Depth Could Make or Break The Blue Jackets' Season, And Right Now, They're Teetering on the Brink

By Nic Hendrickson on February 18, 2020 at 10:15 am
Columbus Blue Jackets forward Nathan Gerbe fights for the puck alongside New York Rangers defenseman Jacob Trouba during a game at Nationwide Arena.
Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

It's safe to say that most NHL teams hoping to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs rely a good deal on high-end talent to lead the way.

While the Columbus Blue Jackets may not have an elite talent in their forward group, they have made up for it with a stellar group of blue liners and above-average goaltending for the majority of the season. Despite this, they have shown regression as of late and find themselves in a worrying situation late in the season, having lost five straight games and reeling going into a massive home-and-home with the Philadelphia Flyers.

The main reason this is coming to fruition isn't due to not having a player like Artemi Panarin in their lineup, but more because the Blue Jackets have continuously relied on talent in their bottom six that just can't get the job done consistently.

You might retort that no one is scoring all that much (true), but there's plenty of reason to believe that the bottom six is causing major issues for the Blue Jackets in close games – primarily because they can't get enough offense.

The Blue Jackets had seemingly found their unsung hero in the bottom six in small-yet-tenacious Nathan Gerbe. Despite his ability to get under opponents' skin and his penchant for working as hard as anyone else, it's becoming ever more apparent that he is a good fit of the bottom six, but in the elevated role he's currently in, it's not enough.

Gerbe's 44.4% CF% and -2.1 relative Corsi are indicative of the problems he and his line are having on the ice – an inability to drive play and generate offense. 

But let's not single out Gerbe, who does have the work ethic and attitude to suit the style of play that Columbus prefers (and, when in his bottom-six role on a regular basis, did provide a spark during the Blue Jackets' 19-2-5 run). There are multiple other names that come to mind when it comes to lack of production, and let's be clear: Gerbe wasn't called up to ignite the offense, but as scoring has dried up, John Tortorella has had no choice but to elevate him in the lineup and see if something changes.

There comes a time in the season when the tough get going, and the teams with a lack of depth get left in the dust. It's at this fork in the road that the Blue Jackets currently find themselves in, and players like Gerbe, Riley Nash, and Jakob Lilja are being forced into a situation where they need to at least chip in a little bit to keep the Blue Jackets afloat. So far, that's been a challenge.

Players like Sonny Milano, Emil Bemstrom and Eric Robinson have shown that depth might not be the Blue Jackets' downfall. The season is at its most pivotal moment, and these players need to carry their weight and produce if Columbus is to make a playoff push, but only time will tell if they have what it takes to send the Blue Jackets back into the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

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