Torts Talks: What Columbus Blue Jackets Head Coach John Tortorella Has Said As Training Camp Kicks Into Full Gear

By Ed Francis on January 7, 2021 at 1:20 pm
John Tortorella Has Several Key Decisions To Make This Camp
Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

The Columbus Blue Jackets are in the midst of training camp, but with camps closed to the public and some media, there's a unique intrigue as the season draws near.

Head coach John Tortorella has still had plenty to say, though. He's confirmed that the team will use a tandem between the pipes, with both Joonas Korpisalo and Elvis Merzlikins seeing regular time in the condensed schedule.

Here's what else Torts had to say so far in his media availability, and what it could mean:

On putting a focus on offense thus far in camp: 

  • "We have a focus early on here. I mean, we still have to work at the other part of the game (defense), I think that comes more natural to us because we've kind of been that team a lot of the 60 minutes in games ... we're certainly trying to bring some more offensive thought into it." 
  • "You got to be really careful in how much teaching you do of it. I'm not sure what's best: teaching the offense, or just allowing them to be offense; allowing them to mentally feel free, and I think it has to be a combination of both."
  • "We also have to understand where the situations are in a game. There's so many different types of situational play in a hockey game; the momentums of the game, the score, the time. All that stuff comes into play. We have to be smart there also." 

​WHAT IT COULD MEAN: These are good things to hear, but it needs to be more than words. The team is healthy (knock on wood), and it's fair to say that a chunk of the offensive woes from last season were due to injuries. But even when healthy, they still had scoring struggles more often than not. With guys like Max Domi, Liam Foudy, and wildcards like Emil Bemstrom and Mikhail Grigorenko, this year's roster seems to bring a little more creativity to the offense than last year's. It'll be important to capitalize on that. 

On newcomer Michael Del Zotto, who is currently on a tryout contract and was coached by Torts as a part of the New York Rangers organization:

  • "I remember when he was just a wiseass when he came into New York, and now he's a 30-year-old man, and you can see that maturity. That's pretty cool for me in starting with a young guy, having some struggles and conflict with him, and seeing how he's grown up to be a man. I'm thrilled that he's here.
  • "He's had a good couple days here. Defenseman, you're always looking for them, and I've gotten some really good reports about him from his other teams also."
  • "I think he's learned how to play on that right line of confidence and swagger. His first pass is a really big weapon of his."
  • "He can run a power play. He doesn't have a really good shot quite honestly, but I think he sees the ice really well."
  • "I think there is a major battle for that five and six spot, and Michael's right there."

WHAT IT COULD MEAN: It very much sounds like Tortorella is going to give every chance to Del Zotto to make the roster as part of the third defensive pairing. It's no secret that the Blue Jackets power play leaves something to be desired. MDZ won't solve it, but having a reliable second unit power play is one small step in the right direction.

On how the schedule this season may alter his coaching style:

  • "I just don't like pre-game skates, but I think I'm going to have to have more of those this year."
  • "You have to watch your team, you have to see what your team is about, how they look, how they feel. But I do think to get them full days off in such a condensed scheduled, that you may have to have some pre-game skates. Which, I really don't want to, but I need to get them out of the building, not putting a uniform on, just totally away from the game when we have a day off. I think that will help us when we have a condensed schedule."

WHAT IT COULD MEAN: This is good. It sounds like Torts is willing to be a little flexible and read the room when deciding what to do and when to do it, which deviates a little from his past. A relaxed team typically plays better (see: 2018-19), and giving the guys a little break may go a long way.