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MHH Previews the Lesser 29: Columbus

Welcome to a new installment where we will preview each of the other NHL teams who simply make up the bulk of the league the Avalanche play in. Today, we preview the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Russell LaBounty-USA TODAY Sports

Their head coach: John Tortorella. Oh no. You guys still have him? Sheesh, well this is awkward. I have nightmares about Torts yelling at me for doing anything wrong, and I’ve never met him or seen him in person. I can’t imagine what it must be like to play with him. I’d need a therapy session every day for two hours.

Their captain: Nick Foligno. He had a great 14-15 season scoring 31 goals. Beyond that, there’s not a whole lot he’s done that screams great player. You think about top talent on the Jackets and you think Jack Johnson (the hockey player not the guy who sang the song for the Curious George movie), Cam Atkinson, Brandon Saad, and BOB. God I love Bob. Sergei Bobrovsky, for those of you thinking I’m talking about the builder who used to live on Nickelodeon. Anyways, Foligno isn’t there yet. He’s probably on like the Carl Soderberg level in terms of contributions to his team. He does have 2 Canadian parents, yet plays internationally for the US. Don’t see that every day, but glad he knows which country is truly the G.O.A.T.

Their 15-16 season: It was historic in that they set a new mark as going the longest to open a season without winning a game, which was eight. We won’t mention who their ninth game and first win was against. I don’t feel like it’s important or relevant. It was never good at any point, but they were better from November on, mostly because you can’t ask for a worse month than the October they had.

How did they do against the Avs? They swept em. They had that one game in October that definitely wasn’t embarrassing or anything I totally didn’t indirectly refer to in an earlier paragraph. Then the BJ's beat the Avs in January with a goal in the final minute of the 3rd taking the most insane bounce I've ever seen. Poor Calvin Pickard could do nothing. In hindsight, that lost point or lost points from that night could have really helped the Avs in their playoff push at the end of the season.

When do they play the Avs this season? At Columbus on November 21st, and in Denver on December 1st.

Will they be good? Well, here’s the thing. Ever since they gave the Penguins everything they wanted in the 2014 playoffs, I’ve picked Columbus to make the playoffs every year since then. Instead, they’ve been very bad. I’ll go with recent history this time and say they’ll be very bad, because what they’ve had the last couple years clearly hasn’t worked, even if there is lots of talent on this team.

3 Questions with their SB Nation blog, The Cannon:

-I spent the summer interning just outside of Dayton and was in Columbus quite a bit running golf tournaments around the city. First time in my life I’ve ever spent any time in Ohio. I hardly saw any people wearing Blue Jackets merchandise or representing CBJ. Maybe a few hats on people, but that was it. No bumper stickers, flags, etc. The Blue Jackets have always had the reputation as a team that lacks fans, but after their playoff appearance a few years ago, Nationwide Arena looked like one of the craziest places in the NHL. So how would you describe the growth of hockey in Columbus, and the state of Ohio for that matter, ever since the league expanded to the Buckeye state? While I can understand how an outsider might have that impression, I think it is far overblown, both in terms of Columbus and statewide.  Hockey overall has exploded in Ohio since the Blue Jackets arrived,  with every high school now having teams, a ton of club and junior teams, and locally grown prospects now making it into the draft.  The Calder Cup win for Lake Erie was huge this year, and that has brought a resurgence of hockey interest in Cleveland.

Columbus has always had hockey fans, but until the NHL came here, they were divided between Detroit, Pittsburgh and  Chicago, for the most part.  It's taken a while to get the new generation to grow up with the club, but there is a solid knowledgeable fan base, and a growing base of more casual fans.  If you are plugged into the fan community — which is easy to do ==  there is always something hockey-related going on, and the August Cannonfest is a big draw.  Summer in Ohio is not the best time to be trotting out hockey gear, but if you look, you'll see more license plates, T-shirts, etc. than you might think.  Some of the casual fans bring the Ohio State football "anything short of a championship is a failure" approach to things, but that is a vocal minority.  All the fan base needs is more on-ice success to light the fuse.  The All Star Game was nuts in 2015, and you’ll see more insanity this year.

-Each of the last 2 seasons, since the playoff season when they gave the Penguins all they wanted, I’ve predicted the Jackets to make the playoffs, and they haven’t even come close. Tell me why I should predict them to make it a 3rd straight season, and why this season will be the year they return to the postseason. Nobody has been more disappointed than the Blue Jackets themselves over the performance of the last couple of seasons, particularly last year, when injuries were not there to blame, except for Bobrovsky.  Much of it was mental, and former head coach Todd Richards really did not have the approach/style that would help the team pull out of the spin.  This is a tough year to handicap, as the Blue Jackets are committed to youth, and you can expect as many as four or five guys from Lake Erie to challenge hard for roster slots.  I fully expect them to have the best conditioned and most skilled team they have ever had, but it will be very, very young.  If Bobrovsky is healthy and can play up to his standards while the youngsters develop chemistry, anything could happen.  I think they will definitely be competitive, and once they do earn that playoff berth, look for them to be a regular presence.

-Will John Tortorella keep his job throughout the season, and be the coach of Columbus a year from now? Tortorella carries the burden of his past, which is all on him, but it's time to look at what he is doing now.  When you're in the room with him, his intellect is apparent, and he is an engaging and thoughtful personality.  He's competitive and demanding, to be sure, but there is a big sense that this is precisely what the organization needs.  By his own admission, Tortorella loves to work with the young players, and this team could be ideally suited to him.  He has shown that he is willing to let guys do what they do best, but then holds them accountable.  That can grate on some veterans, but the point gets across.  He is also as vociferous in defense of his players as he is in criticizing them -- a much under-publicized attribute.  I think he's here for the full year and beyond, absent a total meltdown and a reversion to old behavior, which does not seem to be in the cards. He’s getting the kind of players he likes, so the results should follow.  He’ll get some time to make it work.

Thanks to Jeff Little for taking the time to answer!