man games lost) made it to the Stanley Cup Finals.
The total man games lost to injury by the four Metro division playoff teams last season was 1155. By contrast, the four playoff teams in the Atlantic Division had a combined total of 1332 man games lost in 2013/14 (regular season).
One cannot just use the total number of man games lost as the arbiter of whether or not a team will be in the playoffs when April rolls around. There are many variables that factor into that notion. What is the skill level of the players that are lost to injury? Can the players that are healthy keep the status quo or go on a winning tear with the injured players out of the lineup? The list goes on.
Which now brings us to the players that are presently injured wearing the Blue Jackets sweater. Nathan Horton (back), Injured Non-Roster, 14 games missed. Brandon Dubinsky (abdominal surgery), Injured Reserve, 14 games missed. Sergei Bobrovsky (fractured finger), Injured Reserve, 6 games missed. Mark Letestu (groin), Injured Reserve, 5 games missed. Artem Anisimov (upper body), Injured Reserve, 5 games missed. Cody Goloubef (knee), Injured Reserve, 3 games missed. Ryan Murray (lower body), Injured Reserve, 3 games missed.
The games lost to injury by these seven players account for 50 of the 92 man games lost for this season. Of these seven, six started or would have started the season on the roster, if healthy. Each one of the Blue Jackets players on this list has an above average skill level that impacts the team more so than having seven players that do not have this skill level.
The depth of the organization is being tested through all of this. The players that are filling in or have been recalled from the clubs’ AHL-affiliate Springfield Falcons is most likely a decent player (otherwise they wouldn’t be here), but is not replacing the injured player exactly.
The issue goes beyond just replacing a particular skill set. One important aspect of hockey players, and it’s something that many do roll their eyes at, is that of the "intangibles" a player brings to the club. Can you quantify "leadership qualities"? It really just… is.
Now, look at the list of Columbus players on the IR once again. Two qualities of players on that list that should jump out at you are skills and leadership. Those two qualities are not as easily replaced as just picking up a phone and recalling a player from Springfield.
The whole point of this is to try and understand that maybe the team, as it stands right now, is doing the best that it can sans the players that are missing. While it’s most likely not quite that cut-and-dried, the idea does have some merit.
This little exercise is just a little food for thought as you attempt to reconcile your angst with a team that’s 4-9-1 after going to the playoffs last year.
The Columbus Blue Jackets return to action Tuesday, as they travel to the nations’ capital for a game against the Washington Capitals under new head coach Barry Trotz. The puck drops at 7 p.m.