The Columbus Blue Jackets have had a terrible start to the year with a 1-8-0 start. They lost the first eight games they played, but fired then-coach Todd Richards after an 0-7 start and brought on John Tortorella.
Tortorella is someone who the team believes is going to give these Blue Jackets a wakeup call they desperately need. The choice of getting rid of Richards was not an easy one, as the Blue Jackets had a lot of success with him being the winningest coach in team’s short history.
Richards had taken the Blue Jackets to the playoffs and helped guide their first victory in the postseason, as well as the only postseason victory at Nationwide Arena. Richards was a good coach who got fired for something that was not his fault: the play of the players.
Coming into this season, the Blue Jackets had the highest expectations in franchise history and were being talked about as a possible winner of the Metropolitan Division, a first for the franchise if accomplished. Columbus played a good, hard-fought first game until it came unraveled in the third period. After that, the Blue Jackets didn’t look anything like they did in the preseason. Something had to be done.
At the time of Richards’ canning, the team was coming close to history by losing seven games in a row. The last time an NHL team had lost as many games as the Blue Jackets to start a season was in 1943, when the New York Rangers started out 0-11-0.
The Blue Jackets lost the debut of Tortorella, but battled to a close finish, falling 3-2 against the Minnesota Wild on the road, which set the franchise-worst eight straight losses to open the season. They came back and won the ninth game of the year on Saturday, pulling to .500 under Tortorella. Since being hired on, the team has looked more and more like the team many thought they could be. Maybe this is all because of Tortorella and what he brings to the table for the Blue Jackets.
Tortorella is a very well-respected hockey coach around the league. The man is the all-time winningest American-born coach in NHL history. He has led three different clubs — the Rangers, Tampa Bay Lighting and Vancouver Canucks — compiling a record of 446-375-37-78 (ties were a part of the league until it introduced the shootout in 2005). His career winning percentage is .538, while he joins a team that has a franchise winning percentage of .394.
He has won a championship in 2004 with the Lighting and took the Rangers to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2012. He also has a tendency to not be quite as friendly to media as others. Just ask the New York media who had to cover him. That could be what this club — and city — needs. He could restore the team’s blue collar attitude that it held for the last few years, as it finished above .500 in each of the past three seasons.
Tortorella has to get this club to wake up. We saw the potential in this team at the end of last season, and the Blue Jackets have had a history the past few years of starting slow but still making a run. The team still has a lot of the same core players that it had last year. All Tortorella has to do is get the players back to the level of play they had, and the confidence they had as well.
The Blue Jackets’ biggest weakness has been on the defensive side, starting with the defensemen not looking anything like last year, and Sergei Bobrovsky carrying a 4.45 goals-against average and a 1-6 record. The Blue Jackets showed flashes during their losing streak, but have looked consistently better since Tortorella arrived.
Columbus is not the first team to fire a coach this early in the season. In 2013, the Philadelphia Flyers fired Peter Laviolette after just three games and the team still made the playoffs. In the last 25 years, four other teams have fired their coach 10 games or fewer into a season, two of which ended up making the playoffs.
The Blue Jackets have some serious odds against them. Going into their 10th game, they are already 12 points behind the Rangers for the top spot in the division. They are also seven points out of a wild card spot.
They have an opportunity to get it turned around, but they have to come together with their new coach or it could be another long, postseason-free season for the franchise.