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Jarmo’s next move? Torts, and safe is death

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I’m ready to see the Blue Jackets attack the trade market, or draft the next mega offensive star. JUST FIND SOME OFFENSE.

Columbus Blue Jackets v Tampa Bay Lightning - Game Five Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

It’s almost October, maybe one of the best months of the year! For selfish reasons, it’s my birthday month, the MLB playoffs will get underway, and soon, the NHL off-season headlined by the draft and free-agency. Yeah, the latter part of that is weird but this has been a weird year. Let’s get weird right?

The Blue Jackets’ needs are point-blank and obvious. Offense, offense, offense! Those needs probably have a better chance of being met via the draft, or trade-market, than they do via free agency. I’m sure Jarmo Keklainen does something but doubtful to expect the Taylor Hall - to - Alex Pietrangelo type. Two of the main guys headlining the UFA list this fall.

Pucks, I mean balls!

If there’s one thing about Jarmo, aside from spending money and not shying from doing just that — wave Nick Foligno, Alexander Wennberg — we know the guy is ballsy.

Trades like the one for Brandon Saad, and then for Artemi Panarin — funny they ended up being dealt for the other — were both equally as shocking when they occurred. Could Keklainen shake things up by dealing from within the strength of his club?

A goalie like All-Star Joonas Korpisalo or sensational rookie Elvis Merzlikins, who was finally able to break free from his bench status once Korpisalo went down with injury, making the most of his time in net. I don’t see a trade there.

Kekalainen sure wouldn’t go crazy and trade Zach Werenski, but the idea isn’t altogether crazy if you’re serious about trying to acquire a proven scorer. Werenski provides a certain offensive spark — guy practically was the teams’ source of scoring last season — that wouldn’t be easily replaced. But I think the team has enough defensive depth to make up for his absence.

I’m not advocating for the trade but it can make sense in theory.

There’s been rumblings about the Blue Jackets’ interest in Jesse Puljujarvi and we gave our thoughts about that on the most recent The Cannon Cast (Episode 84).

At this point, you might get a former top draft pick — out of Edmonton purgatory, mind you — to realize some of the potential that most scouts saw to make him a highly touted draft pick in the first place (good point by PD on the podcast). But we’ve also seen that occur once players leave Columbus.

Safe is death is boring

I’ve been a Tortorella defender but safe is death is kind of boring now. No, I’m not talking about the safe is death aggressive mantra the team played under. I mean the 7th-8th seed every year, the team ‘defying expectations’ just enough, only to go a round or so deep, and then lose to the eventual conference and Stanley Cup champion. I’m just tired of that ceiling (and trust me I hype it up all the same!) so let’s aim bigger? I actually want safe is death to mean be bold and creative!

Foligno talks the talk:

But can they ever walk the walk? The answer is an empathetic YES. To the penalty box. Foligno (you can read Rachel’s review here) led the team with 10 penalty minutes in the playoffs.

Actually be aggressive!

To aim bigger, the Jackets have to be more aggressive and that even means getting out of your comfort zone a little bit.

Why not let your potential, guys like Liam Foudy, play more than 10:37 in an elimination game and more importantly, why is Foligno playing anywhere near the number of minutes as he is on a daily basis?

Same for Boone Jenner. In a short season, Jenner won the most face-offs he’s ever won in a single season (644), nearly double that of Pierre-Luc Dubois who finished second on the team. So there’s some value to these guys but they’re just not taking you to the promised land if they’re playing top-line minutes for you on a given night. We did finally see Jenner’s minutes significantly shortened in the final two games against the Lightning.

And guys like Foudy saw some bigger minutes — a little bit — earlier in the playoffs but I wanted more, especially in what ended up being the final game. What’s the worst that can happen, in a game where you ended up blowing a two-goal lead anyway?

But I think some of these veterans in question are Torts’ security blanket. He knows what they can do, but that also means he isn’t going to let the young guys potentially lose — or win — the game. These players have to check and defend to prove themselves to Torts. Great qualities, but we also need to see an offensive pulse to actually win games.

Like, if you’re down by a goal late in a game, who would you rather have on the ice?

Now to contradict myself, do you bench the guy who doesn’t hustle on the field or make a catch in the outfield when he should have gotten to the ball? I’m fine benching the player in that moment to make a point. In the regular season. In the playoffs, stars have to be stars.

There was a reason Torts did this in a game in 2019, benching his top line of Artemi Panarin - Dubois - Cam Atkinson in an eventual win over the Coyotes. But you knew who was going to give you the best chance to win when it mattered.

Maybe the next coach, whoever and whenever that is, will let the youth run loose a bit. For what it’s worth, I agree with the ending bottom line of this tandem article by PD and Seeds.

I’m all for winning games however you can win them. Columbus plays defense well, defends the net in solid fashion. Don’t need to change that, and maybe letting the youth fly challenges that defensive mindset. Torts can adjust though, right? I guess that’s the main question because while I think he could, we haven’t seen that in certain areas. Alas, I don’t think we see more wins coming from 20 minutes a night of Foligno out there.

“I think we’re a good team when we’re not playing safe. I think that’s the way you have to play the game (in the NHL) right now, I really do. But the situation we’re in, we need to get our structure down defensively, and that needs to be our main concentration. That doesn’t inhibit our D getting up the ice.” - Tortorella’s quote in 2018 per Aaron Portzline (The Athletic)

The NHL is full of young, exciting players and the Blue Jackets are brimming with some NHL ready talent. I just want to see them on full display! Even if the growing pains are a little risky.

Final Thought

The power play is still horrendous. Paul MacLean is out, and I doubt you can really pin the issues on him. After all, the problems started before he got there! I’d love to chat with a coach or some kind of power play expert on the podcast and find out what’s at the root cause here. And why nothing changes, personnel and tactics aside.