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Blue Jackets Open Season Amid Lower Expectations

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Nationwide Realty Investors
Fans celebrate a Columbus Blue Jackets win inside Nationwide Arena.

The Columbus Blue Jackets start a new season Thursday night. The Jackets open the season at home inside Nationwide Arena against the Boston Bruins, and expectations are down following a 2015-2016 season that ended with the Jackets as one of the league's worst teams.

A year ago, the Blue Jackets started the season with high hopes of making the playoffs and representing the NHL's Eastern Conference in the Stanley Cup Finals. But the exact opposite happened: The team lost its first 10 games, head coach Todd Richards was hired, and veteran coach John Tortorella was brought into lead the squad, but things didn't improve enough for the team to return to the postseason.

For a look at the season ahead, we spoke with team's beat writer for the Columbus Dispatch Aaron Portzline. 

The below is an automated transcript. Please excuse minor typos and errors.

Steve Brown: The Jackets open the season at home inside Nationwide Arena against the Boston Bruins. For a look at the year ahead, we're joined now by Columbus Dispatch beat writer Aaron Portzline. Great to talk to Aaron.

Aaron Portzline: Well thank you, it's good to be with you.

Steve Brown: To say the Jackets were a disappointment last season is a massive, massive understatement. Some people picked them to make the Stanley Cup Final. They didn't even make the playoffs, they're one of the worst teams in the league they fired Todd Richards and brought a new head coach  John Tortorella. They still look pretty bad most of the time with Tortorella. What are the expectations this season?

Aaron Portzline: Well it's interesting, there is so many players that are back from last year's team. When you mentioned they had high expectations and going into this season the expectations are really muted would be putting it nicely.

The expectations on the whole are rather low. I don't know anyone nationally who's picking them to make the playoffs and it just seems as though the expectations are much lower.

Their best bet for success is for Sergei Bobrovsky, their goaltender to remain healthy and get back to form. They need a bounce back performance from him. They need a bounce back performance from their captain, Nick Foligno. 

Those two things happen and they tweaked their style a little bit, they think they're more mobile on the back end on defense maybe they can surprise some people. But in terms of expectations compared to last year they are really, really low this year.

Steve Brown: You talked about Sergei Bobrovsky and Nick Foligino, who are the other main cogs, the players the team will really lean on this season?

Aaron Portzline: Yeah Brandon Dubinsky is sort of their emotional leader. If Nick Foligino is technically their captain, Dubinsky is sort of the guy that leads them with his heart and soul play and so is Boone Jenner in that respect. Those are are two guys that really drive the performance level.

Steve Brown: New head coach John Tortorella is notorious for hosting tough training camps. How's that working out this year and how do players seem to be handling it?

Aaron Portzline: Yeah it was a really difficult training camp just to watch. I can't imagine what it would have been like to go through. Across the board there's a lot of players that are noticeably thinner and quicker. The league has changed, it used to be about brawn and muscle and might. Now so much of it is about skill and speed.

Steve Brown: With a coach like Tortorella, it really is a fine line between getting every inch possible out of these guys and then just complete burnout. Is that something he's going to always dance on, that's just kind of his style?

Aaron Portzline: He does know what he's doing. If he burns people out, I think it's more mentally than physically. He won a Stanley Cup in Tampa Bay. His teams seem to almost always over perform.

Steve Brown: Well we'll see how that works out the leaner and meaner Columbus Blue Jackets hoped to return to the playoffs this season after being one of the worst teams in the league last year. They open a new season tonight against Boston. Aaron Portzline from the Columbus Dispatch thanks as always.

Yeah my pleasure. Thank you.

Steve Brown grew up in nearby Richwood, Ohio and now lives there with his wife and sons. He started his journalism career as a weekend board operator at WOSU while majoring in journalism at Ohio State, where he also wrote for the student newspaper The Lantern and co-founded the organization Students for Public Broadcasting.
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