The Columbus Blue Jackets quickly became one of the biggest stories in hockey last season.
After making a number of deals at the trade deadline in February and going 7-3-0 down the stretch to nab the second wildcard spot in the Eastern Conference, the Jackets found themselves facing a mighty foe in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. The fact the Tampa Bay Lightning had put together one of the best regular seasons in recent memory didn’t cause the Blue Jackets to shudder, though.
If anything, Columbus embraced it on its way to a shocking sweep of the Presidents’ Trophy winners. While they’d go on to fall in six games to the Boston Bruins in the second round, the Blue Jackets proved they’re capable of beating just about anyone with that roster.
And that’s the rub for head coach John Tortorella. After leading the team to its first playoff-series win in franchise history, Torts watched as several of his star players marched out the door this summer once free agency opened up.
“I respect them all,” he said in a recent interview with Aaron Portzline of The Athletic. “But I don’t want to hear ‘I want to win’ when it’s right f---ing here. I respect them, but I’m really pissed. It was right there, where we were really progressing... I think the players respect them, respect the rights they had to do what they did. But I’m pissed, too, just like the players. I’m saying, ‘Hell with them, we want to be here, let’s get it together and get going.’”
It’s an understandable reaction from a man known for his passion and emotion.
In just a few hours, Torts lost his team’s top regular season point producer (Artemi Panarin), starting goaltender (two-time Vezina Trophy winner Sergei Bobrovsky) and second-best playoff scorer (Matt Duchene). On top of that, Ryan Dzingel — a solid secondary scorer — inked a new deal with the Carolina Hurricanes less than two weeks after the previous three joined their new organizations.
The departures have left a number of gigantic holes in Tortorella’s lineup that simply cannot be ignored. There will be plenty of questions up front and between the pipes as the upcoming campaign approaches. However, there shouldn’t be any questions about what will be fuelling his squad in 2019-20.
“We still made a step in the right direction (last season). That doesn’t change because we lose some players,” he said. “They’re really good players, but that doesn’t change our mindset as far as how we feel about ourselves...
“I think as we enter the season here we need to have the right amount of strut, but also a sense of camaraderie, and a chip on our shoulders as the guys who want to be here.”
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