Evaluating John Tortorella at 1,200 NHL Games

The Columbus Blue Jackets and head coach John Tortorella have a funny thing in common. They each started in the year 2000. Of course the Blue Jackets began play at Nationwide Arena along with tonight’s opponent, the Minnesota Wild. That was the same year Tortorella started out as a head coach.

Now 1,200 games later, all three come together at Nationwide Arena to witness coaching history.

Tortorella becomes just the 18th head coach in NHL history to reach 1,200 regular season games. He has 589 wins, 470 losses, 37 ties and 103 overtime losses in his hall of fame career. He has one Stanley Cup with Tampa Bay and has been in the playoffs in 10 different seasons. He also owns two Jacks Adams Awards for coach of the year.

Of course when you think of Tortorella as a whole, many recall his antics and blowups that went viral. For a time, there was thought after Vancouver, he wouldn’t get another chance to be a head coach. But here we are approaching the stretch run of 2018 and he might be doing his best coaching job ever.

Just look what he’s done since taking over the reins of the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Columbus Blue Jackets head coach John Tortorella
John Tortorella has helped transform the Blue Jackets. (Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports)

Torts Brought Respect

After a playoff run that saw the Blue Jackets lose a tough series to the Pittsburgh Penguins in six games in 2013-14, expectations were high. Playoffs and beyond was the standard. But the 2014-15 season started in the worst way possible. After seven straight losses, Todd Richards was gone and Tortorella was given another chance.

Many in the hockey world wondered if such a move would work given his fiery past. Remember when he first walked in? He didn’t know anyone. It truly was a clean slate start for him and for the Blue Jackets.

Tortorella came in at a time when the Blue Jackets were still seeking respect around the league. They were a long way off. Could he prove he had changed his ways while helping a fragile franchise find its footing?

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They’ve made consecutive playoffs. They sit in second place in the Metropolitan Division just one point out of first going into Thursday’s games. The work Tortorella has done for this franchise is life-changing. He’s brought accountability and leadership in spades.

Whether it’s been taking anyone out of the lineup regardless of position or turning Nick Foligno into one of the better leaders of men in the league, Tortorella has brought out the best in the Blue Jackets. In terms of points percentage, he is by far the most successful coach in Blue Jackets’ history. Ken Hitchcock finished at .503. Tortorella enters Thursday with a .591.

What’s interesting about Tortorella is he’s enjoyed his deepest playoff runs in his third full season as head coach when given the chance. In Tampa Bay, he won the Cup. With the New York Rangers, he took them to the Conference Finals. This is his third full season with the Blue Jackets and fourth overall when he coached the final 75 games of 2014-15. Do these Blue Jackets have that in their future this season? They certainly have the pieces to try.

John Tortorella
Can Tortorella bring a Cup to Columbus? (AP photo/Chris O’Meara)

It’s Time For Wins

Take nothing away from the great work Tortorella has done. But that was only the beginning. He’s brought the Blue Jackets to a place where they can contend. There’s more respect now than at any point in franchise history given recent successes.

But he will be the first to tell you: the time is now for playoff success. Tortorella’s true measure of his performance here will be if he can get wins when they matter the most, in the playoffs. It doesn’t matter the opponent, it’s on him and his staff to find a way to get this team to win. Anything short of advancing past the first round is a failed season.

In all, Tortorella’s tenure here will be remembered for a long time. In perhaps his final chance to be a head coach, he’s made the most of it and then some. But it’s time for results.

So while 1,200 games is a great accomplishment, he’s not even focused on that. He’s trying to find a way to win against the Minnesota Wild. The time for celebrating milestones comes later. Right now, it’s about winning, and that’s what makes John Tortorella the perfect fit for these Blue Jackets.