Training camp is just around the corner for the Columbus Blue Jackets. Players report for physicals and the dreaded John Tortorella “two-mile” run on Thursday with the first on-ice sessions starting Friday.
But on Wednesday before camp begins, the Blue Jackets held their annual media day at Nationwide Arena. Tortorella along with GM Jarmo Kekalainen and players Nick Foligno, Cam Atkinson, Boone Jenner and Seth Jones were all there to take questions about the season.
If only there was a main theme to talk about as this camp gets underway. It seems nobody in the hockey world is giving the Blue Jackets a fighting chance in the 2019-20 season.
Yes the Blue Jackets lost three really good players. Yes they are depending on up to four rookies to step in and fill important roles on the team. Yes the task seems too tall. But don’t tell that to the Blue Jackets.
They Don’t Care About Your Opinion
In fact the Blue Jackets don’t really care what you think about how their season will go. That is the first takeaway from media day.
Said Tortorella, “I really don’t give a (expletive) what people say, as far as what they think is going to happen with the team…”
Said Foligno, “Not to be rude, but a lot of them don’t have a clue what they’re talking about. They’re just going by what they’re reading or seeing. We live it everyday. Sometimes your shiny new things go away. You don’t realize that the foundation is there.”
And that’s just it too. Many of the players who helped the Blue Jackets get to a third consecutive Stanley Cup playoff appearance are back and ready to prove the doubters wrong. It doesn’t matter what’s said on the outside. They know what they have and they feel they will compete on a night-in and night-out basis.
Even Kekalainen admitted he was a little angry about the doubters. “I’m a little angry to be honest with you about the doubters because they’re disrespecting our core group.
From management down to the players, there is a belief that they can do good things despite the outside noise. Their job will be to prove that the belief in the room is warranted. No matter how it shakes out, they don’t care about your opinion of doubting where they can go.
What two other things did we learn at Media Day?
Blue Jackets Believe in Their Plan
Kekalainen doubled down on his approach despite losing good talent. “We’re going to surprise some people with the young players we have coming in.”
The team knew that this outcome was a possibility. It didn’t stop them from going all-in last season. They knew from that point that their young players were not only good but were also primed to make an impact early on. This especially applies to the goaltending.
It’s a tall order to replace Sergei Bobrovsky. Few if anyone can do that. But even that doesn’t take away from the confidence Kekalainen has in both Joonas Korpisalo and Elvis Merzlikins. On that confidence, “It’s very high. Otherwise we would have done something differently.”
The Blue Jackets didn’t trade for a goalie. They were prepared to go into the season with the two unproven youngsters. The ultimate question here is who’s right? We’ll start finding out in just a matter of weeks.
Leadership Will be Key to Season
In talking to the captains, they all agree that each will have an integral part in helping the team get to where they want to go. Foligno, Atkinson, Jenner and Jones each admitted there’s a lot of work ahead and each have to be better in certain areas.
Said Foligno, “We’re going to have to grab a hold of this. It’s not going to come easy. Guys are going to have to battle and step up. It’s going to be a little bit of a hard process to start. And if we can get there? Wow, what an unbelievable experience it’s going to be for our team.”
Said Jenner, “I have to continue building, both on and off the ice, I can grow and be a big impact on the ice but also in the room. I can take that next role in leadership.”
With as many as four rookies that could suit up on opening night, the current leadership knows that they will play the role of the mentor this season. With the established core that is in Columbus, they will help the youngsters such as Emil Bemstrom, Alex Texier, Liam Foudy and others along especially early on.
If things get crazy, it will be up to this leadership core to keep things stable. They are all ready for the task and eager to prove everyone wrong.
It’s a confident group who can’t wait to get started. Can their confidence and words translate to success? If the Blue Jackets want success to happen, Foligno must get better. Atkinson must get better. Jones must get better and more consistent. Jenner must get better. Everyone must get better, but it’s on the leadership to lead by example. They are ready for the challenge. Let the fun begin.
I am a fully credentialed writer who covers the Columbus Blue Jackets, Cleveland Monsters and Erie Otters as well as the Ontario Hockey League and NHL Draft. The 2021-22 season will mark eight seasons with the Hockey Writers. I am also the site’s Credentials Manager.