A new hockey season tends to bring a range of emotions.
Excitement? You bet.
Anxiety? It’s there.
Wait a minute. Anger, you said?
The Blue Jackets, dear friends, are hot under the collar. They’re pissed off. They’re all horns and rattles and boy, they’re chewing fire. This is an unusual (but welcomed) introduction to the bible of preseason storylines, and it’s fixing to be a theme throughout the 2019-20, especially as it pertains to this team.
If you ask me, I’m for it. Here. For. It.
Let’s begin with the head coach, who you know is never afraid of standing up for the city, the organization, or his players. That’s why his guys like playing for him: he’s hard on them, perhaps sometimes a little too hard, but he has their best interest in mind and they know he has their back. Based on comments he’s made publicly over the last couple of summers, Blue Jackets fans should know he’s got theirs, too.
John Tortorella said Wednesday that he “really doesn’t give a shit” about what the pundits and experts are saying about his team. Granted, that’s probably because most of their prognostications have been less-than-favorable after a summer of more departures than additions, including a two-time Vezina Trophy winning goaltender.
Keep in mind, the over/under on total points for these Blue Jackets is 82.5. It’s hard to call that a ringing endorsement.
“It’s put a huge chip on my shoulder before (the season) is even started here,” he said. “It has been in place, for me, for a number of weeks now as people talk at me. It almost gives you a really good push into that mentality of staying with one another in the locker room. I have a tremendous amount of confidence in the core of this group.”
Tortorella has been downright defiant since Jack Johnson spurned the Blue Jackets for the Pittsburgh Penguins last summer. Johnson refuted multiple contract offers from Columbus before opting to hit the open market and sign with a division rival, albeit a deal that has turned out much better for Johnson than it has for the Penguins.
And as if Johnson’s decision wasn’t enough fuel to the fire, Penguins GM Jim Rutherford jumped in. That prompted Tortorella telling Rutherford, through the media, to “shut the fuck up.”
You don’t think this season is going to be any fun, do you? Buckle up.
Artemi Panarin, Matt Duchene, and Sergei Bobrovsky elected to leave. It’s a stinger (no pun intended) for the Blue Jackets, who are becoming regulars at 40-plus win seasons and trips to the playoffs. They’re building something and those who are still here – Cam Atkinson chief among them – believe the guys who left are missing out, or don’t share those same beliefs.
This air of defiance has permeated the organization, and it’s made for plenty of intrigue before the Blue Jackets even gather for their first official practice.
"We certainly have something to rally around."– John Tortorella, ON OFFSEASON DEPARTURES
Jarmo Kekalainen, who is usually reserved when speaking publicly, said he believes naysayers are “disrespecting the core” of the Blue Jackets, aka those who remain after the offseason exodus. There’s some merit to that, after all.
Remember the Blue Jackets were a 50-win, 108-point team before Artemi Panarin arrived in the summer of 2017. They were a loaded-up, offensively-stocked machine that underperformed last season and had to squeak into the playoffs, when everyone finally saw how good of a team had been assembled.
They have a guy in Atkinson who scored 41 goals last year, and has consistently been one of the NHL’s top goal scorers. Pierre-Luc Dubois is a 25 goal and 60 point player (perhaps more), and Josh Anderson is fit for 30 goals this coming year. Their defense is among the league’s best led by Seth Jones and Zach Werenski, and followed closely by Ryan Murray and Markus Nutivaara. Do they have some question marks? Yeah, and you could call them 36-point font question marks.
But what they do have is a talented group with a lot to prove – and a collective desire to get it done here, in Columbus.
“One of the most important things – if you want to keep on making strides as an individual, and more importantly, as a team – it’s you want to be here,” Tortorella said. “I’m looking forward to this year because (the players) want to be here. They want to be in the city.
“It was told to us right away, the first day last year: ‘I don’t want to be here after this year,’ in a number of different ways. Not this year. There’s none of that around.”