CHICAGO, IL - MAY 25: Patrick Kane #88 of the Chicago Blackhawks moves around Justin Abdelkader #8 of the Detroit Red Wings in Game Five of the Western Conference Semifinals during the 2013 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at the United Center on May 25, 2013 in Chicago, Illinois. The Blackhawks defeated the Red Wings 4-1. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Abdelkader with Kane? Tortorella isn’t ‘over-thinking it’


For better or worse, John Tortorella is committed to his vision of what works in hockey.

Specifically: when in doubt, Tortorella goes for grit over skill. That’s not to say that he’s dismissing talent altogether when making moves for Team USA … but his fixation on Justin Abdelkader fits nicely into that narrative.

While he’s stated that line combinations aren’t set in stone, it’s still resounding to see Abdelkader line up with Patrick Kane. At least during a best-on-best tournament.

“There isn’t anything thinking,” Tortorella said when asked to justify the combo. “You’re over-thinking it.”

Sheesh, Tortorella is practically writing the jokes for us, isn’t he?

The obvious

Analytics-friendly thinking would dictate that Team USA would want to put a greater emphasis on skill after being shut out by Team Europe, especially as they anticipate a Canada team that’s willing to blend talent with effort.

The argument that Tortorella is set in his ways, likely to his roster’s detriment, is fair.

Devil’s advocate

On the other hand, there are certain factors that justify this allegedly non-thinking way of thinking.

For one thing, Abdelkader himself explained to the AP’s Stephen Whyno and others that he’s had plenty of experience playing with high-end skaters such as Henrik Zetterberg in Detroit. These aren’t exactly uncharted waters for the hard-driving forward.

It’s easy to see why his forechecking ways appeal to Torts, but consider this: Abdelkader actually did play pretty well in America’s opener.

According to Natural Stat Trick’s numbers, Abdelkader was one of America’s best forwards from a possession standpoint. He also managed three shots on goal with modest ice time of almost 12 minutes.

If you take name recognition and previous experience out of the equation, Tortorella is rewarding someone who did some nice things in a very specific example.


Look, the giggles make sense. It’s pretty odd to react to being shut out by putting a limited (if hard-working) forward with one of your few game-breakers in Kane.

There really is a thought process to this non-thinking, though.

The U.S. likely knew what it was getting into in choosing Tortorella. It probably won’t be pretty, yet that’s sort of how Torts likes it.

Tortorella: USA vs. Canada is ‘our championship game’

TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 16:  Head coach of Team USA John Tortorella looks on during practice at the World Cup of Hockey 2016 at Air Canada Centre on September 16, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)

After Saturday’s humbling 3-0 loss to Europe, Team USA head coach John Tortorella was (dare we say it) remarkably understated.

He admitted that the U.S. is now “chasing it” in the World Cup of Hockey and was borderline boring in cautioning against panic.

Thankfully, he brought the drama this afternoon, though. In his mind, Tuesday’s game against Canada is America’s “championship game,” according to reporters including the AP’s Stephen Whyno.

“This is either you’re afraid of it or it’s a fantastic opportunity,” Tortorella said, via’s Nick Cotsonika.

Tortorella is far from the only Team USA member to acknowledge the importance of Tuesday’s looming test against Canada. “Must-win” seems to be the phrase of the moment for quite a few players.

“There’s always pressure, but it’s a must-win for us,” Derek Stepan said, according to “Maybe it’s a good thing we got our backs against the wall and got a little adversity. We have to up our level and up our game.”

While it’s dangerous to assume that practice lines equal game-time decisions, it’s worth noting that Dustin Byfuglien and Kyle Palmieri were in the mix for the U.S. during Sunday’s practice.

Torts is the first to admit that the World Cup is the sprint to the NHL regular season’s marathon. There isn’t much time to ramp up America’s pace, so why not throw a little hype around?

J.T. Brown explains his criticism of Tortorella’s anthem stance

GLENDALE, AZ - FEBRUARY 21:  J.T. Brown #23 of the Tampa Bay Lightning during the NHL game against the Arizona Coyotes at Gila River Arena on February 21, 2015 in Glendale, Arizona.  The Lightning defeated the Coyotes 4-2.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Tampa Bay Lightning forward J.T. Brown has “no ill will towards John Tortorella,” but he does want to explain the tweet he published on Tuesday that was critical of Tortorella’s promise to bench any of his players that “sit on the bench for the national anthem.”

“I responded to a story on Twitter with my opinion and that was how I saw it,” Brown said in a statement to the Tampa Bay Times. “He sees the situation through his reality and I see it through mine, as a black athlete in the NHL. I know I’m not on the United States World Cup roster, but I have had a chance to represent my country on other occasions. My Tweet was a hypothetical. What if I took a stance to promote awareness for one of the many injustices still occurring in our country and was punished despite there being no rule or law against it? My Tweet was a response to that question.

“I could have been quiet and just kept my opinion to myself, but I don’t want young minorities who love the game of hockey to think that what’s going on in America today is going unnoticed by the hockey community. I love America and thank the military for protecting our freedoms, as well as law enforcement for protecting and serving our communities, but that doesn’t mean I can’t acknowledge that there is still racism today. I am glad my Tweet provoked a discussion, because we need to start having a conversation about racism if we want to work towards a better America.

“While I don’t plan on sitting during the national anthem, I will look for more opportunities to positively impact my community and bring awareness to racial issues.”

Tortorella, the head coach of Team USA at the upcoming World Cup, expanded on his stance yesterday.

“We are in a great country because we can express ourselves,” he said, per the Toronto Sun. “I’m not against expressing ourselves. That’s what is great about our country. We can do that.

“But when there are men and women who give their lives for the flag, for their anthem, continue to put themselves on the line, families that have been disrupted, traumatic physical injuries, traumatic mental injuries with these people, who give us the opportunity to do the things we want to do, there is no chance an anthem and a flag should come into any type of situation where you are trying to make a point.”

Related: Seth Jones has ‘no problem’ with Tortorell’s anthem stance

Seth Jones has ‘no problem’ with Tortorella’s anthem stance

NEWARK, NJ - MARCH 20:  Seth Jones #3 of the Columbus Blue Jackets skates during an NHL hockey game against the New Jersey Devils at Prudential Center on March 20, 2016 in Newark, New Jersey. Devils won 2-1.  (Photo by Paul Bereswill/Getty Images)

In the wake of Colin Kaepernick’s national anthem protest, it wasn’t surprising that Blue Jackets and Team USA head coach John Tortorella made headlines yesterday when he said “if any of my players sit on the bench for the national anthem, they will sit there for the rest of the game.”

Reactions to Tortorella’s remarks came quickly.

On Wednesday, Seth Jones — who plays for Torts in Columbus and, potentially, against Torts at the upcoming World Cup of Hockey — weighed in on what’s become a hot-button issue.

“I think that it’s fair,” Jones told Sportsnet’s Fan 590. “That’s [Tortorella’s] way of doing it, and obviously they’re comparing it to the whole Colin Kaepernick thing, but he’s got a right to believe whatever he wants.”

Jones, the highest-drafted African American player in NHL history, will represent Team North America at the tourney. He was acquired by Columbus from Nashville in a midseason blockbuster and proceeded to play 41 games under Tortorella last year, averaging a career-high 24:27 per night.

Jones reiterated to Fan 590 that he doesn’t take issue with his coach’s stance.

“I have no problem,” he explained. “You’re not going to see anything from any of us with Torts, so I have no problem with that.”

Tampa Bay Lightning forward J.T. Brown, who is also African American, took to Twitter on Tuesday evening to share his thoughts on the matter:

Brian Burke, serving as a senior advisor for Team USA, told USA Today he respects athletes’ rights to “express opinions, vote, attend political rallies and make political contributions.”

But Burke also said “I don’t believe the field of competition is a place to make political statements.”

In somewhat related news, it looks as though Jones’ Team North America is closing in on a plan for its pregame anthems at the World Cup.

According to TSN, the squad will play both Canadian and American anthems before each contest.

After plenty of ‘disappointment’ last season, Tortorella hopes to lead Jackets back to the playoffs

GLENDALE, AZ - DECEMBER 17:  Head coach John Tortorella of the Columbus Blue Jackets watches from the bench during the NHL game against the Arizona Coyotes at Gila River Arena on December 17, 2015 in Glendale, Arizona.  The Blue Jackets defeated the Coyotes 7-5.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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This post is part of Blue Jackets Day on PHT…

John Tortorella has had success as a head coach in the NHL, but his last few stints behind the bench haven’t gone according to plan.

Tortorella, now 58, will have the unenviable task of turning around a Blue Jackets team that he helped guide to the fourth-worst record in the league one season ago.

Can the Jackets bounce back next season? Is Torts the right man to get this thing turned around? That remains to be seen, but getting the Jackets back on the rails won’t be easy.

“When you’re finished April 9 and you’re not playing in the real stuff (playoffs), I would think there would be some disappointment,”said Tortorella, per the team’s website. “I feel like I’ve let the organization down. I don’t feel like I’ve done enough to get this straightened out.”

In all fairness to Torts, Columbus was 0-7 when he took over for Todd Richards on Oct. 21. He led the team to a 34-32-8 record. This year, he’ll have the opportunity to go through camp with his squad, which should make things easier.

It’ll be interesting to see if the structure and gritty style that Tortorella deploys will eventually mesh with the players he has at his disposal.

The Jackets haven’t made many changes this off-season. Outside of the players they drafted in June, they really just added Sam Gagner in free agency. The boost Tortorella will be looking for might come from the farm.

The Lake Erie Monsters took home the Calder Cup in 2016 and several of the players from that team could make the jump to the NHL in 2016-17.

“Those guys took huge steps,” said GM Jarmo Kekalainen. “That gives them the type of experience they need to compete for an NHL spot and to make an impact on our team.”

Youngsters like Zach Werenski, Sonny Milano, Oliver Bjorkstrand and 2016 draft pick Pierre-Luc Dubois could be in Columbus come mid-October. Maybe a youthful spark could push the Jackets back into the playoff picture next April.