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2016-17 NHL Season Preview: Columbus Blue Jackets

2016-17 NHL Season Preview: Columbus Blue Jackets

It still feels like the season just ended, but with the draft and free agency already behind us, it's time to look forward to the 2016-17 season. We will preview every team in the NHL throughout August and take a look at what the new season may hold.

Team: Columbus Blue Jackets.

How they did last season: 34-40-8 (76 points); Last in the Metropolitan Division; 15th in the Eastern Conference. Missed the playoffs for the sixth time in seven seasons.

Notable acquisitions: C Sam Gagner; LW Pierre-Luc Dubois; D Scott Harrington; and assistant coach Brad Shaw.

Notable departures: RW Rene Bourque; RW Jared Boll; D Fedor Tyutin; D Justin Falk; LW Kerby Rychel; and assistant coach Craig Hartsburg.

When they will play the Caps: Nov. 15 in Columbus; Nov. 20 in Washington; Jan. 5 in Washington; March 23 in Washington; and April 12 in Columbus.

Analysis: The Blue Jackets finished 27th in the league last season and, well, followed up that disappointing campaign with an awfully quiet offseason.

Why so quiet? Looks to me like GM Jarmo Kekalainen is taking the longview while also counting on a confluence of events to occur in 2016-17. Among the thins that need to happen:

  • Bounce-back seasons from winger Nick Foligno and goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky, the Blue Jackets' highest and fourth-highest paid players. Foligno had 12 goals and 37 points, a steep decline from the 31 and 73 he produced the year before. Bobrovsky, meantime, struggled with injuries and consistency and won only 15 games.  
  • A breakout season (or three) from the organization’s deep pool of young players and prospects, many of whom helped the AHL Lake Erie Monsters sweep the Hershey Bears in the Calder Cup finals. Defenseman Zach Weresnki, forwards Sonny Milano, Josh Anderson and Oliver Bjorkstrand and goalies Anton Forsberg and Joonas Korpisalo—all of whom are close to being ready to contribute in the NHL. There’s also left wing Pierre-Luc Dubois, the No. 3 overall pick in June’s draft. Should they have taken Jesse Puljujarvi instead? Time will tell. But Dubois has an outside shot at sticking in Columbus straight out of camp.    
  • A masterpiece coaching job from John Tortorella. Can he help youthful standouts like Seth Jones, Brandon Saad and Boone Jenner reach their full potential while simultaneously guiding the organization’s many prospects through a sometimes tough transition to the NHL? That remains to be seen, but the 2004 Stanley Cup champion coach certainly has navigated a lot of different situations during his two decades as an NHL head or assistant coach. It should also be noted that Torts went a respectable 34-32-8 after replacing Todd Richards. Under Richards, the Jackets opened the season 0-7-0.   

If all, or even much, of the above happens, that would be great for Columbus and its long-suffering fan base. The Jackets actually might be good enough to make things interesting down the stretch. And, more importantly, it could lay the foundation for future success.

Season prediction: Call me a pessimist, but I don’t see it coming together. Not this year, at least.

Too many variables, too much youth and a tough division, to boot.

Having seen the Capitals build through the draft and benefit from prospects who learned to win while playing for a championship-caliber AHL organization, it’s certainly possible this youth movement could lead to positive things down the road.    

If they don’t, however, watch out. It’s hard to envision where the Jackets turn next. They aren’t getting much bang for their buck currently; according to www.generalfanager.com, in fact, they’ve got less than $4 million available in cap space this season and no big salaries set to come off the books at year’s end. So, if things do go south, there might not be any option other than a tear-it-down rebuild.

2016-2017 NHL TEAM PREVIEWS

Pacific Division
— Anaheim Ducks
— Arizona Coyotes
— Calgary Flames
— Edmonton Oilers
— Los Angeles Kings
— San Jose Sharks
— Vancouver Canucks

Central Division
— Chicago Blackhawks
— Colorado Avalanche
— Dallas Stars
— Minnesota Wild
— Nashville Predators
— St. Louis Blues
— Winnipeg Jets

Atlantic Division
— Boston Bruins
— Buffalo Sabres
— Detroit Red Wings
— Florida Panthers
— Montreal Canadiens
— Ottawa Senators
— Tampa Bay Lightning
— Toronto Maple Leafs

Metropolitan Division
Carolina Hurricanes
— New Jersey Devils (coming Aug. 25)
— New York Islanders (coming Aug. 26)
— New York Rangers (coming Aug. 27)
— Philadelphia Flyers (coming Aug. 28)
— Pittsburgh Penguins (coming Aug. 29)
— Washington Capitals (coming soon)

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John Tortorella has no answers, walks out of postgame press conference

John Tortorella has no answers, walks out of postgame press conference

In each of the first three games of the series, the Columbus Blue Jackets always had an answer for the Washington Capitals.

The Caps built a two-goal lead in each game and Columbus was able to battle back and tie it each time.

In Game 4 on Thursday, however. the Blue Jackets had no answer in a 4-1 loss to Washington and that includes head coach John Tortorella.

"We weren't good," Tortorella said to the media after the game. "There's no sense asking me things about the game. I'm telling you, we laid an egg. I'm not going to break it down for you. We sucked. We sucked."

Tortorella is known for having some fiery interactions with the media. By his standard, Thursday's postgame presser was fairly tame.

The Capitals may have won Game 3, but Columbus certainly looked like the better team for most of the night. That was not the case in Game 4 as Washington dominated from start to finish. That led to the contentious postgame presser.

"We laid an egg," Tortorella said. "That's all I have to say, guys. I'm sorry, I'm not going to break it down for you. Nothing went well for us. It's on us, we have to figure it out and we will."

Reporters continued to press the head coach until he finally walked out.

Before you laugh too hard at this, it is important to consider that this may be a calculated move by Tortorella.

Sure, there have been times in which he has lost his temper in the past, but these outbursts may be more premeditated than we think.

Consider this. After their worst game of the series, a game in which the Blue Jackets only scored once and saw a 2-0 series lead evaporate in two games at home, we're talking about the head coach. We're not talking about the loss or the performance of the players. Instead, we are talking about Tortorella walking out on reporters.

Even if Tortorella was not willing to give any answers on Thursday, he will need to find some soon. The series now shifts back to Washington for Game 5 on Saturday with all the momentum on the Caps' side.

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4 reasons the Caps beat the Blue Jackets in Game 4

4 reasons the Caps beat the Blue Jackets in Game 4

The Caps put together their best performance of the series Thursday in a 4-1 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets in Game 4 of their 2018 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs first-round series.

The win pulled Washington even with Columbus in the series 2-2.

Here's how the Caps got the big win.

4 Reasons why the Capitals beat the Blue Jackets in Game 4

1. Tom Wilson factors in the offense

Wilson’s hands are good for more than just punching.

He proved that again on Thursday as he scored the first goal for the second consecutive game. Chandler Stephenson and John Carlson provided the pressure on Sergei Bobrovsky. With Bobrovsky scrambling in the crease, Evgeny Kuznetsov passed the puck back to Wilson who fired the one-timer past the Columbus netminder.

In the first two games of the series, Wilson had no points and no shots. In the last two games, he has two goals and 13 shots on goal.

2. A great keep-in by John Carlson

We saw how dangerous it was when penalty killers fail to clear the puck in Game 1 when the Caps failed to clear in the third period leading to the game-tying power play goal.

In Game 4, the roles were reversed. Trying to kill off an Artemi Panarin penalty, Cam Atkinson attempted to clear the puck with the backhand. Carlson skillfully corralled the puck out of the air at the blue line to keep it in the zone.

The power play was able to reset and T.J. Oshie scored the rebound goal soon after.

3. Braden Holtby closes the door to finish the second period

After the Caps took the 2-0 lead, the Blue Jackets made a late push to try to pull one back.

In the last 10 minutes of the second period, Columbus had 13 shot attempts, five of which were not net. Several of those shots were high-quality opportunities, but Holtby came up with the big saves that the team was not getting earlier in the series.

His play ensured the Caps took the 2-0 lead to the locker room.

4. Alex Ovechkin extends the lead to three

Washington entered the third period up 2-0. In each of the first three games, the Caps held a two-goal lead and allowed the Blue Jackets to battle back and tie the score. Even with a two-goal lead, it still felt at the start of the third that the next goal would decide the game. If Columbus pulled within one and got the crowd back on their side, we have seen what that momentum can do for them.

This time, however, Ovechkin struck first. After a board battle behind the net, the puck trickled out to the faceoff circle. Ovechkin grabbed it and quickly snapped the puck past Bobrovsky before anyone could react.

The goal gave Washington their first three-goal lead of the series and shut the Blue Jackets’ comeback down before it could begin.

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