The Columbus Blue Jackets played one more playoff game this season than last, but it’s all the same to general manager Jarmo Kekalainen and coach John Tortorella. Not good enough.
And apparently there’s plenty of blame to go around.
“Everybody has to give skin here, from the coaches right on through, as far as what happened,” Tortorella said in his exit interview with reporters Thursday, April 26.
The Blue Jackets promising season fizzled out in the end. They overcame injuries to key players and finished the regular season strong, making the Stanley Cup playoffs for the second season in a row. They won the first two in the first-round playoff series on the road against the Washington Capitals, only to drop the next four straight.
It ended with a thud in a 6-3 loss in Game 6 on home ice Monday night, April 23.
Despite how all that sounds, the team didn’t implode, Tortorella said.
“We were a good enough team to beat Washington this year,” he said. “We just did not make that big play and or get that big save at key times, and they did.
“I like our team, I like our personnel,” he said. “The biggest thing is we need to change our mindset here, (so) that we feel we belong in the playoffs. We need to think stronger in how to find a way. I want us to be more aggressive in our thinking and expect some more.”
The Blue Jackets undoubtedly will have some different faces next season. Just how many remains to be seen. Kekalainen was coy when asked if the team needs more talented players to get deeper into the playoffs.
“We’re always looking to upgrade, one way or another,” he said. “I think we’re going to get better again from inside. It’s going to be the same approach.”
Kekalainen cited the surprise trade last summer that brought star winger Artemi Panarin to town and the swift emergence of rookie center Pierre-Luc Dubois. But he won’t talk strategy.
One the goals likely will be to sign Panarin and goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky — the team’s biggest stars — to contract extensions. Both will be unrestricted free agents in 2019, and the team would like to lock them up before that.
Defenseman Jack Johnson and forward Matt Calvert will be unrestricted free agents on July 1, so the Blue Jackets will have to make a decision on whether to sign them to new contracts. The 28-year-old Calvert, the longest tenured Blue Jacket at eight seasons but never more than a bottom six player, tied his career-high season point total with 24 and had three playoff goals.
The Blue Jackets also will have to decide whether to re-sign forwards Thomas Vanek and Mark Letestu and defensemen Ian Cole, all of whom were added at the trade deadline.
Columbus finished with 97 points, second most in franchise history after last season’s 108, and qualified for the playoffs as a wildcard. The team punctuated a furious comeback down the stretch with a 10-game winning streak in March.
But the playoffs were a bust. Again.
“We expected more out of ourselves this year,” defenseman Zach Werenski said on his way out this week. “Go up 2-0 on the road, come back home we don’t get a win. I just think we have higher expectations, and we should. We are a good hockey team and we fell short of our goals this year. At the end of the day, if you are not holding the Stanley Cup, it’s kind of a failed season. This one definitely stings.”
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