The John Tortorella period has led to Columbus. The passionate coach took the Blue Jackets additional than the franchise had ever gone earlier than, helming the group to one of many best upsets in playoff historical past when the Jackets swept the Tampa Bay Lightning again in 2019.
But it surely all got here crashing down this season because the Blue Jackets floundered, ending final within the division with fewer wins than Detroit and the worst aim differential within the Central. One other proficient participant left the group disgruntled, as Pierre-Luc Dubois was shipped to Winnipeg for Patrik Laine and Jack Roslovic, solely to see Laine and Roslovic run afoul of Tortorella.
In his end-of-year media availability, GM Jarmo Kekalainen mentioned he didn’t imagine in “shelf lifes” for coaches and gave Tortorella credit score for constructing an incredible tradition in Columbus.
“Torts calls for that you simply play disciplined and he does not let anyone cheat,” Kekalainen mentioned. “That is a part of the robust tradition he helped us construct right here and that will probably be required transferring ahead, as nicely.”
Change, nonetheless, needed to come and the Blue Jackets and Tortorella mutually agreed to half methods. Kekalainen mentioned he’s not in a rush to call a brand new bench boss and he desires to do his due diligence, although he additionally mentioned the group cannot afford to attend till the NHL’s free company interval opens on July 28. Management, robust values and tradition will all be key within the choice, however Kekalainen has greater than only a coach to fret about: Columbus has been bleeding expertise for years now, from Dubois to Artemi Panarin to Josh Anderson.
The Jackets completed 2020-21 with one of many worst offenses within the NHL and whereas they’ve discovered success up to now by protection and goaltending, you possibly can solely go up to now earlier than you meet a playoff group that has each of these disciplines and scoring (Tampa obtained revenge on Columbus final yr, whereas Boston knocked them out in 2019).
The obvious reply to Columbus’ woes is Laine, the gifted sniper who scored 80 objectives over his first two NHL seasons with the Jets. Laine potted simply 10 in 45 video games with the Jackets this season. For Kekalainen, the Covid-shortened marketing campaign (with the schedule adjustments and participant absences that went together with it) made it tough to completely assess every thing.
“I believe now we have some confirmed goal-scorers right here that possibly underachieved this yr,” he mentioned. “I believe they will bounce again. It has been such an odd yr that I do not need to overanalyze it. We’ve some gamers with confirmed histories of scoring objectives and we have all the time been disciplined defensively. We weren’t like that this yr so we will get again to fundamentals, get again to taking part in the appropriate manner.”
The Blue Jackets haven’t got a really deep prospect pipeline proper now and two of one of the best – Kirill Marchenko and Dmitri Voronkov – will nonetheless be taking part in within the KHL subsequent season. Yegor Chinakhov, nevertheless, will probably be coming over.
Chinakhov, the 2020 first-rounder, helped his Avangard Omsk squad win the Gagarin Cup not too long ago, although in line with Kekalainen, the teen missed Sport 7 attributable to Covid protocols. Nonetheless, the Jackets GM obtained an incredible report on Chinakhov from Avangard coach Bob Hartley, the previous NHL bench boss and Stanley Cup winner with Colorado.
“He raved about Yegor,” Kekalainen mentioned. “He mentioned he’ll be a very good participant with every kind of ability and an NHL shot. He is an thrilling prospect.”
Assuming Laine and Chinakhov can speed up the offense is nice, however in right this moment’s NHL you want facilities to get your dynamic wingers the puck. Dubois was the right two-way pivot for right this moment’s recreation however he is gone. The system has no high-end candidates and Columbus has famously struggled to draw high-end free brokers to Ohio. So what’s a GM to do? Kekalainen is hoping for development from inside.
“We have to strengthen that and we will strengthen that by getting higher at it with the younger gamers now we have,” he mentioned. “Alexandre Texier took some huge steps in having the ability to play heart full-time and that is encouraging to see. Max Domi obtained again to taking part in heart in the direction of the tip and Jack Roslovic had a fairly productive yr offensively; he simply must sharpen his recreation on the defensive facet of the puck, on faceoffs and D-zone protection – however he performed full-time heart within the NHL for the primary time this yr. He’ll be much more skilled subsequent yr and hopefully we’ll nonetheless get the identical offense however in a greater two-way heart.”
Roslovic is certainly coming off his finest offensive season but within the NHL, however is he a No. 1 heart? Are Texier or Domi? It will actually take an enormous leap for any of them to be put in that class, although Minnesota’s Kirill Kaprizov is placing up Calder Trophy numbers with Victor Rask as his pivot, so possibly it does not matter in case your winger is elite sufficient.
Realistically, the Jackets want to seek out an elite heart or two for the close to future and with three picks within the first spherical of the upcoming 2021 draft, they will have some choices. That being mentioned, this isn’t a powerful draft and the best-case situation for Columbus could also be bottoming out once more subsequent season and getting a shot at highly effective heart Shane Wright of the OHL’s Kingston Frontenacs (or wait one other yr and attempt to land Connor Bedard or fellow phenom Matvei Michkov, although Michkov is a winger).
It was going alright for Columbus for a pair years there beneath Tortorella and Kekalainen, however a reset is important and the coach is already gone. What the GM does within the subsequent calendar yr will probably be essential in figuring out the trajectory of the franchise.