When the Columbus Blue Jackets dismissed Todd Richards after an 0-7-0 start and brought in John Tortorella to coach the team, I didn’t honestly know what to expect.
Given the past track record of Tortorella, several things raced through my head. Was he the right coach for this team? What if things continue to fall apart and we see what happened in Vancouver take place all over again? What if this splits the team apart?
I knew one thing was for sure. Columbus Blue Jackets hockey became interesting. Even in the midst of the early losing they were doing, the fact that Tortorella was now the head coach brought a new element of interesting, in the sense that every time he speaks, something interesting might come out.
But to my pleasant surprise, in the limited amount of time covering him in Columbus, he is a real treat. He has been nothing but respectful to me and the rest of the media. Having our cell phones off during pressers usually helps this.
But in all honesty, seeing him in action up close has given me a whole new perspective on him. He is the right coach for the Columbus Blue Jackets. The very thing he preaches, accountability, is something that this team desperately needed. It may not result in an instant turn around for the Blue Jackets, but it’s a nice first step.
The Blue Jackets are getting a lot of media attention of late, given the Ryan Johansen situation. Johansen was a healthy scratch this past Thursday in Arizona. This was after he was benched for the third period of the Dallas game. Trade speculation started to heat up. Was the Tortorella/Johansen relationship starting to breakdown? In talking to Johansen and seeing how Tortorella is handling other players, there is nothing to see here, at least now.
Scott Hartnell was healthy scratched. Scott Hartnell! Why was that not a bigger story? What about Fedor Tyutin? He was scratched as well. This just shows that John Tortorella is consistent with his message of accountability. It doesn’t matter who you are. You are not bigger than the team. If your play warrants a scratch, it will happen.
Scratching Johansen doesn’t mean that Tortorella wants him out. It doesn’t mean the team is actively looking to trade him. In seeing Tortorella in action and talking with him, he fights for his players. Tortorella is pro-Johansen. Tortorella scratched Johansen to wake him up. Tortorella is on record acknowledging Johansen as an important part of the franchise. If anything happens with Johansen, it won’t be because of Tortorella.
Other Reflections Of Tortorella
As stated above, Tortorella has been nothing but respectful to us in the media. I have been to games in Columbus, Pittsburgh, Washington D.C., and St. Louis this early season. I have come away impressed every time.
He is not a boring quote. Unlike many other coaches, Tortorella is not afraid to tell you exactly what is on his mind. It was in St. Louis where Tortorella had some choice words for Pittsburgh. By the way, the Blue Jackets and Penguins play Monday.
“We are not going to whine”, Tortorella said of Brandon Dubinsky’s one game suspension. “Pittsburgh can whine. They whine enough for everyone else in the league.” Whether you think the statement is true or not is for you to decide. But it is sure refreshing to have someone not afraid to speak their mind.
What I think is most impressive about Tortorella is how understanding he is of the process. He realizes that the Blue Jackets are a work in progress. He admits as much. The team has many things that need fixed. Tortorella has actually embraced where this team is at. It’s very reminiscent of his early coaching days in Tampa. We all know what happened soon afterwards.
The bottom line is this. Tortorella has had a positive effect on the Blue Jackets. You may view the Johansen situation as negative. That is a mistake. Tortorella is doing what he thinks is best to get the best out of the player. I give him full marks for the way he is handling this team in his early tenure. I was skeptical at the beginning. I am not now. Coach has won me over. Give him time and an open mind, and he will win you over too.