Toronto Maple Leafs: 4 storylines to follow versus Columbus Blue Jackets

Auston Matthews of the Toronto Maple Leafs. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Auston Matthews of the Toronto Maple Leafs. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) /
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Toronto Maple Leafs
Toronto Maple Leafs will have to contend with John Tortorella. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) /

3) The John Tortorella influence

To get some idea of a how good a coach John Tortorella really is, consider what he has achieved during his time in Columbus. The Blue Jackets have only qualified for the playoffs five times in franchise history, but three of those have been in the last three seasons under Tortorella.

Further, the Blue Jackets have only once progressed past the first round, and this was last season on Tortorella’s watch. Making it even more impressive, was the fact they were the first team in NHL history to sweep a Presidents’ Trophy winner (the Tampa Bay Lightning) in the opening round.

Pure and simple, while the Leafs are understandably favourites in their play-in series, they will underestimate the Blue Jackets at their peril. Tortorella knows what it takes to win, as evidenced by 12 playoff trips in his last 15 seasons as a head coach, two Jack Adams awards and a Stanley Cup championship.

Tortorella is renowned for his outspoken and controversial personality. He has no problem criticizing his players, but his continual success proves there is a method to his madness.

As such, Tortorella’s recent decision to call out some of his key players in public is something which should concern Toronto Maple Leafs fans, rather than give them reason for hope. You can almost guarantee Columbus will be fully focused as a team, when it comes time to play.

If you’re one of those who Tortorella is referring to as ‘pretty important people’ who aren’t concentrating or appear ready for the play-in series, his comments will have caught their attention. The last thing they will want to do is let the team down, knowing full well where the blame will be placed if the Blue Jackets lose to the Leafs.

Interestingly, one way in which the Tortorella approach could actually help Toronto, is his connection to Sheldon Keefe. The Leafs’ head coach actually played under the 62-year-old for three seasons with the Lightning.

As noted by Steve Simmons of the Toronto Sun, Keefe played 49 games during his first season in the NHL, in 2000-01. However, the majority of those appearances were under Steve Ludzik, who was fired effectively half-way through the regular season.

After Tortorella took over, Keefe was scratched in 22 of 39 games. Even after all this time, you wonder how much extra motivation it will provide for one of the NHL’s up-and-coming head coaches.