Separating fact from fiction in John Tortorella’s epic meltdown

Adam Proteau
John Tortorella (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images)

Now that everyone has calmed down – and someone has checked to see if John Tortorella is no longer frothing at the face, right? – let’s look at what happened between the Calgary Flames and Vancouver Canucks Saturday night and separate fact from fiction.

Fiction: Tortorella had no other choice but to send out his fourth line to start the game to match Flames counterpart Bob Hartley’s decision to do the same.

“It’s easy for people to say, ‘Well, put the Sedins out there and it’s deflated’, (but) I can’t put our players at risk like that,” Tortorella said after the game. “With the lineup that (Hartley) had, I am not going to put those types of players at risk.”

Really? What did Tortorella think was going to happen? Did he envision the Flames players rag-dolling all five Canucks skaters without any officials stepping in at all? And even if he was honestly concerned, why not put out Vancouver’s second line or third line instead? None of it holds up to any intellectual scrutiny.

Fact: Tortorella was not making a rash, heat-of-the-moment decision when he charged toward the Flames dressing room in the first intermission.

From the time the puck was dropped and the incident took place to the end of the period, at least 30 minutes had passed. So there goes the crime-of-passion defense, unless you accept that Tortorella has a monstrous self-control problem. If he does, the league ought to include anger management classes (the same ones they sent Sean Avery to five years ago) in his sentence. If he doesn’t, his outburst was premeditated and thus even more reprehensible.

Some will argue there was method behind Tortorella’s madness – that he did what he did to bring the team closer together, or to establish a tougher identity – but that, too, isn’t a valid excuse. If Tortorella really believes that stomping around like The Ultimate Warrior is a tool coaches should be allowed to employ in their profession, let him put on some facepaint, armbands and tassles and work for Vince McMahon. The NHL is where adults work, not petulant faux tough guys.

Fiction: Bob Hartley is as much or more to blame for this as Tortorella.

This would be true if the Canucks coach hadn’t decided to stage a one-man performance of a Don King boxing pay-per-view press conference. The minute he did, he allowed Hartley (who still deserves at least as much of a fine as Ron Rolston received for “roster selection and team conduct”) off the hook and into the background.

In essence, Hartley played the role of agitator, but Tortorella was the sucker who fell for it and made things exponentially worse. That’s why the Canucks coach deserves and will receive more supplemental discipline.

FACT: Tortorella’s past history should and will play a role in his punishment.

If this were the first instance of Tortorella engaging in this start-of-the-game-line-brawl nonsense, you might find a way to forgive him and let a fine serve as his only slap on the wrists. But it isn’t. Less than two years ago, a near-identical series of events took place when he was coaching the New York Rangers and facing the New Jersey Devils.

Tortorella’s status as a repeat offender of sorts is all the reason the NHL needs to drop a five-or-10-game suspension on him. And given that any player gets suspended for 10 games automatically for leaving his bench during a fight or to start one, it is only fair a coach gets the same treatment.

Tortorella can speak regretfully in delicate tones all he wants now, but his actions – his unjustifiable, pathetic actions – have spoken loud and clear.

The NHL needs an even louder, more forceful response to ensure he’ll never again think a manhood-measuring contest should overshadow the game he says he loves so much.