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THREE ANONYMOUS FORMER BLUE JACKETS PLAYERS DESCRIBE THEIR EXPERIENCES WITH TORTS, KEKALAINEN

MAY 3, 2021  (10H30)      MIKE ARMENTI
The current situation in Columbus is certainly tenuous at best, but it hasn't always been that way. You wouldn't expect a team who has had strong showings in the postseason over the past few years to be in the basement of the league this season, but here we are, with the Blue Jackets in dead-last in the Central Division and holding down a spot in the bottom-five league-wide, behind teams like Los Angeles, Ottawa and Detroit.

In order to get some insight as to what the atmosphere is like in Columbus, not only the city, but also in the locker room and at the negotiating table, The Athletic's Aaron Portzline tracked down some former players from the Tortorella/Kekalainen era and provided them with a degree of anonymity in exchange for their candor on the subjects.

First, I highly recommend checking out the full article, for which I've provided the link at the bottom of this page. That said, I've highlighted some points that I find really interesting.

For the most part, the three players who agreed to allow us to view life in Columbus through their collective lens share similar ideas about the city itself, opining that it's nice to be in a place where they still have some freedoms, like the ability to be out in public without many people knowing who they are. That seems to suit the three anonymous players just fine, though they recognize that it may not be the most ideal situation for a budding young star to come into.

"Young guys, guys who have a choice, they want to go and get the spotlight, be rock stars, be professional athletes where they get attention. I don't hold that against them, but you're probably not going to get that in Columbus," said one of the players.

"Young kids would rather get drafted somewhere else. Maybe this is overgeneralizing, but a lot of the younger guys want to go where they're rock stars Toronto, New York, Boston. They want to go hang out with hot chicks in Miami and Arizona and L.A. They want to try to wheel girls in Montreal. That's what they want to do. So there has to be some other draw that Columbus has, right? There has to be something else. «We have a great team and a great culture and we'll pay you.» Or, «We really value this (aspect) in you and we want you to stay and we'll make sure you stay no matter what the cost," said another.

Perhaps the most intriguing subject is how these players viewed their time under John Tortorella, the polarizing head coach who is notoriously demanding of his players. How did they view him? Well, it might surprise you to learn that each of them appreciated their time under the veteran bench boss. One of the most interesting points made by one of the players related to Torts expecting the same effort from every single player on the roster, regardless of whether they played on the 1st line or the 4th.

"The big thing to me was that Torts gets a bad rap. He sets a standard and expects you to play to it every night. I will say this I've had coaches who try to do the same thing as Torts, guys who want to be Tortorella, but they can't be. Not even close. They want to be Torts but then they cater to the top players, the star players. «How do I make sure these guys stay happy? How do I keep them feelin' good?» And all the stuff they can't say to the star players, they take out on the other players. They preach honesty, like Torts does, but they don't actually follow through on it. That's the hard part. With Torts, he gets a bad rap, but I found his complete honesty with everyone to be very refreshing because I'd been with coaches where you're like, «Fuck off. You're honest, but only with like half the team.»

On the subject of GM Jarmo Kekalainen and what type of negotiator he is, the three players tended to agree that he is very, very tough on restricted free agents.

"I get why they're so hard on their RFAs. You have to keep your numbers down when you can. But also, the way that generation is, you have to make them feel like you really like them and value them, and I don't think they really do that. I just know how the negotiations worked with me and it was like, «Shit, they don't want me at all," said one of the players.

"Listen, Jarmo's a great hockey mind, right? He's been a really good scout for years. He's done a great job of bringing in players who want to be there. Yes, he's demanding on contracts and things like that, but that's what he's paid to do. He's paid to save every penny for the owners and put out the best product he can. I think he's done a heck of a job with what he's been able to do," said another, seeiming to have a pretty good grasp on the business end of the sport.

Perhaps the most interesting comment came towards the end of the article, when the three players were asked where they would start if given the chance to take on an executive position and make some bold changes. Despite having previously been quick to defend Tortorella, one player said his first order of business would be to hand Torts his walking papers.

"This is anonymous, right? (laughs) I would say fire the coach, for sure, and I love Torts. I wish I would have had Torts at Dubois' age, to learn how to be a pro the right way how to work, how to play, how to focus. I'd love to have him as a coach when I was 20 years old. But I think he's probably worn out his welcome, and guys have tuned him out. I think you need a coach that wants to bring guys together, play a fun system, score goals that'll lead to wins. They have the players, in my opinion, everybody's just kind of stymied with him."

This type of insight into a team is pretty rare, at least while the coach and GM being discussed are still there. As I said near the beginning of this piece, do yourself a favor and check out Portzline's article in full. It's definitely worth the read. Truly interesting stuff.

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NHL STATS
SEASON
2020-2021GPGAPTS
CONNOR MCDAVID
+4
533268100
LEON DRAISAITL
+2
53304979
BRAD MARCHAND
+2
52283967
MITCH MARNER
+1
54204767
NATHAN MACKINNON
47204565
AUSTON MATTHEWS
+1
50402565
PATRICK KANE
54154964
SIDNEY CROSBY
55243862
MIKKO RANTANEN
+1
49303161
JONATHAN HUBERDEAU
+2
55204161
MARK STONE
53213960
ARTEMI PANARIN
42174158
MARK SCHEIFELE
+2
53203858
ALEKSANDER BARKOV
+1
49263157
SEBASTIAN AHO
55243357
JAKE GUENTZEL
56233457
NICKLAS BACKSTROM
54153853
ALEX DEBRINCAT
50292352
MAX PACIORETTY
48242751
DAVID PERRON
53163551
  COMPLETE STATS
NHL STATS
YESTERDAY
MAY 8, 2021 G A PTS
CONNOR MCDAVID
1 3 4
REILLY SMITH
3 - 3
TIM STUTZLE
3 - 3
ALEXANDER WENNBERG
3 - 3
CONNOR BROWN
1 2 3
PHIL KESSEL
1 2 3
PAVEL BUCHNEVICH
- 3 3
SETH JONES
- 3 3
LEON DRAISAITL
2 - 2
CHRISTIAN DVORAK
2 - 2
  COMPLETE RESULTS