John Tortorella (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images)
When the Columbus Blue Jackets went out and hired John Tortorella as their next head coach, they got the perfect man for the job at this moment. The Blue Jackets might not like Tortorella, but they'll play for him.
With the Columbus Blue Jackets coming out of the gate with an 0-7-0 record, nobody should have been surprised that Todd Richards is now unemployed. Nor should anyone be surprised that John Tortorella jumped out of the unemployment line and replaced Richards behind the Columbus bench.
What, the same Tortorella who left that tire fire behind in Vancouver and with $10 million remaining on his contract with the Canucks? The same Tortorella who stubbornly tried to jam a square piece in a round hole with the Canucks, forcing them to play a defensive style that wasn’t suited to their personnel and resulted in them being unable to either score goals or defend? The same Tortorella, who by his own admission, deserved to be fired after one season with the Canucks?
Yes, that Tortorella. Because the first thing you think when you look at the Blue Jackets roster and their record…again, is something like, “This is a team that desperately needs to be whipped.” And there is nobody available in the coaching ranks that can do that better than Tortorella. Jacques Martin and Guy Boucher are very good NHL coaches, one could argue they’re even better than Tortorella, but that is not what this team and this franchise needs right now.
When Tortorella went to Vancouver, he tried to portray himself as reformed for a while, as the kinder, gentler John Tortorella. No need for that now. What the Blue Jackets need is a grumpy and surly Tortorella, one who will publicly make his players and goaltender accountable for the way they’re playing, the way they’ve blown leads and the way they’ve collapsed at the first sign of adversity. There has never, ever been a coach in the history of this franchise that has taken his players out to the woodshed. It is time for that person to be behind the bench of the Blue Jackets right now. The Blue Jackets know it, which is why they were willing to part with a second-round pick to get him.
Under Richards, the Blue Jackets were the team of terrible starts and frenzied finishes, even if a lot of those late-season wins were piled up when the team was already out of the playoff picture and was playing with no pressure on itself. Over the four seasons in which Richards coached, the Blue Jackets had a combined record of 8-19-1 in their first seven games of those seasons, meaning they took only 17 of a possible 56 points. Is all of that Richards’ fault? Of course not. Show me a goaltender who can stop the puck with consistency and I’ll show you a brilliant coach. And Sergei Bobrovsky has been terrible this year.
But nary a peep has come from the Blue Jackets about how their defense and goaltending has let them down this season. On paper, this is a team that, while not a legitimate Stanley Cup contender, should be in the thick of a playoff spot. With the hole it has created for itself, that is looking like an enormous order even with a coaching change. There is no evidence to suggest that the Blue Jackets did not have the utmost admiration and respect for Richards and none of them was playing to get him fired.
If Tortorella comes in and starts ripping into these players, chances are they will neither like or respect him. But that doesn’t matter. What matters is they get results, either because of or in spite of him. And if that means Tortorella has to publicly eviscerate his goaltender who is already suffering from a crisis in confidence, so be it. The players on this team and this organization have been coddled enough by both the coaches and the fan base. It’s a team that, for some reason, seems to get treated like an expansion team despite the fact it joined the league 15 years ago. You could argue that there is not a team in the league that has done less with more than the Blue Jackets have over the past couple of seasons. It is time for an old-fashioned ass-kicking and Tortorella is just the man to do it.
The Blue Jackets are probably looking for some of the same results the Los Angeles Kings were when they hired Darryl Sutter in 2011. That was a team that was playing nowhere near its capabilities and instead of going out and hiring a young, emerging hockey mind, they turned to a recycled coach with a checkered past when it came to dealing with his players. The results are obvious.
Nobody is expecting those kinds of immediate results with the Blue Jackets, but playing to their potential would be nice. And the Kings performance of late would suggest that approach may have run its course. The same thing will happen with Tortorella. He will wear out his welcome in Columbus at some point. But under the circumstances, that welcome should be greeted today with open arms.