The Columbus Blue Jackets conducted multiple interviews with both Gerard Gallant and Rick Tocchet as they looked for John Tortorella’s replacement as head coach, but in the end, the job went to someone they are much more familiar with. Brad Larsen, an assistant with the Blue Jackets since 2014-15, has officially been named head coach, receiving a three-year contract. GM Jarmo Kekalainen released a statement on the hire:
We underwent an exhaustive process in which we looked very closely at a number of outstanding candidates to be the next coach of the Columbus Blue Jackets and the one individual we kept coming back to throughout was Brad Larsen. Brad was one of the top young coaches in the American Hockey League when he joined our club as an assistant coach and over the past seven years has earned the respect of our players, staff and organization with his work ethic, hockey acumen and the way he treats people, and we couldn’t be more pleased to introduce him as our next head coach.
Even before he joined the Blue Jackets bench, Larsen was part of the Columbus organization. He served as an assistant and then head coach of the Springfield Falcons almost immediately after his playing career ended. His final season on the ice was as captain of the Portland Pirates, playing alongside current NHL talents like Tyler Ennis, Paul Byron, and even current Blue Jacket Nathan Gerbe. Before he ended up wearing a “C” in Portland though, Larsen played more than 300 total games in the NHL, even winning the Stanley Cup with the Colorado Avalanche in 2001 (though he did not suit up in the playoffs that season).
It is interesting to note that one of the other assistants on Tortorella’s staff, Brad Shaw, has a much longer track record in the NHL but parted ways and took a similar role with the Vancouver Canucks instead of interviewing for the Columbus job.
The Blue Jackets are facing a difficult offseason after it has become clear that Seth Jones will not sign an extension with the team at this point. Kekalainen may have to consider trading the star defenseman this summer or risk losing him for nothing at the end of next season when he becomes an unrestricted free agent. Patrik Laine, the team’s big acquisition this year, is also in need of a new contract as a restricted free agent. Max Domi, last summer’s big name, has just one year left before he reaches UFA status as well, and will miss several months following recent surgery. Both Elvis Merzlikins and Joonas Korpisalo will hit the open market in a year, and Zach Werenski also needs a new contract after 2021-22.
With all that in mind, combined with the fact that the Blue Jackets just finished last in the division, it very well could be a rebuild for the Blue Jackets. If that’s the case, Larsen–who made the best impression between his previous time with the team and his two interviews–will have a difficult task ahead of him to turn things around.
Aaron Portzline of The Athletic was the first to peg Larson as the frontrunner for the job earlier in the day.