The Columbus Blue Jackets struggled last weekend - after taking five of a possible eight points against the Carolina Hurricanes, the Detroit Red Wings swept the two game set against a desperate playoff hopeful. Fans, pundits, and hockey commentators had all seen enough - the Blue Jackets were left for dead, surely there was no way this was a playoff club. With trade rumors swirling, a daunting schedule on tap against the top of the division, and a coach in a lame duck position, the recipe for disaster was set.
Tuesday night, John Tortorella pulled off his latest excellent coaching maneuver - left for dead, the Columbus Blue Jackets found a way to generate offense, blended the lines with success, and took down the division-leading Tampa Bay Lightning in regulation, clawing back into the playoff picture. Torts pushed all the right buttons, sat some veterans who had been struggling of late, and incorporated young talent in a must win game - and saw it pay off.
Tortorella has done this time and again in Columbus - when the team is up against it, when they have to have a win, Tortorella manages to push the right buttons like no head coach in team history has. Given that he has the bona fides - 428 games behind the CBJ bench, 223 wins, and the only playoff series win in franchise history - moving on from him following a difficult season in which the roster was turned over mid season, COVID ravaged training camp, and the team has had minimal practice time to get acclimated to one another would be a mistake.
Tortorella has earned a chance to turn this team and culture around - he should be extended.
Start with this past offseason - Max Domi was brought in to the team and, due to COVID restrictions, was unable to participate in a full training camp under Tortorella. As we have seen in years past, those training camps havre been instrumental for the Columbus Blue Jackets - its where the team has developed defensive chemistry, learned the system, and developed the conditioning required to be one of the tightest checking, hardest working teams in the NHL. This season, the team did not have that opportunity. Domi was not able to integrate into the team as free agents or new trade acquisitions have in the past. The same applies to Mikael Grigorenko - the team was not given the best opportunity to gel with one another.
Two weeks into the season, the team was forced to adapt and change on the fly. Pierre-Luc Dubois played his way out of town, and the Blue Jackets were forced to integrate Patrik Laine and Jack Roslovic mid season. Laine, particularly, has not played a style or in a role like what he is being asked to do here in Columbus, which naturally takes time and practice to adjust to. Unfortunately, due to the nature of his acquisition and the compressed schedule, it hasn’t been easy to acclimate the player. Tortorella does have success turning offensive players into more well rounded players (Oliver Bjorkstrand and Cam Atkinson have rounded into 200 foot players under the coach), and he should have a chance to do so with Laine in a full offseason program.
Tortorella has done so much good for this organization in his six years here - he has brought stability, success, and a culture of change and accountability to a team that sorely lacked each of those. He has shown an ability to win with a skilled roster, a less talented roster, and an ability to take a team farther into the playoffs than the organization has ever been before.
He deserves a chance to right the ship one more time.