Blue Jackets must start over to compete for Stanley Cup, Tortorella says

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The Columbus Blue Jackets are in need of an organizational reset if they intend to compete for the Stanley Cup in the future, coach John Tortorella said Saturday.

Tortorella told the Blue Jackets website that after making the Stanley Cup Playoffs the past four seasons, Columbus saw its game decline this season in part because of roster upheaval.

“The core of this team has been together, and we were growing, we were getting there, and things have fallen off,” Tortorella said before the Blue Jackets hosted the Chicago Blackhawks. “The business end of it comes in, players wanting to leave and stuff like that, and you know what? You need to start over. I’ll be honest with you, it needs to start over because there are just a lot of different personalities that come in.

“I don’t know if they fit or not. We’ve still got to go through the process of trying to figure out who they are, who we are. Are we going to do it together? And do you understand? Are you going to buy in? And all that stuff. I don’t have the answer as far as where it goes right now. We’re still trying to find out about the new personnel coming in here.”

Video: David Savard joins Tampa Bay Lightning

Tortorella spoke a few hours before the Blue Jackets traded defenseman David Savard, a pending unrestricted free agent. Columbus acquired a first-round pick in the 2021 NHL Draft and a third-round pick in the 2022 NHL Draft from the Tampa Bay Lightning in a three-team deal that included the Detroit Red Wings.

Columbus traded forward Riley Nash to the Toronto Maple Leafs on Friday for a conditional pick in the 2022 NHL Draft. Nash, who also can become an unrestricted free agent after this season, is out 4-6 weeks with a sprained knee.

Earlier this season, the Blue Jackets had a falling-out with Pierre-Luc Dubois and on Jan. 23 traded the center and a third-round pick in the 2022 draft to the Winnipeg Jets for forwards Patrik Laine and Jack Roslovic.

This week, injuries further hurt the Blue Jackets’ playoff chances. Forward Boone Jenner broke his finger Tuesday against the Lightning and is out for the rest of the regular season. Defenseman Zack Werenski was placed on injured reserve Friday and will have season-ending surgery to repair a sports hernia. They were already without forward Gustav Nyquist, who missed the entire season with a shoulder injury. 

Columbus (15-19-8) was seventh in the eight-team Discover Central Division, seven points behind the fourth-place Nashville Predators. The top four teams qualify for the playoffs.

Tortorella said the Blue Jackets are taking a step back before they can go forward again.

“The frustrating part, I think we kind of fell off, we didn’t gradually go, we fell off, let’s be honest,” he said. “And it’s not just the [NHL salary] cap world, it’s guys didn’t want to be here for some reason. Things changed with that at the beginning of this year. We’ve gone through a lot of stuff here the past two or three years, kind of held our water, kept on going and going, but there’s only so many things you can go through, especially when players depart, to keep it there. So I believe this is a time that it needs to be reset.

“I don’t want to speak out of turn. This is [general manager Jarmo Kekalainen’s] job. I have strong feelings about what needs to be done here. I hope we have discussions at the end of the year. I think Jarmo and I have talked about that already, but yeah, we’ll see where it goes.”

Columbus lost goalie Sergei Bobrovsky (Florida Panthers), forward Artemi Panarin (New York Rangers) and center Matt Duchene (Nashville Predators) each as a free agent July 1, 2019, less than three months after its first playoff series victory. The Blue Jackets swept the Lightning, the Presidents’ Trophy winners, in the best-of-7 Eastern Conference First Round.

Despite the difficulties and being out of playoff position, the Blue Jackets have no choice but to do their best to win games now, Tortorella said.

“I know it doesn’t mean a whole [heck] of a lot to us because we’re not going to be there as far as when the good stuff starts,” he said. “Still, we’re professionals. We prepare the same way and we try to win the game.

“It [stinks]. We’re totally irrelevant as far as where we’re at in this part of the season. It’s not fun playing for nothing, but some guys are playing for their future in this organization. So I want to be fair. I want to prepare them the correct way, and we want to try to win the hockey games.”

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