The Columbus Blue Jackets hired John Tortorella after the seventh game of the 2015-16 season, when former head coach Todd Richards was fired for starting 0-7. Since that time, he has led the franchise to back to back playoff appearances, though still has not won a series (the only franchise in the NHL with that dubious honor). In that time, the team has been plagued by special teams struggles despite having the most talent on the team in franchise history.
Let’s take a look at these struggles here.
This season, the Blue Jackets have the 30th ranked power play in the National Hockey League at 11.9% following a goal scored Tuesday night against the Dallas Stars, giving them seven goals on 59 chances this season. This continues a theme going back for the last few seasons:
2017-18: 17.2%, 25th
2016-17: 19.9%, 12th
2015-16: 17.3%, 21st
Cumulatively, since Torts took over, the Blue Jackets have scored 128 power play goals while allowing 19 shorthanded goals. The power play has trended downward since team-record 16 game winning streak ended. During that time, decision making on the power play has slowed and, despite personnel shuffling, extended practice time devoted to fixing the issues, the team continues to struggle in what can only be described as one of the worst special teams units in the league. The players, while responsible for what they do on the ice, have not adapted to coaching staff lessons and video tape in two-plus seasons.
While it comes down to the players, as Nick Foligno alluded to after the game on Saturday night, it may be time to make a change because while the coach may not be the problem, it is clear Brad Larsen is not the answer.
Similarly, the Columbus Blue Jackets are struggling on the penalty kill this season. Brad Shaw’s unit is killing penalties at 75.5%, 24th in the league. Again, this continues a trend going back to Tortorella’s hiring:
2017-18: 76.2%, 27th
2016-17: 82.5%, 9th
2015-16: 81.0%, 19th
Outside of the outlier that was the 2016-17 season, the Blue Jackets continue to struggle and put forth worse than league average penalty killing units. Brad Shaw’s group has allowed 147 goals on the penalty kill since John Tortorella took over, while scoring 14 shorthanded goals. The Jackets have struggled to keep the puck out of their own net while down a man, despite having players reputed to be solid kill players like Boone Jenner, Brandon Dubinsky, and Matt Calvert (late of the Jackets, now playing for the Colorado Avalanche). The team struggles to clear the puck and allows far too many cross-ice passes in dangerous areas that catch goaltenders and defenders out of position, allowing easy goals for opposing players. Fans have seen the team victimized by these plays several times this season.
Since John Tortorella took over, his special teams have been outscored by 24 goals. The Blue Jackets are 19th in the league allowing shorthanded goals over that time span, as well as 17th in the NHL in allowing goals on the penalty kill. Special teams, as a whole, have been outscored by 24 goals under Tortorella.
That’s not good enough for a team with as much talent as the Columbus Blue Jackets are icing on a nightly basis.
The Columbus Blue Jackets are being held back by worse-than-league-average special teams, critical data points in the team’s failure to contend for Metropolitan Division crowns as well as notable reasons the team has struggled in the playoffs each of the last two seasons.
The Columbus Blue Jackets need to consider making changes to their coaching staff to get the most out of these units. For the last two seasons, they have been hampering the team, and that is no longer acceptable.