Blue Jackets Looking For Coach To Maintain Tortorella’s Guiding Principles

Blue Jackets Looking For Coach To Maintain Tortorella’s Guiding Principles

Columbus Blue Jackets players won’t have to answer to task-master coach John Tortorella anymore, but they shouldn’t expect anything to be easier in the seasons ahead.

General manager Jarmo Kekalainen, who parted ways with Tortorella on Sunday, made it clear that his next hire will be someone that holds players to a standard similar to that of the famously gruff coach over the past six seasons.

“I’ve told every player that comes here that if you work and you compete, you’ll be totally fine with Torts and he’ll let you play your skilled game and give you a little leeway here and there,” Kekalainen explained during his postseason video conference Monday. “But he’s going to demand the same discipline, the same work ethic from everybody and that is not to be cheated, and that is part of the strong culture that he’s helped us build here and that’s what it’s going to require moving forward as well.”

The Blue Jackets, according to Kekalainen, are beginning their search for Tortorella’s replacement immediately, but they won’t rush it. Columbus at least wants to see how things shake out as other clubs complete their regular seasons and, in some cases, their playoff runs.

With a 3-8-4 record in their last 15 games, the Blue Jackets finished the 2020-21 regular season with a thud, which landed them in last place — even behind the lowly Detroit Red Wings, albeit on a tie-breaker, in the Central Division.

Tortorella’s contract was scheduled to expire this season and the club announced a mutual parting of the ways over the weekend.

A lot of the Blue Jackets’ problems stemmed from a lack of offense. They ranked 27th in goals scored this season, 28th last season. Although Kekalainen was quick to divert responsibility for Columbus’ scoring woes away from Tortorella’s system to the strange season — during which Covid-19 protocols have affected players differently — there’s no doubt the new coach is going to have to figure a way to squeeze some offense out of some of Columbus’ best players whose recent production declined.

Cam Atkinson averaged 0.27 goals per game this season, down form 0.51 in 2018-19, the season Columbus made the playoffs for a fourth straight year and won a round for the first time in franchise history.

Oliver Bjorkstrand was down from 0.43 goals per game to 0.32 this season. Patrik Laine had his public feuds with Tortorella after he was acquired in a trade with Winnipeg, and averaged just 0.22 goals per game in 45 contests for the Blue Jackets. He’s averaged 0.43 goals per game in his career.

The hardest drop-off to take was Maxi Domi’s, as the former Montreal forward averaged just 0.44 points per game this season — down from 0.62 in 2019-20 and 0.88 in 2018-19.

The new coach is going to have to figure out a way to jumpstart the offense in front of what’s a solid foundation defensively, starting with Seth Jones and Zach Werenski on the top defense pair, and continuing with the goaltending duo of Joonas Korpisalo and Elvis Merzlikins (plus a couple top prospects on the way).

Even after the Blue Jackets re-sign a handful of restricted free agents, including Laine, they could have more than $15 million in cap space, according to That means Kekalainen could add pieces to the core that would make the job more attractive to established coaches and less-experienced ones.

The new coach, though, won’t be required to have NHL head coaching experience, Kekalainen said. The main thing he is looking for is someone that can lead and make sure the team continues to play the right way.

“Some do it with a little bit louder voice and some do it with a little bit softer,” the GM said. “There’s always players that don’t respond as well to the loud but respond better to the softer voice, and vice versa. So I don’t think that you can ever find a coach that will please every player the same way or the group the same way.

“I think the coach has to be the leader of the group and set the standard and show us the way and keep the strong values here every day, and that’s — I’ve said this now a few times — but that was the biggest thing that I liked about John Tortorella. He wouldn’t allow you to cheat and he wouldn’t compromise his standard ever, not for a minute, not for a second or not for any day of the week.”

It’s apparent Tortorella is gone, but his legacy is going to continue in Columbus.

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