Blue Jackets' Kekalainen has '100 per cent' confidence in Tortorella

Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen spoke about the teams' struggles, throwing his support behind head coach John Tortorella, and said the players have not tuned him out.

The Columbus Blue Jackets have lost three games in a row and seven of eight. They've fallen to fifth in the Central Division by points, and are seventh out of the eight teams in points percentage.

This, naturally, has led to speculation over head coach John Tortorella's place with the team. That talk has been thrown around all the extremes, from how a firing could be imminent to a theory that maybe Tortorella wanted out.

GM Jarmo Kekalainen would like you to know that he's sticking behind his coach through the tough times.

"I wanted to have this call to clarify that this coaching staff has gotten us out of the slumps before," he said. "They've done a great job for us in the past 5-6 years they've been here and they're the ones that are going to get out of this jam as well with the team that we have.

"Inconsistencies have been maddening to all of us. But we win as a team, we lose as a team, we slump as a team if you want to call it that, and we rise out of it as a team.

"I have 100 per cent confidence these guys will get us out of this."

In normal times, these are the situations that scream coach on the hot seat. Here we have a playoff team that is failing to meet expectations, playing without a certain devotion, for a coach who is in his sixth season on that bench and now in the final year of his contract.

But, of course, it's not so easy. We've seen something similar play out in Vancouver, where third-year coach Travis Green is in the final year of his contract and unable to steer the Canucks back on a paved path. Owner Francesco Aquilini tweeted out his support for both the GM and the coach there.

Quarantines and financial stresses are making any sort of moves more difficult. If the Canucks moved on from Green or the Blue Jackets from Tortorella, where would they get their next coach from? Wouldn't it be better from business and transitional standpoints to wait for the contract to lapse, if indeed you want to move on?

"I don't believe in quick fixes that you all of a sudden blow up something that you've been building for a while. Yes, we've had some curveballs here in the near past, but we've got to deal with them and move forward," Kekalainen said. "I'm a big believer in the process and not just by watching the record, but by watching what these guys do every day. There are very unusual circumstances here with COVID and that also goes into some of the contract situations that we have ongoing so I'm not going to speculate on that anymore. It'll all get solved in time."

If you're, say, a Maple Leafs fan who watched these Blue Jackets grind down your team in the playoff qualifiers last spring, you might be wondering how that style isn't earning Columbus at least a few more wins that'd keep them out of these kinds of discussions. They're tough to play against, right? With a dedication to defence that promotes responsible play. That gets you a certain base line.

Heck, if you just look at Patrik Laine's six goals and 10 points in 13 games, or Jack Roslovic's 13 points in 16 games since both joined the team, you'd think they made out well in trading Pierre-Luc Dubois and may be even better with that offence.

The truth is, enough has changed within this group that the coach no longer believes they can play the same way right now. Dubois was a huge part of what made the Blue Jackets go, so simply sliding him out for two very different players is going to change things. Mikko Koivu retiring early in the season changed the equation, as did trading Josh Anderson in the off-season.

The Blue Jackets are pretty thin at the most-important centre position right now. The Max Domi experiment hasn't worked and he's back on the wing. Alexandre Texier was higher up in the lineup, but is still a work in progress. Roslovic just got there and was playing lots of wing in Winnipeg.

"The team has changed," Tortorella said. "We developed a pretty damn good centre in Dubois. He's a hell of a player and did a lot of good things for us as far as strength on puck and all that.

"We didn't expect some things to happen, but we still have some good players here. Can we play that style with our lineup right now? I think we'd be forcing certain situations to demand that type of style versus more of one in developing three new centres and just the six-to-seven new bodies coming in here, I think we have to play a different way. We're kinda in between. I think that a part of hockey is to grind a bit and then skill plays have to be made also. And we certainly have done neither consistently enough.

"I do think a little bit of that has to do with the change in our lineup, but we have to find -- and this is where I think the coaches have not done a good enough job -- find that way to play to be successful. That's a huge part of any team and it's the coach's responsibility to see what you have and try to find a way to play."

That responsibility will continue to be Tortorella's for the foreseeable future. The coach said he didn't even have a problem with anyone's effort level through this stretch, which is why benchings haven't been a regular storyline here. Rather, he sees a team playing too tight, with too little confidence, and that he'd actually like to see his team play a "little bit of pond hockey" to just loosen up. Then some bounces will start going Columbus' way.

The path to finding themselves again will now without doubt be led by Tortorella, we'd think through this season at least. And that means doing it Tortorella's way.

Safe is death, as he'd say.

"I appreciate that. I just hate him having to do that," Tortorella said, when told about Kekalainen's vote of confidence. "When you're losing games and you're playing as poorly as you're playing those questions need to be asked.

"It doesn't determine how I coach. I'm not going to coach a team (to) try and keep my job."

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