John Tortorella says he's 'pissed off' over Blue Jackets' free agency departures
Columbus lost Artemi Panarin, Matt Duchene and Sergei Bobrovsky this summer
The NHL preseason hasn't even officially started up yet and Columbus Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella is already furious. Though, to be fair, it doesn't take much to set him off and he has a pretty fair reason to be upset this time around.
In a recent sit-down with The Athletic's Aaron Portzline, Tortorella said he's "pissed off" over the offseason departures of some key Blue Jackets players -- including Artemi Panarin, Matt Duchene and Sergei Bobrovsky. All three of those guys played huge roles on a Columbus team that advanced to the second round of the playoffs, and they all went elsewhere in free agency over the summer.
Tortorella isn't too pleased that they're gone and, as a man who pulls few punches, he's clearly not afraid to let it be known.
"I'm pissed. Yeah, I'm pissed," said Tortorella. "I'm pissed for my players. I'm pissed for my organization. And I'm pissed on behalf of my city."
The reason for Tortorella's anger doesn't lie so much in that they left, but why they left -- or why they said they left. He made sure to clarify that he likes and holds plenty of respect for the players, and that they were well within their right to sign elsewhere. But the coach took issue with their desire to win being a justification for leaving Columbus.
"I have a tremendous amount of respect for all of them. I do. A tremendous amount of respect. But don't talk about god damn winning, like you want to go somewhere to win. It's right there in front of you," Tortorella said. "I respect them all. But I don't want to hear 'I want to win' when it's right f---ing here. I respect them, but I'm really pissed.
"It was right there, where we were really progressing. Maybe they don't like playing for me. That's fine. To me, eventually, you're not playing for the coach, you're playing for your teammates, and that's where I saw the camaraderie and the arrogance."
What it comes down to is that Torts feels like the players that left should've wanted to be Blue Jackets, in large part because they have unfinished business.
"I could see all of that building. I guess I feel like the players. I think the players respect them, respect the rights they had to do what they did," he said. "But I'm pissed, too, just like the players. I'm saying, 'Hell with them, we want to be here, let's get it together and get going.' I wish them nothing but the best, but I'm pissed that they leave Columbus, because I think we've got a really good thing going here."
After getting into the postseason as the Eastern Conference's eight-seed, the Blue Jackets pulled off a stunning sweep of the Tampa Bay Lightning, who won the Presidents' Trophy following one of the best regular seasons in NHL history. It was Columbus' first playoff series win in franchise history.
But even though the Jackets found surprising success in the postseason, not many people were too shocked to see some of their more key free agents head elsewhere on the open market.
Panarin, 27, finished with a career-high 87 points last year, making him the Blue Jackets' leading scorer for a second straight season, but he had long expressed a desire to leave Columbus for a more attractive market. He ended up signing a seven-year, $81.5 million deal with the New York Rangers.
Bobrovsky, 30, won two Vezina trophies as the league's best goaltender with the Blue Jackets, but he had something of a falling out with Tortorella last season and said Florida Panthers.. Still, the club tried to retain him in free agency, but he left and signed a seven-year, $70 million deal with the
Meanwhile, Duchene came to Columbus last season in a trade deadline deal from the Ottawa Senators. He fit in well and was the team's top center down the stretch, but they knew there was a significant chance he would only be a half-season rental. Duchene, 28, ultimately signed a seven-year, $56 million deal with the Nashville Predators.
The Blue Jackets also saw some other players leave in free agency, but those three will sting the most for both Tortorella and Columbus as they look to find a way to continue their upward momentum despite the significant subtractions. They didn't do a whole lot to offset those losses, so Tortorella will have his work cut out for him in trying to lead the Jackets back to the postseason.
It sounds like the free agency departures have fired him up -- even moreso than usual -- and he'll head into this season with a chip on his shoulder. It will be interesting to see how that translates in the room.
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