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?
I don’t think he would take it very well if Tortorella tried to change the Stamkos that has dominated the NHL for eight years and counting.
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.