The Columbus Blue Jackets were feeling good about themselves.
After a convincing 5-2 win against the Washington Capitals on Dec 9, the Blue Jackets set their sights on ending a long losing streak to the Pittsburgh Penguins at PPG Paints Arena. It was their best opportunity to get a win.
Sidney Crosby was out. Evgeni Malkin was ill. Patric Hornqvist was out. Brian Dumoulin was out. There were more. The stage seemed set for the Blue Jackets to finally break through.
Except for one thing. They played perhaps their worst game overall in a very long time. The Penguins dominated the Blue Jackets on this night. And yet, nobody scored in regulation. The Blue Jackets did get a point. But in overtime, Bryan Rust scored a power-play goal to lift the depleted Penguins to a 1-0 overtime win. There are good points. There are bad points. This point was ugly with a capital U.
If anyone has followed the coaching career of John Tortorella, they knew that his postgame presser was going to be must-see TV. It was going to be short. It was going to feature an upset Tortorella giving very short answers. In that sense, he did not disappoint.
“I don’t have any words to describe it,” Tortorella said three different times. You could tell he was upset at the performance. If you were a Blue Jackets’ fan watching the game, you were probably upset. It was a terrible performance for a team who just beat the best team in the NHL by three goals on their home ice.
Tortorella spoke for about a minute. This is where the story begins. When it comes to Tortorella, there seems to be a great divide about who he is and the way he handles his business.
The Great Divide
On one hand, you have those that are skeptics. “Oh there he goes again being short during his presser. Same old Torts.” No matter what happens, when they see something like this, they pounce.
On the other hand, you have those that appreciate him. They understand what happened and why he did this postgame.
Let’s clear something up right now. Tortorella is not only a changed man, he’s a great man. He’s an even better coach. Many of you are probably going to laugh at this and ridicule it. But if you do, you prove that you don’t know the man Tortorella has become. Let’s show you why Tortorella is the best thing to ever happen to Columbus from a coaching standpoint and more.
Let’s first revisit that press conference in Pittsburgh. From the outside, it gave the appearance of being short and uncalled for. But a further look at this indicates the real story. Tortorella was embarrassed for the organization. He said as much the next day in Pittsburgh.
“It’s the most embarrassed I’ve been for this organization,” Tortorella said. “This isn’t just about players. It’s about an organization. I’m embarrassed for the organization.”
This explains why he was upset. He had the team and organization in mind. He just witnessed his team put up an embarrassing effort. He wasn’t sure why it happened. His triple “I don’t have any words to describe it” said everything you needed to know about the game itself. What else does he have to say that you don’t already know?
In a time where many coaches use cliches and don’t get that emotional, Tortorella remains honest, even when he doesn’t have much to say. In past times, you’ve seen the antics he pulled on reporters. If there is one area he has changed in, he doesn’t do that stuff anymore.
Tortorella knows he made several mistakes in his career. Before he was hired in Columbus, he wasn’t sure if he’d get another opportunity to coach. If he did get that chance, he had to change. Give him credit. He has changed.
We need to keep something in mind with Tortorella and the way he does business. There’s one pattern in play. He’s usually thoughtful and honest in most situations. The times where he’s not are the times where his team’s effort isn’t there. He can tolerate a lot. He cannot tolerate a lack of effort.
That game in Pittsburgh was a complete lack in effort he had no answer for. Then the next day he opened up more outside of the heat of the moment. This was about the team. It was never about him trying to attract attention.
Now that we see he has changed, we need to focus on who he is now. The skeptics think he’s a horrible coach. They see his career as a whole and all the things that have happened and wonder how he even has a job. Well he’s a great coach that’s why he has a job.
A Great Coach
Tortorella has a Stanley Cup. Tortorella has two Jack Adams’ awards. He’s the winningest U.S. born head coach in NHL history. Many players around the league say he’s the best head coach they’ve ever had. And yet one of his best works might be in progress this season in Columbus.
Yes he has taken the Blue Jackets to three consecutive playoffs, something the team has never done before. But this season, given all the losses and challenges they’ve had, Tortorella has the Blue Jackets at over hockey 500 as we approach Christmas. That’s an amazing coaching job. The Blue Jackets have nine regulars out of their lineup.
Has he been perfect? Not at all. This isn’t saying everything he touches turns to gold, far from it actually. But when you lack overall talent like this, you have to change the approach. The Blue Jackets did that and are in position to fight for the playoffs despite the critics. As much as Tortorella gets blame when things are bad, he deserves credit when things are good.
Tortorella not only deserves full credit for this season being north of hockey 500, but this season deserves consideration as one of his best yet. Can you imagine if this team makes the playoffs? Yeah.
Let’s revisit Tortorella’s honesty and thoughtfulness. There’s a perception out there that the media is “scared” of him. That couldn’t be further from the truth. He has his style. But the key is asking good questions. The better the question, the better the response usually. While there are times his pressers are a minute, there are many more that are 10-15 minutes or even longer.
When he’s not doing that, he makes two appearances a week on other formats where he’s very forthcoming. First is Hockey and Hounds on the Blue Jackets flagship 97.1 the Fan. Tortorella joins hosts Anthony Rothman and Bobby Carpenter and they discuss hockey and dogs. This gives a neat perspective into one of Tortorella’s passions in life, rescue animals. Have a listen below.
The other thing Tortorella does on a weekly basis is “Time Out with Torts.” This is a new thing this season where we get around 20 minutes of the most forthcoming Tortorella you’ll ever hear. He opens up not only about hockey, but about anything else he wants to talk about. It’s usually must-listen stuff. Radio voice of the Blue Jackets Bob McElligott gets the honor of hosting this. You can listen to the latest one below.
Time to Retire Bad Narratives
The time has come to put to rest the bad narratives that seem to follow Tortorella around. He’s passionate. He cares deeply about his team. He’s in the midst of one of his best coaching jobs ever. He’s not the same old Torts.
He’s one of the greatest head coaches in NHL history. He’s also one of the great people in the sport if you get to meet him. His passion for animals is awesome. He’s more than just a great coach. He’s a great man and an even better person.
So the next time you think of one of Tortorella’s old rants, think about the impact he’s currently having on an NHL team in central Ohio. He’s turning young men into leaders and better hockey players while you’re still thinking about old news.
Tortorella’s impact to the Blue Jackets will never be forgotten. He’s the greatest coach they’ve ever had. And one day, he’ll take his rightful place in the Hockey Hall of Fame as one of the greatest of all time. And yet, he’s an even better person. That’s the real John Tortorella.
I am a fully credentialed writer who covers the Columbus Blue Jackets, Cleveland Monsters and Erie Otters as well as the Ontario Hockey League and NHL Draft. The 2021-22 season will mark eight seasons with the Hockey Writers. I am also the site’s Credentials Manager.