COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — For a third-straight season, the Columbus Blue Jackets missed the playoffs and fired coach Brad Larsen.

The CBJ finished 25-48-9 for the second-worst record in the NHL. Failing to be the worst team in the NHL decreased the team’s likelihood of getting the No. 1 pick in the draft by 12%.

Columbus had the worst record in the league with two games to play, but beat rival Pittsburgh 3-2 in overtime Thursday, substantially lowering its odds of landing 17-year-old phenom Connor Bedard.

“As competitors, I don’t think there’s a guy in the league that’s going to try and lose a hockey game,” defenseman Zach Werenski said. “Guys want to win no matter what the situation is, no matter what the draft lottery is or Connor Bedard or whatever it may be. Fans might not like it but I don’t really care.”

Columbus played worse in Larsen’s second year with 13 fewer wins and 10 more losses. But hanging the disappointing season on his shoulders alone wouldn’t be fair. In the season finale Friday, the CBJ surpassed 560 man-games lost due to injury. That’s an average of almost seven players out per game for the entire season.

“This season has been extremely disappointing and the responsibility for that lies with all of us,” said Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen. 

Members of the Blue Jackets spoke with the media Saturday, April 15, to give their thoughts on the season. You can watch those interviews in the video player above. You can watch Kekalainen’s full press conference on firing Larsen and the 2022-23 season here.

CBJ couldn’t stop the bleeding

Just one year ago, Columbus allowed a franchise record 297 goals. The Blue Jackets were even more dismal this season, allowing 329 goals.

“We have to set the standard higher and we have to make sure younger guys know this isn’t acceptable,” Werenski said.

To be fair, Columbus did lose Werenski for the season and Nick Blankenburg for two months in the same game on Nov. 10. In December, defenseman Jake Bean was lost for the season after needing shoulder surgery while defenseman and first-year Blue Jacket Erik Gudbranson separated his shoulder in late March, forcing him to miss the final month.

Six different goalies made an appearance for the CBJ this season. Elvis Merzlikins’ first year under a five-year, $27 million contract was underwhelming, to say the least. He allowed an NHL-worst 4.23 goals per game for goalies who played at least 25 games while his save percentage of .876 was the second-worst in the league.

Merzlikins missed more than a dozen games this season for various reasons: injury, illness and personal matters, but his performance this season came down to a lack of execution. Kekalainen said they have not yet discussed firing goaltender coach Manny Legace with Merzlikins but will soon. Merzlikins has said numerous times Legace is like a father to him and the two are inextricably linked by the tragic death of the late Matiss Kivlenieks at the wedding of Legace’s daughter.

Johnny Hockey delivered

When Johnny Gaudreau, the most coveted free agent of the offseason, announced he was coming to Columbus, expectations were raised. The six-time All-Star signed a seven-year, $68.25 million deal with the CBJ and he lived up to the hype. Gaudreau contributed a team-high 74 points in 80 games.

Snake Bitten

It bears mentioning this again: Columbus accrued more than 560 man-games lost due to injury. No day better encapsulates that than Nov. 10 in the Jackets’ 5-2 win over Philadelphia and their former coach, John Tortorella. Werenski fell into the boards, suffering a separated shoulder and torn labrum, forcing him to miss the rest of the season while Blankenburg fractured his ankle.

At the All-Star break, Columbus had racked up 319 man games lost. The next closest team was Toronto with 199.

“We’re not far off,” Gaudreau said. “Even with where we ended up in the standings with the guys that you’re missing for the whole year and half the year and 20 games, 30 games, those are huge players and important players on our team.”

Left winger Patrik Laine’s injury in the season opener was a sign of things to come. Laine sustained a sprained right elbow while forechecking, keeping him out seven games. The CBJ went 4-9-1 when Laine came back and lost him for another seven games because of a sprained ankle on Nov. 12. Laine’s third and final significant injury came during practice in late March when he suffered a triceps strain in practice that ultimately ended his season.

Last season, injuries allowed 28-year-old Justin Danforth to become a late NHL bloomer. Larsen’s “Swiss Army knife” suffered the same fate as Werenski, tearing his labrum in a win on Oct. 20. Danforth played one more game before needing season-ending shoulder surgery.

“I was introducing myself to guys every morning it felt like, which is hard to build a culture that way,” Werenski said about the CBJ’s injuries.

Columbus’ veteran leader, Jakub Voracek, led the team in goals scored last year and was primed to be a factor this season. But a concussion against the Avalanche in Finland on Nov. 4 ended his season and potentially his career. Voracek said he had already suffered “seven or eight” concussions during his 15-year career before this one. That proved to be his last game as a Blue Jacket after being traded to Arizona.

The man games lost also doesn’t take into account Alexandre Texier, who missed the entire season per the advice of the NHL/NHLPA Substance Abuse and Behavioral Health Program.

Kirill Marchenko: A Star is Born

No player in Blue Jackets history has scored as many goals in their rookie season as Kirill Marchenko. The charismatic 22-year-old Russian only needed 53 games to break Pierre Luc-Dubois’ 20-goal record after scoring the game-winner in overtime against Ottawa on April 2.

Marchenko’s 21 goals were third most on the team behind Boone Jenner (26) and Patrik Laine (22).