Columbus Blue Jacket Roster is a Far Cry From What We Should Have

The injuries continue to pile up for the Blue Jackets with four additional players set to miss games, beginning tonight against the New York Rangers. These recent call-ups prompted me to go back and look at our preseason roster predictions for a comparison, and the differences are shocking.

The situation is bleak in Columbus, which has caused a ripple effect throughout the entire organization. Several players who should be starring for the Cleveland Monsters are playing on the NHL roster. The AHL roster has plenty of players playing in roles they weren’t intended to play – and they’ve faced injuries as well.

Obvious potential call-ups like Brendan Gaunce and Carson Meyer have missed significant portions of the year due to injury. Inconsistency has been the only consistency throughout the organization, and you need to look no further than the current CBJ roster to get an idea of how bad things are here.

COLUMBUS, OH – MARCH 07: Brendan Gaunce #23 of the Columbus Blue Jackets warms up prior to the start of the game against the Toronto Maple Leafs at Nationwide Arena on March 7, 2022 in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images)

At the beginning of the season, we expected a lineup that looked like the list below … but as of right now, players in italics are out of the lineup.

Gaudreau – Jenner – Laine
Johnson – Roslovic – Voracek
Nyquist – Sillinger – Marchenko
Robinson – Kuraly – Danforth
(Bemstrom, Olivier)
Werenski – Peeke
Gavrikov – Boqvist
Bean – Gudbranson
Merzlikins – Korpisalo

Taking a quick count, that’s a top line winger, last year’s leading scorer (not the same player), another middle six winger, a third line center, two fourth line energy guys, your top defenseman, another top-four defenseman, your third defense pair, seventh defenseman, and all three goaltenders.

Oct 12, 2022; Raleigh, North Carolina, USA; Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Jake Bean (22) skates against the Carolina Hurricanes during the first period at PNC Arena. Mandatory Credit: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

All of these absences should signify the state of this team in its final ten games. At the beginning of the season, at its very best, this was a team built to take a run at a playoff bubble spot. Now, I would be surprised if they pick up many (any) wins over the last two and a half weeks of the season with this lineup:

Gaudreau – Jenner – Marchenko
Pederson – Roslovic – Johnson
Robinson – Kuraly – Fix-Wolansky
Foudy – McKown – Bemstrom
Berni – Peeke
Christiansen – Boqvist
Bayreuther – Sweezey
Hutchinson – Gillies

While we can talk all day about the operations of this franchise or the coaching staff – it’s hard; in fact, nearly impossible – to win games with this kind of lineup. The defense corps for this team is completely decimated, to the point where only two of the pre-season top-seven are set to play in tonight’s game. In an ideal world, Billy Sweezey isn’t playing on your third defense pair late in the season, but this is the situation that has been forced upon us with the injuries here.

Feb 26, 2023; Saint Paul, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Wild left wing Marcus Foligno (17) and Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Billy Sweezey (6) battle for the puck in front of goaltender Elvis Merzlikins (90) in the second period at Xcel Energy Center. Mandatory Credit: Matt Blewett-USA TODAY Sports

Even the replacement players from Cleveland have been sitting on the IR for a lot of this season – what an opportunity this could have been for a player like Gaunce to step into a bottom-six role, but he hasn’t been able to stay healthy himself. Gone are the two most experienced veteran forwards (Nyquist and Voracek). Yegor Chinakhov couldn’t stay healthy and cement himself as an NHL regular this season. Cole Sillinger has looked lost without his usual line mates from last year and was sent to the AHL in favor of a recent college UFA.

In all, this season has been a disaster that none of us saw coming. Injuries can’t be used as an excuse, but imagine how much differently things might be right now if Zach Werenski and Jake Bean hadn’t both torn up their shoulders and saw their seasons end in November. What if Voracek didn’t take a high stick that essentially ended his career? Laine scored a goal in the second period of the season opener – and has promptly hit the IR three times since, never giving him a chance to carry much momentum.

Oct 14, 2022; Columbus, Ohio, USA; Columbus Blue Jackets right wing Jakub Voracek (93) skates with the puck against the Tampa Bay Lightning in the third period at Nationwide Arena. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

We would probably still be on the outside looking in, even with all of these guys staying mostly healthy. But, I have to imagine they would be sitting a lot further up in the standings. In the end, it is what it is and they just have to get through it. At this point, all we can look forward to is the draft lottery on May 4th.