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5 Questions: Columbus Blue Jackets

Young defense, Scott Hartnell's status among key issues

by Craig Merz / Correspondent

An NHL season is filled with twists and turns for each of the League's 30 teams. Here are five of the major questions that could define the 2016-17 season for the Columbus Blue Jackets:


Is this a chance for redemption for coach John Tortorella?

It seems so long, long ago in his third full season with the Tampa Bay Lightning that he won the 2004 Stanley Cup. Since then, he's coached the New York Rangers and had a combustible season with the Vancouver Canucks in 2013-14 before joining the Blue Jackets after seven games last season. He did a credible job in a dire situation, but going 0-3-0 at the World Cup of Hockey 2016 for Team USA brought criticism. If he could somehow take the young Blue Jackets to the Stanley Cup Playoffs this season, some of his luster might return.

Will Nelson Ayotte be the unsung hero?

Who? He's the former strength and conditioning coach for the St. Louis Blues who came to Columbus in the summer to head the newly created position of high performance director. Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen had sought him for a while, and he believes Ayotte can help remedy the groin problems that have constantly plagued goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky. Ayotte and Bobrovsky hatched a plan in the offseason, and the goalie looked quicker and more agile during the World Cup while playing for Team Russia. Bobrovsky played 88 games the past two seasons. His high was 58 in 2013-14.

Video: CBJ@NYI: Bobrovsky denies Strome's wrister


What uniform will Scott Hartnell be wearing by the end of the season?

If the 34-year-old left wing has his way, it will be Blue Jackets colors. Despite scoring more goals than any Blue Jackets player the past two seasons (51), including 23 last season, his big contract and age had him on the trading block in the spring and summer after he agreed to waive his no-movement clause. He recently went to Kekalainen and said that was invoking his no-movement clause and hopes to finish his career in Columbus. Hartnell has three years remaining on contract at a $4.75 million average annual value, so he would be hard to trade anyway, but if the Blue Jackets are out of contention again, he might be willing to seek employment elsewhere if a suitor can be found.

Video: CBJ@VAN: Hartnell evens game with wrister


How will the young defense play?

Rookie Zach Werenski, 19, is expected to make the Blue Jackets roster. Seth Jones turned 22 on Monday, and Ryan Murray celebrated his 23rd birthday on Sept. 27. They could potentially be the top defensemen now and certainly for the future. David Savard is almost 26 and Dalton Prout and Cody Goloubef are already there. Jack Johnson reminds the media he is "only" 29, even though it feels like he's been in the NHL longer. What the Blue Jackets have is a defense that is going to be inconsistent and reliant on forwards doing their jobs defensively as well.


Is there hope for a turnaround?

Yes. The Blue Jackets have made the playoffs twice but have teased fans with expectations at least double that amount of times before falling short, sometimes in spectacular fashion like last season. There is finally depth in the organization as shown by Lake Erie (now Cleveland) winning the American Hockey League title in June with at least a half-dozen players who could be with the Blue Jackets by next season. They're hungry and winners. There are veterans in Columbus who should be nervous. 

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