Culture Check: Columbus Blue Jackets Stronger Than Ever

In perhaps their toughest and most important stretch of the season, the Columbus Blue Jackets made national news with an announcement about one of their best players.

Goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky was sent home by the team for an incident. According to GM Jarmo Kekalainen, “There are certain expectations and values that we have established for our players that define our culture. An incident occured in which Sergei failed to meet those expectations and values, so we made the decision that he would not be with the team for tonight’s game. This is an internal matter and we will have no further comment at this time.”

That game was Thursday against the Nashville Predators, a game in which the Blue Jackets ultimately won 4-3 in overtime thanks to the heroics of Artemi Panarin. Joonas Korpisalo earned the win in Bobrovsky’s place. Bobrovsky has joined the team on their trip to Washington for Saturday’s clash with the Capitals. It is unclear at this time who will start, although Bobrovsky is a strong possibility in a huge division game.

What’s the Real Story Here?

Reaction from around the hockey world was, well let’s just say interesting. As soon as this news broke, most everyone focused on Bobrovsky given that he’s a UFA after this season. Is he done in Columbus? That question was asked of John Tortorella during the morning press conference in advance of the Nashville game.

In response, Tortorella repeatedly referred everyone to the press release. “The release will speak for itself.” You can watch that presser below.

Folks, this was not the story here.

Many especially on Twitter started throwing out ridiculous trade proposals thinking the relationship between Bobrovsky and the Blue Jackets was cooked.

From a Blue Jackets perspective, they are still interested in re-signing Bobrovsky to a long-term deal. The relationship isn’t cooked if that’s true. From a Bobrovsky perspective, he might not want to re-sign in Columbus, but he did say that as long as he’s there, he’ll play hard. He is after all under contract until this season ends.

Let’s focus on the real story here. It’s one many outside of Columbus won’t realize if they don’t closely follow the team. Take a look at how this situation was handled from beginning to end.

So a quick recap. There was a press release Thursday about Bobrovsky being sent home. For what? There was an incident that didn’t meet the culture of the team. There would be no further comment. The team didn’t feel it needed to share what happened as it was an internal matter. That’s well within their rights to do.

The Blue Jackets won that night. The next day, Bobrovsky spoke to the media and addressed the situation. He admitted he let his emotions get the best of him. He also said they’re ready to move on. You can watch that presser below.

Culture Club

The matter is closed. It happened. It was addressed. It’s time to focus on their next opponent the Washington Capitals. Before John Tortorella came to Columbus, I’m not sure this would have been handled as professionally as it was. That’s the real story here. The culture within the walls of Nationwide Arena and the Columbus Blue Jackets are as strong as it’s ever been in franchise history.

Why is that true? It’s because the level of accountability that is demanded from everyone is at an all-time high. It doesn’t matter who you are. It’s doesn’t matter if you’re a multiple Vezina-winning goalie or someone playing in your first game. It doesn’t matter if you make millions of dollars. Everyone from the bottom up is held to the same standard.

The Blue Jackets didn’t waver from that level of accountability even when it involved their superstar. This has been severely lacking in past years for the team and it cost them. Now? It’s one of their greatest strengths and a reason why they are on the rise as a franchise as a whole.

To everyone’s credit, the situation was handled as professionally as you could ask. Kekalainen and Tortorella handled it well. Bobrovsky seemed to handle things well especially with his presser. He met with the team to air things out. They got to discuss the matter in the open to each other within the walls of their room. This could be the kind of thing that bonds the team together even more.

John Tortorella Columbus Blue Jackets
John Tortorella has helped shape the current culture of the Columbus Blue Jackets. (Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports)

All-in-all, this situation demonstrated just how far the Blue Jackets have come with the culture of the team. With Kekalainen and Tortorella, there’s no bull. There’s brutal honesty even if it hurts. That’s the best thing you can do especially when dealing with players. Give it to them straight. It will eventually be appreciated even if it isn’t in the moment.

This culture change has helped to stabilize this franchise in a big way. The results from this has poured over to the on-ice play with recent success in making the playoffs.

Blue Jackets’ fans have yearned for accountability for a long time. It’s here now and here to stay. And it passed the test of the Bobrovsky incident.

Now it’s time to focus on the real stuff, the playoff chase.