By: Daniel Massa- Sports Writer
In a move that has become all too familiar this season, the Columbus Blue Jackets placed one of its best players, 21-year-old defenseman Ryan Murray, on the injured reserve list effective Feb. 9.
That transaction merely added to the seemingly never-ending list of injuries the Blue Jackets have had to deal with both throughout the season and before it even started.
Columbus, currently 23-26-3 and 14 out of 16 teams in the Eastern Conference, lost star forward Nathan Horton—whom the Blue Jackets signed to a seven-year, $37.1 million contract in 2013—to a debilitating back injury before the season began.
A whopping 13 Blue Jackets players who are currently on the roster have been placed on the injured reserve at one point this season, including star goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky, defensive anchors Fedor Tyutin and James Wisniewski and forwards Boone Jenner, Cam Atkinson and Artem Anisimov. Players on injured reserve must be out of action for at least seven days.
The Blue Jackets were surely looking to build on the progress they made as an organization since President of Hockey Operations John Davidson and General Manager Jarmo Kekalianen, both largely responsible for building the St. Louis Blues into the perennial power they are today, joined the team in 2012 and 2013, respectively.
The team took another step in that direction last season, making the playoffs for just the second time since the team was established in the 2000-01 season. They faced the Pittsburgh Penguins, consistent contenders for the Stanley Cup led by stars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, in the first round best-of-seven series. In a thrilling series that saw three overtimes, and five of six games decided by one goal, the Blue Jackets were defeated 4-2.
With 20 of 34 players returning for the current season, most people in the hockey world believed Columbus would pick up right where it left off and begin a streak of competitiveness and stability.
However, there was another uncertain situation during the offseason which, coupled with the unknowns of Horton’s injury, represented a shaky start to a season that had not even begun.
Center Ryan Johansen, the fourth overall pick in the 2010 NHL entry draft and one of the Blue Jackets best players—he led the team with 30 goals and 63 points last season—had entered a contract standoff with the team. Johansen became a restricted free agent once last year’s playoffs were over, which meant any team could offer him a contract, but Columbus had the ultimate right to match his contract and bring him back.
At the same time, the team and Johansen’s agent were negotiating a contract independent of what other teams might have offered, and the negotiations left the situation unresolved. Johansen did not elect to go to training camp, and the process stretched almost until the season started. Johansen finally signed a three-year, $12 million deal two days before Columbus’ regular season opener.
While that saga naturally led to questions about what effect it would have on team chemistry and Johansen’s play after not partaking in training camp, it has not seemed to have a negative impact. He is tied with fellow forward Nick Foligno for the team lead in points with 50, netting 20 goals and adding 30 assists.
Columbus recently hosted the NHL All-Star game and all its associated activities. The city was supposed to host in 2013, but that season was shortened by a lockout. There was no All-Star break in 2014 due to the break taken for players to participate in the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
Unless the Blue Jackets begin a turnaround extremely quickly—they are currently 14 points out of a playoff spot with 30 games remaining—the All-Star game will end up being the biggest highlight for hockey in Columbus in 2014-15. The season began with such promise, only to see the Blue Jackets left broken and battered.
The Blue Jackets next game is Thursday in Pittsburgh against the Penguins.
Students can check out the game on NBC Sports Network, channel 323 on the campus cable package at 7 p.m.