Columbus Blue Jackets head coach John Tortorella is by far the biggest personality the NHL has ever seen when it comes to being a bench boss. Tortorella always fights with the media, openly criticizes his own players and team, and is always throwing fits on the bench. The man is simply something else.
The general consensus is that Tortorella’s a horrible coach for most teams. He did win a Stanley Cup with the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2003-04, but a handful of superstars have seen their play decline when Tortorella became their coach. Those same stars rebounded after Tortorella was replaced behind the bench.
But make no mistake, Tortorella is among the NHL’s greatest coaches ever when he’s provided with the right players and team. Tortorella’s a coach that only preaches one system – he cannot and will not adapt a new style with his roster.
Some guys would be great or have been great under Tortorella. Some would be terrible or have been terrible under Tortorella. Let’s take a look at the evidence…
15. Love: Blake Wheeler
The flashy Winnipeg Jets leading scorer from a season ago played for John Tortorella at the 2016 World Cup of Hockey. Blake Wheeler fit Torts’ system of skilled and gritty two-way players who could play well at both ends of the ice. Though the Americans failed to win a single game, Tortorella and Wheeler handled the entire tournament with class, despite the struggles.
General manager Dean Lombardi even went as far as to praise players like Wheeler for displaying a lot of heart during the tournament.
If the Columbus Blue Jackets ever got Wheeler, you have to figure Tortorella would be delighted. His system is about guys who can move the puck quickly but play sound in their own end as well. Wheeler is the ideal type of player to play under Tortorella. Nevermind the disaster at the World Cup of Hockey.
14. Hate: Steven Stamkos
Steven Stamkos is one of the NHL’s best pure-goal scorers. When healthy, he’s scoring 50 goals a season. But that’s a big if.
Now, take a long look at some of the stars that Tortorella put in the dog house and refused to do work with. We’ll get to some of those names later, but there’s almost no way he and Stamkos would be able to co-exist together. Stamkos is simply asked to get open, shoot the puck and score. It’s that simple.
Tortorella HATES it when players play their own game. He would force Stamkos to put his body at risk with constant shot-blocking and wouldn’t let him focus as much on scoring goals. Stamkos’ style his whole career has been to simply just score – who needs defence?
13. Love: David Backes
David Backes also played under Tortorella at the 2016 World Cup of Hockey. Though Backes failed to register a single point in two games, that doesn’t tell the whole story. Backes has been one of the league’s most dependable two-way players since breaking into the NHL a decade ago.
And we’ll emphasize over-and-over again just how much Tortorella loves skilled guys who can play at both ends of the ice. Backes is reliable for 20 goals and 50 points a season (provided he’s healthy,) and relishes the postseason (27 points in 49 games).
If Backes went to Columbus, he would provide great leadership and fit the bill that guys like Brandon Saad, Brandon Dubinsky and Nick Foligno play. Backes is the type of player Tortorella always wants to coach. Given his consistency, Torts would absolutely welcome him on his team in a heartbeat.
12. Hate: Bobby Ryan
Bobby Ryan is one of the league’s most gifted goal scorers. His giant frame (6-2, 209 pounds) has allowed him to put up four 30-goal seasons. But Ryan was a major snub on the U.S. 2014 Olympic team in Sochi, and he made it known. After the Americans embarrassed themselves at the World Cup of Hockey, Ryan took some shots at the team.
@dipduncs nah..kill USA hockey with kindness and maybe they'll let me play over 35 adult worlds if I'm not a defensive liability by then.
— Bobby Ryan (@b_ryan9) September 21, 2016
Brian Burke, who ran Team USA in 2014, said that Ryan didn’t have the intensity to make the team. Ryan has obviously been sour since, so you know he and Tortorella would have a rocky relationship if they played together.
Also, Ryan is a so-called “defensive liability.” Having one of those guys play for John Tortorella would be worse than having to rewatch the final season of Happy Days every day for a week. It would be a disaster waiting to happen.
11. Love: Brandon Saad
Brandon Saad was a forgotten star with the Chicago Blackhawks and was a key part of their 2013 and 2015 Stanley Cup championship teams. But the Blackhawks couldn’t afford to re-sign Saad, and he was dealt to the Columbus Blue Jackets in the summer of 2015. With Torts becoming the Jackets head coach last season, Saad had a career-high in goals (31) and points (53).
As of this writing, Saad and Tortorella have Columbus as the NHL’s top team, riding a 16-game winning streak. Saad’s 14 goals and 33 points up to this point are a reason why. He went from a second-liner in Chicago to a bonafide superstar in Columbus.
Saad and Tortorella have worked incredibly well together. While Saad’s defence has improved, Tortorella has coached him into being a franchise game-changer. There’s no doubting that these two love being on a team.
10. Hate: Sidney Crosby
Sidney Crosby is the greatest hockey player in the world, period. Tortorella’s old New York Rangers often fell victim to Crosby’s greatness. Also, the Blue Jackets and Penguins are the two best teams in the Metropolitan Division, so it’s hard to see Tortorella respecting and wanting to play with Crosby, who’s a bitter rival at this time.
Thing is, Tortorella has made it clear how much he despises Crosby and the Penguins. Here’s a look at some of the words Tortorella shared (via NHL.com):
“That’s one of the most arrogant organizations in sports. They whine about this stuff all the time. It’s ridiculous. But they’ll whine about something else over there, won’t they? Starting with their two … stars.”
Crosby replied by saying Tortorella should “worry about his own players,” and that he “didn’t know what Tortorella was talking about.”
9. Love: Drew Doughty
Drew Doughty is arguably the NHL’s best player. The two-time Olympic gold medalist and Stanley Cup winner is this generation’s Nicklas Lidstrom. He’s one of the smartest defenceman in the NHL and constantly shuts down the opposition’s top line. Doughty has a plus-69 rating on his career and is always a threat to put up 50 points in a season.
He’s a great fit on the Los Angeles Kings – a team that emphasizes so much on puck possession. His hard-hitting style and toughness make him the exact type of player Tortorella wants on his team.
Tortorella did great with Ryan McDonagh in New York and preaches a strong two-way game from all of his players. There would really be no match made in Heaven like having Doughty and Tortorella together.
8. Hate: Max Pacioretty
The Montreal Canadiens’ captain and top goal-scorer has enjoyed every bit of time with the team. But could you imagine him with John Tortorella in Columbus? We sure as heck couldn’t. Take, for example, what Tortorella had to say about Pacioretty during the World Cup of Hockey, via Sportsnet:
“He’s OK, but I need more out of him. I know how he can play. This is what happens in this type of tournament and the team makeup…He’s got to give me a reason to give him more minutes here. We’ll see where it goes. We know he’s a really good player, great kid, but we’ve just got to get a little bit more out of him.”
Well, Max Pacioretty’s disappointing performance at the tournament wasn’t entirely on him. Tortorella cut back on his ice time and demoted him to being a bottom-six forward, even though he’s among America’s top goal-scorers.
Pacioretty’s tendency to be a streaky scorer has almost made him a popular person for the media to criticize. We don’t think he’d like playing for a coach who always calls out his own players. Torts clearly wasn’t pleased with what Pacioretty gave him during the World Cup of Hockey.
7. Love: Patrice Bergeron
Patrice Bergeron is by far the best defensive forward of this generation, and quite possibly ever. The three-time Selke Trophy winner (given to the league’s top defensive forward) has been the face of the Boston Bruins for nearly a decade. He was a key reason they won the 2011 Stanley Cup.
Bergeron is also a sure-thing to put up 30 goals and 50 points, and is always a threat for 70 points as well. He’s got the speed, brains, and incredible two-way play that’ll put him in the Hockey Hall of Fame some day. He’s a well-respected leader and is among the most complete players in hockey.
That sounds like the type of player Tortorella dreams of having. He’s known for being very impatient with some of his young players, but he and Bergeron would hit it off with away if they were put on the same team.
6. Hate: Ryan Johansen
Ryan Johansen appeared to be the true face of the Columbus Blue Jackets franchise, scoring 33 goals and 63 points in 2013-14, guiding them to the playoffs. He followed it up with a career-high 71 points. Johansen was the first true superstar on the Jackets since the Rick Nash trade.
Then John Tortorella replaced Todd Richards early in the 2015-16 season, and history changed. Torts benched Johansen for “fitness” problems. Johansen didn’t take kindly to the words, and before we knew it, he was sent to the Nashville Predators in exchange for Seth Jones.
It was a bold decision for the Jackets to part with a franchise centreman, but they only did it because Tortorella and Johansen weren’t able to work together. There is absolutely zero way they’d be able to work together again. Their styles and their rocky relationship was a failure from the get-go.
5. Love: Jonathan Toews
Jonathan Toews, like Bergeron, is one of the NHL’s top defensive forwards. He can shut down anyone thrown his way and still post 30 goals and 60-plus points in any given season. Toews is a two-time Olympic gold medalist and captained the Blackhawks to a trio of Stanley Cup.
He’s nicknamed ‘Captain Serious’ because he takes his job incredibly seriously. The Hockey News named him the best captain in hockey for a reason. Toews is a well-respected leader, champion, competitor and winner. There is no weakness in his game by any means.
That’s the type of player Tortorella’s always looking for. He hates laziness, he hates guys who don’t play defence and he hates guys who don’t want to compete. He preaches perfection, and Toews is as close to perfect as it gets.
4. Hate: Phil Kessel
Hard to see why a coach wouldn’t want Phil Kessel on their team. From 2008-09 to 2013-14, Kessel scored 30-plus goals every year except the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season. Kessel is among the league’s fastest skaters, best pure goal-scorers and is among the top snipers we’ve ever witnessed.
Thing is, Team USA, for some reason, left Kessel off the World Cup of Hockey roster. Hard to blame Kessel for sharing his thoughts on being left off while watching his country play lackluster hockey on the grandest stage:
Just sitting around the house tonight w my dog. Felt like I should be doing something important, but couldn't put my finger on it.
— Phil Kessel (@PKessel81) September 21, 2016
Per Sportsnet, Tortorella didn’t respond kindly to the tweet:
“I wish Phil just…. Listen, you guys [reporters] have been grinding us about Phil. Phil looks just fine as far as the way you’ve talked about us not picking him. I just wish he didn’t say anything, because it makes him look bad. I don’t want him to look bad.”
3. Love: Seth Jones
Many were shocked to be the once-in-a-generation defenceman fall to the fourth-overall selection in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft. The Nashville Predators had a guy to play with Shea Weber and Roman Josi. But then game the infamous Johansen-for-Jones trade. There’s a reason the Jackets made the bold trade.
You see, Tortorella’s a coach that will only succeed IF he has the right players to play his system. He’s not a coach who can work well with any team. The Jackets went out to get Seth Jones, because he fits Torts’ system.
Though his offensive game hasn’t come along yet, Jones has become the reliable top-pairing blueliner in his own end. His smooth skating and speed help him fit perfectly into Tortorella’s style of play. He’s currently a plus-eight on the season. That is no coincidence.
2. Hate: Daniel and Henrik Sedin
Though the Sedin twins are among the classiest players and tend to stay away from trash talk, it was clear throughout the entire 2013-14 season that they had zero fun playing under head coach John Tortorella.
Torts’ system was a joke in Vancouver, as the team missed the playoffs for the first time in six years. Tortorella asked the slick play-making twins to shot block, play over 20 minutes a game and commit a lot more to defence – which doesn’t work for their not-so-speedy skates.
Daniel had just 16 goals and 47 points with Torts as his coach – his lowest in an 82-game season since 2002-03. Henrik scored just 11 goals and 50 points – his lowest in an 82-game season since 2003-04. Tortorella called the Canucks roster ‘stale’ and that the NHL was now a young guy’s game – clearly an indirect shot at the twins.
The Sedin twins both posted 70-point seasons in 2014-15, the year after Tortorella left. That’s not a coincidence. It’s evidence they and Tortorella were never a good match and never will be.
1. Love: Brandon Dubinsky
Tortorella coached the New York Rangers from 2009-2013, and Dubinsky was among the Blueshirts’ top players. He posted a trio of 40-point seasons, played nearly 20 minutes per game and was a solid forward in his own end of the ice. Tortorella and Brandon Dubinsky turned the Rangers into a powerhouse, reaching the 2012 Eastern Conference Final.
Dubinsky was part of the blockbuster Rick Nash trade that sent the former to the Blue Jackets. Tortorella and Dubinsky were reunited last season, and the rest is history. Dubinsky finished 2015-16 with 17 goals (his highest total in five years) and 48 points.
Both men are now key reasons the Jackets are the NHL’s top team. Dubinsky’s committed to a two-way game and has a plus-1o rating on the season. These two have worked well together on two different teams. Dubinsky does what Tortorella asks of him. That’s a relationship for the ages.