The Columbus Blue Jackets hiring of John Tortorella will mean a change in style and philosophy. However, the main question for fantasy hockey owners is what does it mean to their team?
The Blue Jackets struggled on the defensive end en route to their season-opening seven straight losses before Tortorella was brought in to replace Todd Richards. Columbus will put more of an emphasis on defense, and try to cut down on mistakes. There were some noticeable improvements in Thursday’s loss to the Minnesota Wild, which was their eighth.
As with any coaching change, there will be some players that will get more ice time and some that may see a drop in production. Hopefully this handy guide will give you a hand on what to expect under the new regime.
G- Sergei Bobrovsky: The “Number One Cop in Town” has started his season at 0-6-0 after Thursday’s loss, but he is the guy that will get the lion’s share of games when healthy. Bobrovsky has a career .920 save percentage during his time with Columbus, and hopefully won’t have to see so many shots as the Jackets will probably block a good number of them under Tortorella.
Bobrovsky is struggling so far this season with only an .835 save percentage and 23 goals on 139 shots in those five games as of Thursday. Any team will struggle if their goalie is not stopping shots.
He also got a large contract extension in January, and Columbus management will want to get everything they can out of Bobrovsky. There have always been injury concerns about him, but he’s got good buy-low potential for owners in need of a starter or number-two option.
Plus/minus: Fancy stats like Corsi and Fenwick might be the talk of the league, but fantasy owners are still concerned about the old plus/minus statistic. The early problems with the Blue Jackets have a good number of their players struggling with that statistic.
The new focus on playing defense will hopefully cut down on the number of times Columbus gets scored on, which will make that number a little easier to digest. The stat may not be as important as goals or assists, but it’s still used as a category in head-to-head and roto leagues.
Top six forwards: There’s always the concern that Tortorella’s style will mean less chances and production for players like Brandon Saad, Cam Atkinson and Ryan Johansen. However, he does like lean on guys that will work hard at both ends of the ice.
Tortorella was in charge of the Tampa Bay Lightning and had some really skilled offensive players like Martin St. Louis and Vincent Lecavalier. He was able to mix in those playmakers with his trademark gritty style on his way to leading the Lightning to the 2004 Stanley Cup. The Dobber Hockey Blog broke it down like this:
He was coach when Martin St. Louis won the Art Ross Trophy and he was at the helm when Vincent Lecavalier had 108 points. So we know he doesn’t hold back his players or stifle production in any way with his style. I think you can expect things to open up.
There will still be some more defensive accountability, but it shouldn’t be all doom and gloom if you drafted Columbus players in key spots in your lineup.
Taking a Step Down
F- Brandon Dubinsky: It’s no secret that Dubinsky is a pest. (Just ask Sidney Crosby about that.) However, there seemed to be some acrimony between him and Tortorella, as their relationship “fell apart” according to Dubinsky when he talked to the New York Daily News.
It will be interesting how the two parties will react to each other now that they’re reunited in Columbus. Could Dubinsky be on the trade block again like he was in New York? We’ll have to see, but we could see a dip in numbers for Dubinsky in the meantime.
Defensive point production: While the forwards may be fine with Tortorella in charge, the defense may not produce the points that it did under Richards. The Rangers defensemen like Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi didn’t produce points like they do now under the more open style of Alain Vigneault.
Tortorella preaches that his defensemen doesn’t join the rush that often, so players like Jack Johnson and Ryan Murray may not put up big numbers. They may not give up as many goals, but they may not be a part of that many.
The Blue Jackets won’t be good overnight, but there is plenty of talent. They were great in the preseason, and were one of the hottest teams to end last season after a terrible rash of injuries. The potential is there, and a guy like Tortorella will be there to light a fire under them. However, this team is in quite the hole to start the season, and your fantasy hopes may take a slight hit if you rely on any Columbus players for offense.
Covered hockey since attending SUNY Oswego in Upstate New York in the early 2000s. Has written about college, major junior and professional hockey for the last five years.
Resides in Watertown, NY.