Blue Jackets’ Brad Larsen Showing Well So Far

It was a hire that enraged a lot of the Columbus Blue Jackets’ fanbase when it was first announced. Brad Larsen was named head coach after John Tortorella agreed to mutually part ways with the team. Despite bigger names being available such as Gerard Gallant, the Blue Jackets opted to go with the guy they knew best.

To say fans were outraged at first was an understatement. Many of them pointed to the fact that the Blue Jackets could never find their footing on the power play led by Larsen. So now he gets a promotion? And he’s never been an NHL head coach before?

While some were willing to give this a chance, many thought his hiring was a bad decision. But 15 games into the 2021-22 season, Larsen has done an admirable job with the Blue Jackets. They are a respectable 9-6-0 after 15 games. This record could be even better had they gotten a couple bounces along the way. He has shown well in the early going.

Brad Larsen Columbus Blue Jackets
Brad Larsen has the Blue Jackets in a respectable position. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The question is what is working for him? A few things stand out that are working in his favor. It starts with patience.

Larsen’s Patient Approach

Recall one of Tortorella’s trademarks was mixing up the lines a lot. If things weren’t going well, he wouldn’t wait long to make changes. While there can be benefits to this, doing it too often could cause disruption especially when it comes to chemistry.

So far, Larsen has maintained a patient approach with the lines. He has made a couple of changes here and there but he isn’t in as much of a hurry to make drastic changes. He’s allowing his players to try and develop chemistry. It takes more than a couple of games to see if there is something there long term. Larsen’s patience is paying off.

One example of this is the line of Alex Texier, Sean Kuraly and Eric Robinson. Larsen put them together as they each bring something different to the table. He’s left them alone even when one or more members of the line struggle. Tortorella likely would have broken them up by now.

John Tortorella Columbus Blue Jackets
John Tortorella was not known for his patience at times. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Another example is the way Larsen is handling Patrik Laine’s absence. He put Yegor Chinakhov up with Cole Sillinger and Jakub Voracek. That’s been consistent since they got together. Although this trio had perhaps their worst game Saturday night in Vegas.

Larsen is allowing lines to play and see if they can find that much needed chemistry without pulling the plug too soon. There will be times he will have to make some changes. But nothing so far has been dramatic and that’s a good thing for the Blue Jackets. He’s allowing his players to play.

A Drama-Free Zone

We’ve alluded to this in previous writings here. However it’s worth repeating. The Blue Jackets are playing hockey. That’s the story.

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The story isn’t a disgruntled player wanting out or a player who isn’t committing to signing long-term with the team. All of the headlines surrounding the Blue Jackets in previous seasons involved drama of some kind. Under Larsen, none of that is happening. Nor is he saying anything that is grabbing national headlines.

Quiet is exactly what the Blue Jackets want. The focus should be on the development of this extremely young and talented team. Larsen is handling this part of it well so far. He’s also handling something else extremely well that came out postgame on Saturday night.

Larsen’s Accountability & Maturity

Let’s set the scene for you. The Blue Jackets were in a 2-2 tie in the third period Saturday night with the Golden Knights. Mattias Janmark is still in the zone as he accepts the puck on his stick. That’s an offside. The linesman standing a couple feet away didn’t blow his whistle.

Meanwhile the puck comes out of the zone and then back in legally. Soon thereafter, Janmark is in the right place to score the eventual game-winning goal.

Meanwhile Larsen elects to challenge the goal for offside. After review, it was determined that the play was onside and the goal counted. Many wondered why the goal was allowed to count when Janmark was offside.

Per the NHL’s situation room, they can only review the latest zone entry and that’s it. They can’t go back to where this offside actually occurred. During his postgame, Larsen owned the entire situation.

“That’s on me 100%,” Larsen said. “It’s offside. They should have blown it. But as soon as that puck exits, it’s a whole new play. So you see the linesman. He has his whistle to his mouth. He doesn’t blow it which he should of. But, that’s a blown call but it doesn’t matter. The puck actually goes back in.”

“Actually, Danny (Singleton) had it right and I was frustrated. I couldn’t help myself. That’s my fault…I know the rule. I messed it up. That’s where emotion gets the best of you. That’s on me. 100%.”

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For a first time coach to be accountable like this shows the kind of maturity and leadership Larsen has. This shows really well to his team and to the fans that he is willing to admit when he made a mistake. Many coaches won’t do this.

Final Thoughts

On top of the three things mentioned above, Larsen is doing the simple thing. He is putting his players in positions to succeed. Take Laine for example.

When Laine was playing, he wasn’t asked to be a defensive stalwart. He was asked to do what he does best. Larsen has said that Laine is a scorer and won’t ask him to be something he’s not.

There’s a lot of season left. However the one thing that seems to be true is that most everyone is generally happy with his performance. A 9-6-0 start will do that.

The Blue Jackets said no one exceeded the Lars bar before. Now we are seeing why they wanted to keep him around. He’s patient. He’s accountable. He demands a lot out of his players and is getting results. And there’s no drama.

It’s these things that have helped Larsen show well in the early going. We’ll see soon enough if he can keep it up when the real grind of the NHL season gets here. But for now, so far, so good.

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