The 2022-23 season was an unmitigated disaster for the Columbus Blue Jackets. After losing their best defensemen in Zach Werenski to a shoulder injury and subsequent surgery, the alarm bells were ringing in Ohio. Then came Patrik Laine's plethora of injuries, which limited him to just 55 games. Werenski played just 13 before his campaign was done.

With arguably the team's two most important players on the shelf, it made a lot of sense that Columbus finished the season in the basement of the Eastern Conference, and just two points ahead of the bottom spot in the entire National Hockey League. With just 25 wins in 82 tries, last year was over before it started, and no fan of this team need be reminded.

But the hope was that, with better health and a better team, there would be a significant jump between last year's and 2023-24's version of the Blue Jackets. In the early going, that has not been the case. Through nearly one-fifth of the NHL season, Columbus is in a very familiar spot: last place in the Eastern Conference, exacerbated by a current five-game losing skid.

Many believed that this club that could surprise people this season. I myself thought Columbus had an outside shot to compete for a wildcard spot. But through 15 contests, the Jackets are 4-7-4 and already fading away from their first postseason berth since 2019-20. This team is fresh off a disheartening 4-3 loss to the Rangers, a game they led 3-2 with under 12 seconds remaining in regulation.

Everything that could have gone wrong has gone wrong for the 2023-24 Columbus Blue Jackets. Let's break it down.

Patrik Laine must stay healthy

Despite playing just 55 games in 2022-23, Patrik Laine was still a driving force of offense and the team's best scorer. He accumulated 22 goals and 52 points, a very respectable total for the Finnish sniper. And that's after scoring at a point-per-game clip — 56 points in 56 games — the year before.

But like last season, Laine has struggled to stay in the lineup. The 25-year-old was placed on injured reserve back in October after taking a dirty hit from Calgary Flames defenseman Rasmus Andersson, costing the Swede four games. He returned on Nov. 11 in a 5-4 loss to the Detroit Red Wings, scoring a goal in the losing effort.

Regardless of who you cheer for, Laine is a stud and a thrilling player to watch. The goal is obviously for him to stay off the IR for the rest of the season, but that is easier said than done for a player who is becoming injury-prone in his eighth full NHL season. Still, he has scored just three points in six games when healthy, and that needs to improve.

Laine himself hasn't been a disappointment for Blue Jackets fans, but his health certainly has.

Adam Fantilli leading the way — and team in scoring

Adam Fantilli with angry emojis

Not only is rookie sensation Adam Fantilli leading Columbus in scoring with four goals and nine points in 15 games, he's also proving to be a leader. If you aren't convinced by his play, how about this quote after the brutal 4-3 loss to the Rangers:

“We have a young team, but that does not matter,” said the 19-year-old. “I hate losing. I never want to lose. I don't want to get used to losing. I'm not happy about it. I'm not happy about the series of losses we've had. I want to be able to fix it. I want to do my part in being able to fix that. We're a young team, but we're extremely skilled, and I think we have [the ability to play] a lot better than we're showing.”

Spoken like a true future captain. Although this is still Boone Jenner's team, it is clear that Fantilli is buying in completely and not happy with a middling record in his first NHL season. Fantilli has been a force on both ends of the rink, and looks motivated to succeed despite the team's brutal record.

The Blue Jackets were happy this player fell to No. 3 overall in the 2023 NHL Draft, and they should be — he is the future. Adam Fantilli has been the best and maybe only pleasant surprise the 2023-24 Columbus Blue Jackets can boast, and I wouldn't be surprised if he was given a letter as early as next season.

On the complete opposite end of that is Johnny Gaudreau, who is in the midst of his worst NHL season since coming into the league in 2014-15.

Johnny Hockey looks lost

What is going on with Johnny Hockey? Gaudreau should be a superstar. It's as simple as that. He scored 115 points with the Calgary Flames in 2021-22, and has scored at or above a point-per-game clip for years. Following the end of his contract in Canada, he shockingly signed with Columbus in the 2022 offseason. It was a huge win at the time — an enormous win — but it is not paying off in any way.

Gaudreau scored 21 goals and 74 points in 80 games in 2022-23; not a bad total by any means, but not what the front office was expecting after giving him a seven-year, $68.25 million contract in July of 2022. And despite playing on the top line and top powerplay unit this year, the undersized American has scored just one goal and six points in 15 games. That is almost unbelievable.

It's hard to believe that Gaudreau, after eclipsing 100 points two years ago, is approaching irrelevancy. Maybe it's just a slow start, but if this player can't quickly improve his game, the Blue Jackets are going nowhere. They rely on him, Jenner and Laine to contribute, and if that doesn't happen, this is truly a bottom-feeding team in the National Hockey League. It may still be, even if those three are playing their best hockey.

Adam Fantilli is a fantastic player and the future of this franchise. But Johnny Gaudreau and Patrik Laine are the present, and both players have been seriously disappointing in 2023-24.