After their final preseason game was cancelled, all focus is on the regular season for the Columbus Blue Jackets. As far as preseason predictions go, they have pretty much spanned from a low-seeded playoff team to one of the worst teams in the league.
It’s tough to predict what the Blue Jackets will be like this year. Throughout their time in the NHL, the Jackets have seemingly performed better when there weren’t any expectations.
This season, there aren’t many expectations. After losing key players in the offseason, it’s safe to assume there will be some growing pains in 2019-20.
It is hard to argue with the questions the Blue Jackets are facing this upcoming season. However, there are some things the coaches and front office can do keep the team playing the tough style of hockey they’d like to see in case something goes wrong.
Healthy Rotation for Korpisalo and Merzlikins
One of the biggest questions right now for the Blue Jackets is goaltending. Dealing with the goalies, to me, will be one of the biggest factors determining the Jackets success this season.
Joonas Korpisalo has proven that he can be a solid NHL goalie with consistent starts. Who knows if that’ll happen this year, though.
John Tortorella recently mentioned on Columbus radio station 97.1 “The Fan” that Korpisalo has the inside track to be the starter. Elvis Merzlikins won’t back down, though.
Merzlikins is a confident guy, which more and more people in North America will learn as this season goes along. Even if it takes him some time to adjust, he’s been thought of as being NHL ready for a while now.
Knowing when to rotate goalies will be critical this season. In the past, Tortorella has received some criticism for playing Sergei Bobrovsky too many games consecutively.
This season, it might make more sense to switch off goalies more consistently, especially in back-to-back games. I do expect Korpisalo to be the starter at the beginning of the season, but things can change quickly.
Elvis Merzlikins has a lot of hype and a colorful personality. He won’t let people forget what he’s about. Developing a plan for the goalies is one of the main factors I’ll be watching with the Jackets in 2019-20.
Using the Timeout Effectively
One of my biggest pet peeves in sports is a coach’s inability to use their timeout(s) to their advantage. This isn’t a shot at John Tortorella’s decision-making in recent years, but using the timeout well this season could help out.
Often in hockey, a coach will wait until their team is down by one goal with two minutes left to call a timeout. While it makes sense to use if you still have it in that situation, it could be used in an even better way.
Tortorella always makes a point to say that he wants his players to take control of the locker room. If the Jackets don’t start the season how they’d like, Tortorella should use timeouts earlier in games to rally the team and prevent the mental aspect of the game from escaping.
Leadership is strong with the Blue Jackets, having Nick Foligno, Seth Jones and others, but the worst-case scenario this season is a bad start and worries of changes being made.
Those aren’t the kind of thoughts you want in a locker room. I think John Tortorella should attempt to take control of a game by using a timeout at a time that might not be common practice.
This could help keep the chip on the shoulder of the Blue Jackets. Tortorella is great at demanding a lot out of his players. Using a timeout effectively can only help that cause and maintain a strong mindset.
Using the Cleveland Monsters to Keep the Lineup Fresh
Brandon Dubinsky will miss the start of the season with a wrist injury, opening up a spot in the lineup. This is just one reason why the Blue Jackets should take a look at some of the prospects who are close to being NHLers.
Players like Kole Sherwood, Eric Robinson and Kevin Stenlund have already made their NHL debuts with Columbus. It might be a good idea to consider calling a player up to re-energize the team no matter how the season starts.
Additionally, players who have been more injury-prone can stay rested and given a chance to take a maintenance day through call-ups. This would be a good way to balance out the lineup and keep bodies healthy.
I think this would be great for the team. It doesn’t have to be a threat to the regulars, but more of a statement that management isn’t going to shy away from factoring in the long-term plans to their short-term practices.
The Blue Jackets are already a team that wants to be hard to play against. Whatever they can find to carry out that plan is worth exploring, and I believe bringing fresh faces into the locker room a little more often than usual could make a difference.