An identity is starting to come into view for the Columbus Blue Jackets, who had their deepest playoff run in franchise history in 2019. Sure, it was only a second-round exit in six games to the Boston Bruins, but there was palpable momentum around the team and in the city of Columbus.
Despite the constant off-ice drama surrounding both Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky becoming free agents at the end of the season, the Blue Jackets were able to win seven of their last eight regular season games following a team dinner in western Canada. This came after a dreadful 4-0 loss to the Edmonton Oilers in late March, a game that could've sent them spiraling in the other direction.
If the players truly embody their coach, the Blue Jackets would be a good example. John Tortorella met these distractions head-on from the start of the season, having his players talk about the Panarin and Bobrovsky situations in open air, letting everyone have a say and leaving no room for hidden agendas. Essentially: as long as you're here, you're playing for the Blue Jackets and everyone is pulling that rope. The Jackets were able to get their act together and clinch their third consecutive playoff berth just in the nick of time, with one night remaining in the 2018-19 campaign.
“You will always appreciate hearing from (Tortorella) face-to-face, rather than him telling you something else face-to-face, and then you hear it from behind your back that he said something totally different," said GM Jarmo Kekalainen. "I'm a true believer in that, and that's why you have to have the courage to tell whatever needs to be told to the guys face-to-face."
"If you don't have the courage to say it face-to-face, then don't say it at all. That's something that's not negotiable in our organization."– Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen
A lot of media coverage deservedly revolves around who's staying and who's moving on. While the news and updates flood in through October, don't forget Tortorella is under contract as the head coach until the 2020-21 season. Opinions on Tortorella as a head coach remain scattered all over the map, but there's no denying that the expectations for the Blue Jackets have skyrocketed since he took over the position on Oct. 21, 2015 to replace Todd Richards.
“A lot of things went on…I think it was a very honest locker room," Tortorella said. "It’s one of the most honest locker rooms I’ve been around as far some of the things we had to talk about. You can do nothing but grow from it."
Whether it's the youngsters or free agents added to the roster when next season rolls around, there's been a precedent set for how the Blue Jackets deal with conflict. Honesty is a vital part of it, and will continue to be part of the organization's DNA moving forward.