There have been many feel-good stories in the NHL this year: the Islanders, Predators and Jets have all rebounded from losing seasons and find themselves in playoff positions as the season reaches its final month of regular season games. For every team that has risen from the ashes, however, there have been teams that have experienced harsh falls from prosperity. Two of those unlucky squads have been the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Colorado Avalanche.
Last season, the Blue Jackets finished with a record of 43-32-7, placing fourth in the Metropolitan Division and putting up a hard-fought first round battle against the Penguins before ultimately being eliminated from the playoffs. The future seemed bright for Columbus. Last season was their first after being moved to the Eastern Conference — they finally get to play teams in their own time zone — and their young talent combined with the goaltending of Vezina winner Sergei Bobrovsky made the Blue Jackets seem like they would be playoff contenders for years to come.
However, Columbus has taken a step backwards this year. They sit second-to-last in the Metropolitan with a record of 26-30-4. Their lack of success can almost solely be attributed to the unusually large number of injuries they have experienced this season. They rank first in “Man Games Lost” — which totals the amount of games players have missed due to injury, illness and suspension — with 378 total games lost. The injury bug has not just devastated fourth-line journeymen but many of Columbus’ top players, such as Bobrovsky, Boone Jenner, Brandon Dubinsky and Nathan Horton.
The Colorado Avalanche was perhaps the most surprising team of the 2013-2014 season. It was Patrick Roy’s first year as head coach and many did not have high expectations for this squad made up of mostly young players. However, they ended up finishing atop the Central Division with a record of 52-22-8 before being ousted in the first round by the Minnesota Wild in seven games. Led mostly by youngsters such as Matt Duchene and Nathan MacKinnon, the Avalanche overachieved last season, according to NHL experts. Before the start of this season, many predicted a regression to the mean for this inexperienced group.
Those who predicted this fall were right on the mark. As of last Friday, the Avalanche find themselves at the very bottom of the Central Division with a record of 26-24-11. They are second only to Columbus in “Man Games Lost” with 333, but their problems extend beyond injury woes. The elder statesman of the team, Jarome Iginla, leads the way with 41 points. They have received very little production from their youngsters compared to their performances from the previous season. Matt Duchene (39 points), Gabriel Landeskog (38 points) and Nathan MacKinnon (37 points) all had great seasons last year, but have failed to live up to their potentials this season.
Can these bad seasons from the Blue Jackets and Avalanche simply be written off due to injuries? It remains to be seen. In any event, both teams will have a lot to prove next season if they want show that their success from last season was not just a flash in the pan.