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CBJ Today: Takeaways from the state of the Jackets press conference

Comments of Tortorella, Kekalainen show direction team could be headed

by Jeff Svoboda @JacketsInsider /

Each weekday this season, will post CBJ Today, a look at news, notes, analysis and fun stuff from around the Blue Jackets world. It's everything you need to know if you're a fan going into the day. 

The Daily Buzz 

One day after a huge and much-needed 4-1 win over Detroit in Nationwide Arena, the Blue Jackets are back at it today with a noon practice and then a trip to Dallas, where Columbus will play the foundering Stars tomorrow night and Saturday night. Speaking of buzz, there was one at the downtown arena last night with fans back in the building; we'll get to that below. 

Takeaways from Jarmo, Torts 

But first, yesterday Blue Jackets brass -- by that I mean general manager Jarmo Kekalainen and head coach John Tortorella -- gave a bit of a state-of-the-team press conference, which is the kind of thing that can happen when a team gets off to the inconsistent start the Blue Jackets have.  

For many, the take home message from Kekalainen was that he has no plans to fire Tortorella or shake up the team's coaching staff despite the fact Columbus went into last night's game riding a five-game losing skid and in seventh place in the Central Division by the ever-crucial points percentage. 

But there were other topics discussed as well, largely about roster construction and how this CBJ team is jelling together. With that in mind, here are three quotes of interest from yesterday's availability that didn't fit in the main story but I figured would be of interest for CBJ fans, with a quick takeaway after each. 

Tortorella: "Can we play (that hard forechecking) style right now? I think we'd be forcing certain situations to demand that type of style vs. more of developing three new centers and just the six or seven new bodies coming in here. I think we have to play a different way. I'll put it to you honestly - we're kind of in between. I think that's part of hockey is the grind of it and then skill plays have to be made also. We certainly have not done either consistently enough. … I think the coaches have not done a good enough job of finding that way to play to be successful." 

A takeaway: For as much as people talk about Tortorella's inflexibility or a perceived my way or the highway approach - a deserved reputation in some ways - one of the things I've always been impressed with is the coach's introspectiveness. I also think people overstate the "grinding" aspect of the team's strategy (every winning team wants a strong forecheck, blocked shots, defensive zone responsibility, etc.), but it also is no secret the CBJ identity the past few years has been in some ways physicality and a strong forecheck.  

Without such heavy players as Josh Anderson and Pierre-Luc Dubois, it's been a transition, and Tortorella admits 20 games into the season that the coaching staff is still trying to find the right balance. As far as establishing an identity, this might be one of the biggest challenges ahead for the Jackets as they try to consistently find their game. But for those who have levied this as a criticism of the job Tortorella has done here, that's fair, but it's also clear he's aware of the situation. 

Kekalainen: "It's a challenge (to upgrade the center position) because they're just not available via trade so usually you have to draft one and develop one. I think we did that very well with one player (Pierre-Luc Dubois) and now he's not here, and now we have to get back into our hunt, finding a centerman either through the draft or trade. They're not available very often. There could be some available in the free agent market next summer, but I can assure you that we understand the importance of the center ice position and that's why we did a lot of the different moves that we tried to do in the offseason to strengthen that position. It hasn't exactly gone as planned, I can assure you." 

Takeaway: One of the themes of the season since the trade that sent Dubois to Winnipeg for Patrik Laine and Jack Roslovic has been the youth of the Jackets down the middle of the ice. Jack Roslovic, Kevin Stenlund and Alexandre Texier are young players with a lot of potential, but they just hadn't played much center in the NHL coming into this year, so there's a learning curve there as they get experience playing one of the toughest positions in the sport. 

And while Kekalainen got quite a return for Dubois considering the position he was in, his quote above shows just how much that trade -- plus the retirement of Mikko Koivu as well as the relative struggles of Max Domi's transition to the team -- submarined the team's plan down the middle of the ice. It's something on his radar, certainly, as the team goes forward; could that mean as early as the trade deadline? 

Kekalainen: "Every team usually goes through a struggle during the year which also shows in the standings. A lot of times the eventual Stanley Cup winner, what puts the team together is a struggle where they go through and the adversity." 

There's no doubt that the Blue Jackets have some ground to make up, but what Kekalainen said above also is true. Look at Tampa Bay last year; the Lightning were 17-13-4 through the first two-plus months of the season, essentially a .500 record. It was a far cry from the year before when the team raced to an NHL record-tying 62 wins; but the Bolts have since admitted it was probably a bit too easy that year, and the result was a first-round sweep at the hands of the Blue Jackets.  

Last year's Tampa team grew through that early-season period of finding itself, then grew red-hot as the year went on and went on to win the Stanley Cup. Of course it would be asking a lot for the Jackets to do that, but all I'm saying is sometimes the early grind can forge a team. Time will tell if that happens in Columbus.  

Good to See You 

The story of last night was not just the win but the fact around 2,000 fans were back in Nationwide Arena; we wrote about that here, in case you missed it. 

But one last capper on that - from a personal standpoint, it sure felt good to see some people in the seats below the press box last night. Even 2,000 fans gave the game a totally different feel, and to say it was felt by everyone in the organization would be an understatement. 

And what was truly nice was it felt like a step toward normalcy. The last year has been different for us all, to say the least. And while there have been some blessings to be learned from the tough times, the reality is tough times are tough times.  

So to see some of the 5th Line back in action last night, it felt like something important returned, something that calls back to the days when we could all be together to celebrate as one. Can't wait to do it again soon.  

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