The Blue Jackets put pucks to sticks in training camp Saturday, and the start of the 2017-18 season gets one day closer. The challenge for this team is how to be even better than last year's 4th overall finish.
To find the answers, from management to coaches to players, the off-season has been a time to gather lessons from last season and turn them into action.
More than "just ten days."
It may be five months since last season ended for the Jackets, but everyone knows exactly how it went down. After putting together a 108-point season that included 50 wins and a 16-game win streak, the team ran into the eventual Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins and lost their opening playoff series 4-1. In ten days, the post-season was over.
The Jackets want more.
"To really gain respect in the league and be what you want to be you're playing a lot more days in the playoffs," head coach John Tortorella said. "And you're doing it every year. We need to find consistency."
The goal now is to reach another level and be prepared for what the next 82 games bring. Tortorella promised players an even tougher training camp this year in his off-season letter and has issued the challenge to not let "good be the enemy of great."
The players are dialed into that message.
They are coming back with an attitude that has only matured in its business-like approach. As a group, the players have met and talked about last season. They reflected on the good that happened last year, but they are not willing to be satisfied with it.
"I think we have a lot of confidence that has been earned and is deserved at this point," general manager Jarmo Kekalainen said. "But we have to remind us that nothing comes for granted in this league. It's going to be a difficult road to the playoffs."
During the post-season, the Jackets were able to control the shot-attempt battle, and hold possession. But they also saw the Penguins turn a single scoring chance into a goal time after time.
As a result, the Jackets wanted to increase the degree of dynamic play on the roster, and in June, forward Artemi Panarin joined the organization via a trade with the Chicago Blackhawks. In 82 games last season, the 25-year-old scored 31 goals and 43 assists. That performance came on the heels of his rookie year that saw him put up a 30-47-77 stat line and win the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year.
Panarin is quick in both how he plays the game and how he thinks the game. He's slated to be playing with center Alexander Wennberg and be part of the number one power play unit.
"Panarin has that dynamic ability that we were looking for," Kekalainen said. "He is someone who can create an odd man situation from beating a guy one-on-one. He can create with that speed and quickness and make room out of nothing."
In addition, the Jackets are adding another layer to their team philosophy. Last year cemented the young defensive core as "the engine of the team," and now the focus will be to increase puck control not only to create more scoring chances but also to lessen the pressure on goaltenders.
"We hope to have the puck even more," president of hockey operations John Davidson said. "We want to be getting the puck in our zone, getting that first pass, controlling pucks out of the zone."
The next few weeks will frame the roster that will take to the ice opening night for the Blue Jackets, but the foundation is already in place for how this team is planning to tackle the upcoming season. And the goal is to improve in all areas from last year and get the results.
"To have expectations is a good thing," Davidson said. "That means we have a team that's going to battle, we have a team that's going to win. We have to go out and prove it, but coming into this camp with some good things that happened last season proves some things. We have an attitude of, 'you know what? This is a good hockey club, we don't have to take a back seat to anybody.'"