How we got here
Aaron Portzline, Blue Jackets beat the writer: This will go down as one of the worst seasons in franchise history, which really says something about it given the history of the franchise. The Jackets were stammering, coming within range of a playoff berth at 13-12-7 on March 20. They won just two of their next 18 games, however, going 2-13-3 to end any hope of a fifth straight series. .
Now they face an incredible dubious off-season, with general manager Jarmo Kekalainen facing a number of major decisions, including the hiring of a new coach. The bigger story, however, will be the Blue Jackets’ attempts to sign defenseman Seth Jones for a contract extension. He is an unrestricted free agent after the 2021-2022 season.
Blue Jackets season summary
Portzline: It’s been a long, arduous season in Columbus, with very little success on the ice and plenty of drama outside of it. There have been several key moments this season where you’ve wondered if Kekalainen could pull the chute, most notably the early-season public row with No.1 center Pierre-Luc Dubois after Dubois called for a pre-camp trade. ‘training.
It was, in many ways, a sad end to Columbus for Tortorella, who did so much to elevate the franchise to heights it had never reached before arriving. He took them to four straight playoffs – they only had two before he arrived – and he led them to their first and only playoff win, sweeping Tampa Bay in 2019. Tortorella coached more games, has had more wins and the highest points percentage of any coach in franchise history.
Who could replace Tortorella?
Portzline: It’s a fascinating question because Tortorella has been such an important part of the organization. Is Kekalainen looking for a young coach with a reputation as a player coach? It would make sense given the expected roster of the roster, but it’s worth noting that Kekalainen never cared about Tortorella’s hard love and relentless demands.
Current Blue Jackets coaches Brad Larsen and Brad Shaw will likely be granted interviews, but the Blue Jackets will have their pick of several excellent candidates:
- Jack Capuano, Ottawa associate coach
- Gerard Gallant, former Vegas and Blue Jackets coach
- Swedish national team coach Richard Grönborg
- Former Finnish national team coach Jukka Jalonen
- Former Montreal Associate Coach Kirk Muller
- Montreal assistant (and former Blue Jackets captain) Luke Richardson
- Mike Velucci, Pittsburgh Assistant Coach
- Pascal Vincent, AHL Manitoba coach
- Former Calgary Flames coach Geoff Ward.
One of the sticking points with Tortorella was the organization’s refusal to pay the going rate ($ 4 million and more) for a top trainer. Tortorella was making $ 2.5 million this season. This could limit their scope to some of the biggest names.
(Photo: Jeff Vinnick / NHLI via Getty Images)