COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — The Columbus Blue Jackets overhauled their core group of players both last season and during the offseason, giving then a new identity for the 2021-22 season, which starts Thursday at Nationwide Arena against the Arizona Coyotes.
“I really liked what we did this summer,” forward Patrik Laine said. “We have a good group, a lot of young guys and some veteran guys as well, so we’ll have a good group for this year.”
The biggest change was the departure of six-year coach John Tortorella, who mutually agreed to part ways with the team. Tortorella left as the Blue Jackets’ winningest coach and was replaced by longtime assistant Brad Larsen.
“Torts is Torts. You don’t try to copy a man’s style at all,” Larsen said. “I probably will handle things differently than Torts just because that’s who I am, and not because he was wrong and I was right, [but] because that’s who I am. I enjoy the aspect of getting to know the athlete and creating relationships and valuing what they do.”
Larsen takes over a franchise that traded away several core players who helped the Jackets reach the playoffs four season in a row from 2016 to ’20. The Blue Jackets missed the playoffs last year with an 18-26-12 record, and general manager Jarmo Kekäläinen decided to make some significant changes during and after the season.
The first Blue Jacket to leave was 10-year veteran David Savard, who was traded to Tampa Bay and went on to win the Stanley Cup. Fan favorite and team captain Nick Foligno was traded one day later to Toronto. Foligno became a free agent in the offseason and decided to sign with Boston.
Defenseman and alternate captain Seth Jones, who was a four-time All Star during his six seasons in Columbus, was traded to Chicago on the day of the 2021 NHL draft.
The Blue Jackets traded Jones, along with the 32nd overall pick in 2021 and a sixth-round pick in 2022, for Chicago defenseman Adam Boqvist, the 12th overall pick in 2021 — which they used to draft Cole Sillinger — and a 2022 first-round pick.
The onslaught of popular players leaving the Blue Jackets seemed to be done until Kekäläinen made one last deal a day after the draft by trading away another alternate captain in right winger Cam Atkinson to Philadelphia for former Blue Jacket Jake Voracek.
While the Blue Jackets have a new-look roster, there are still a few familiar faces: Laine, defenseman Zach Werenski, right winger Oliver Bjorkstrand, goaltender Elvis Merzlikins and new team captain Boone Jenner, with the latter four players signing contract extensions in the offseason.
“When it all starting shaking out this summer … with the contracts and changes that were made we started talking right away,” Jenner said. “We wanted to grab the reigns and be prepared to come in and take more of that [leadership] role.”
Another player who will need to take more of a leadership role is Laine, who was acquired early last season as part of a trade that sent an unhappy Pierre-Luc Dubois to Winnipeg. Laine signed a one-year, $7.5 million deal in the offseason after struggling in his first season with the Blue Jackets.
“I don’t think I need to prove anything anymore. I think I’ve proved already what I can do in this league scoring over 40 [goals in a season],” Laine said. ‘I still want to be better. … I just want to be a better player than I was last year and it’s going to be pretty easy because I was pretty —– last year.”
The deal to acquire Laine also included Columbus native Jack Roslovic, who will take on a much larger role with the offense, as will 21-year-old Liam Foudy, the No. 18 pick in the 2018 draft.
Below is a look at the 2021-22 schedule, which includes only three games in February due to the 2022 Winter Olympics.