The finish line is nearing for the injury-riddled Columbus Blue Jackets.
With just nine games left in the regular season, the club is leaning heavily on its organizational depth, particularly on the back end. As of this writing, the team has used 13 (!) defensemen this season, or two full lineups worth of blueliners.
Injuries are the primary culprit. Zach Werenski (13 games), Jake Bean (14), Nick Blankenburg (36), and Adam Boqvist (40) have all missed significant time. Erik Gudbranson, who had played huge minutes for the first 70 games of the season, is now out for the rest of the year with a separated shoulder. Andrew Peeke (71) is the only defenseman that was thought to have been a regular contributor to the defense corps before the season started that has actually stayed healthy.
Vladislav Gavrikov played 52 games before he was held out for trade-related reasons, and was ultimately dealt to the Los Angeles Kings.
Then there's the rest of the organizational depth, which includes players like Gavin Bayreuther (42 games), Jake Christiansen (20), Tim Berni (50), Marcus Bjork (27), Billy Sweezey (2), and top prospect David Jiricek (2), who is thought to be a likely top-four defenseman for the Blue Jackets next season.
Against the New York Rangers, the club iced the below defense pairings, a far cry from a competent lineup:
#CBJ projected lines, per team:— Coby Maeir (@CobyMaeir) March 28, 2023
One could argue that, best case scenario, Boqvist and Peeke are second-pairing defensemen. Perhaps Berni and Bayreuther are third-pairing guys on an average team. Sweezey is an AHL defenseman and the jury is still out on Christiansen, but it's fair to say that, today, he's an AHL defenseman, too.
Some of this is not necessarily a bad thing. The club has been so injury-plagued that a bottom-of-the-standings finish is optimal for its long-term future. Plus, all things equal, you'd rather see what your organizational depth looks like than not. With an eye to the future, the club will need to make decisions on which of these defensemen are a part of the solution.