With great regular seasons come higher expectations, especially when you lose in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
That’s where the Columbus Blue Jackets find themselves today after a disappointing loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins in five games. Sure the team won 50 games. Yes the team showed signs of getting better.
Tortorella is Unhappy
As good as those things are, they don’t compare to finding success in the playoffs. Even after enjoying many franchise firsts, the team still has yet to win a playoff series. They haven’t even won three games in any series they’ve played.
That’s the prevailing message coming from the Blue Jackets this week after the team conducted their exit interviews. They must get better. Losing in the first round in five games is unacceptable.
Coach John Tortorella addressed this in his end-of-season press conference.
“I don’t know if accomplishment is the word.”, Tortorella said to the media. “I think we’ve improved in areas. But I also think we have obviously a lot more improving to do.”
Tortorella was then asked if the playoff loss to Pittsburgh revealed any cracks or things they need to improve on.
“Both good and bad, yeah.”, Tortorella said. “I saw a lot of good things with our team of playing against a very good club. I also saw some things that we definitely need to improve on. Pretty generic, but I’m not going to get into specifics today.”
So was this season a success?
“No, we were out in the first round. That’s the problem. That’s the problem right there. We’re out in the first round. So that’s not success.”, Tortorella said.
Raising the Bar
If you’re a Blue Jackets fan, you have to like the fact that Tortorella was not happy during his end-of-season press conference. Why should he be happy given the way the Blue Jackets exited the playoffs? Tortorella continues to raise the standard in the room.
Every player in that dressing room has more to give. Whether it’s Sergei Bobrovsky finding another level of play in the playoffs, or Brandon Saad finding another level of consistency in his play, or Cam Atkinson finding another gear in his offensive game, every Blue Jacket has more to give. If they hope to compete in perhaps the toughest division in hockey, they must make raising the bar just as normal as everyday breathing.
That’s the culture the Blue Jackets consistently want to have. Tortorella admitted that the culture is improving but they have to get better. Did I mention Tortorella said the Blue Jackets were out in the first round?
If anything, that should motivate the team to have a productive summer. To enjoy a nice regular season just to have it all crash down at the end should leave a bitter taste in the player’s mouths. Fans demand more from this team. It’s nice to have a coach who will demand the player’s best. Tortorella won’t put up with anyone’s stuff if it’s not to the level the team expects. If Tortorella can bench Saad during the playoffs, anyone is fair game.
My Final Thoughts
The team is saying all the right things. They know they must improve if they hope to make the playoffs for a second-straight season. The future is bright, but nothing is guaranteed.
At no point in franchise history have the Columbus Blue Jackets had this kind of young talent in their organization at once as they do now.
Bobrovsky is in the running for a second Vezina. He’s also under contract another two seasons. Zach Werenski and Seth Jones proved they can anchor the top defensive pairing. Both have tons of upside. Alexander Wennberg has new levels to achieve in his offensive game. If he can reach his goal scoring potential, look out.
Pierre-Luc Dubois could make a run at a roster spot in 2017-18. Recall he was one of the last cuts last season. Technically he made the roster, but that was because of some needed paper transactions. Vitali Abramov was the MVP of the QMJHL. He’ll get his chance at some point.
There are lots of reasons for optimism. But let’s not automatically assume anything. If the Columbus Blue Jackets hope to take the next steps in their journey towards a Stanley Cup, it’s up to the players to do the job that’s asked of them. They must work for everything they get with no shortcuts. Talent and potential alone doesn’t clinch a playoff berth. Winning games clinches playoff berths.
The time for celebrating little achievements is over in Columbus. The goal for the Blue Jackets is to win a Stanley Cup. Anything short of this is not a successful season. We’ll see who comes into camp ready to do anything necessary to help the team reach their goal.
The bar at Nationwide Arena has been raised for next season and every season after that. For the first time, we can reasonably say it’s Stanley Cup or bust in Columbus. That’s the way it always should be.