Wayne Gretzky to replace Tortorella as Metropolitan Division coach at All-Star Game


For one weekend Wayne Gretzky is going to be back behind an NHL bench.

Gretzky will serve as the coach of the Metropolitan Division team during the All-Star weekend in Los Angeles, serving as the replacement for Columbus Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella according to Pierre LeBrun and Elliotte Friedman.

Tortorella was originally supposed to coach the team but had to withdraw on Thursday due to the failing health of one of his family dogs.

Update: The NHL has officially announced that Gretzky will coach the Metropolitan Division this weekend.

Gretzky, arguably the greatest player in the history of the sport and the NHL’s all-time leading goal scorer and point producer, spent a significant portion of his career playing in Los Angeles with the Kings.

He was honored on Friday night as one of the Top 100 players in league history. The team he will be coaching this weekend has two of the six active players to be included on that list, Pittsburgh Penguins forward Sidney Crosby and Washington Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin.

Following his playing days he was the coach of the Arizona Coyotes for four years between the 2005-06 and 2008-09 seasons.

Watch Live: 2017 NHL All-Star Game Live Stream

Tortorella to miss All-Star game because one of his dogs is failing in health


John Tortorella was not behind the bench for the Columbus Blue Jackets’ 4-3 loss to the Nashville Predators on Thursday night and will not be attending the All-Star game this weekend — where he was supposed to be the head coach of the Metropolitan Division squad — due to a family emergency.

On Friday, Tortorella wanted to clear things up on the nature of the emergency.

He explained to Aaron Portzline of the Columbus-Dispatch that he needed a few days over the All-Star break because one of his families five dogs — a pit bull that belongs to his son, Nick, an Army Ranger that is currently stationed overseas — is failing in health and that it was important for him to be there for his family and son.

Because the NHL has a strict policy in place that forces a player or coach to miss at least one regular season game for not participating in the All-Star game if they are selected, Tortorella had to miss at least one game to avoid a suspension.

With the Blue Jackets playing a division rival, the New York Rangers, in their return from the break, it made more sense to miss Thursday’s inter-conference game against Nashville instead.

Tortorella has always had an immense passion for dogs and does a ton of work with shelters to help find them good homes. He talked about this extensively one year ago, via the Blue Jackets.

Tortorella and his wife run the Tortorella Family Foundation.

The NHL has yet to announce a replacement for him at the All-Star game.

Watch live: 2017 NHL All-Star Game

PHT Morning Skate: Tortorella says ‘not a chance’ LeBron James could play hockey


Auston Matthews is putting together one of the best rookie seasons we’ve seen in a long time, but if it wasn’t for Ukrainian skating coach Boris Dorozhenko’s unique teaching methods, he might not be the player he is today. (ESPN)

–Not many people expected the Minnesota Wild to contend for the Central Division crown this season, but their play is making some in the national media believe they have a chance to do some damage in the near future. “I give them a ton of credit,” NBC hockey analyst Pierre McGuire said. “They’ve put themselves in a great position to win a Cup. This is the best team they’ve had in Minnesota ever. Like, ever!” (Minneapolis StarTribune)

–If he wasn’t a basketball player, I could see LeBron James playing in the NFL. But a hockey player? I don’t think so. It sounds like Blue Jackets head coach John Tortorella agrees with me. “He can’t skate,” Tortorella said during a radio interview. “He’s too damn big, he can’t skate. And you can tell him I said that, I challenge him.” (BarDown)

–The Boston Bruins were up 3-0, 4-1 and 5-4 in last night’s game against the Red Wings, but they still found a way to lose the game. Watch the highlights of that tilt by clicking the video at the top of the page.

–Every hockey fan is aware of the incredible season Sidney Crosby has put together, but for some reason, Evgeni Malkin‘s stellar play seems to be flying under the radar. After all, Malkin isn’t too far behind Connor McDavid for the scoring title. “He doesn’t get as much attention as he deserves,” said Penguins assistant coach Sergei Gonchar. “Not only this season or that season. I think overall if you look at his career, I don’t think he has been covered as much as some other guys. I think he deserves more credit for what he has done in his career.” (NHL.com)

–The 2003 NHL Entry Draft is regarded as one of the best drafts in league history. That year, the Penguins took Marc-Andre Fleury first overall, but if it had to be done over again, who would the top pick be? According to a pair of Sportsnet hockey analysts, Patrice Bergeron or Ryan Getzlaf would go number one if that draft could be done over again. (Sportsnet)

–In his final year of eligibility, former Expos outfielder Tim Raines was finally voted into the Hall of Fame yesterday, and the Montreal Canadiens made sure to congratulate him during last night’s game:

Tortorella liked what he saw from Wennberg in his first career fight


The Columbus Blue Jackets extended their winning streak to eight games on Friday night with an impressive 4-1 win over the Calgary Flames, moving them to within two points of first place in the Metropolitan Division with still three games in hand on the Pittsburgh Penguins.

The game started with a little bit of a bang when Blue Jackets forward Brandon Saad was absolutely run over by Flames rookie Matthew Tkachuk.

There was an immediate response from an unlikely player when Alexander Wennberg went after Tkachuk and dropped the gloves in his first NHL fight.

Here is the entire sequence.

It didn’t last very long, and Tkachuk seemed to get the better of him in the end, but it was all still enough to get some praise from Wennberg’s coach, John Tortorella.

“Great left,” said Tortorella when he was asked about it after the game. “Great left, and then he switched to a right. I loved what I saw out of Wenny there, and he hit him right on the button. I thought he was one of our best players tonight, too.”

“I’ve talked since I’ve been here, I think Wenny needs to be more involved, maybe not to fight, but in the inside part of the game. He has done that this year. Before camp started we talked about responsibility as a third year pro. He is not a rookie anymore, he is not feeling his way through the league, he needs to take more responsibility with his play, and he has done that. For him to stand in there, right in front of the bench, that’s important for the bench to see that guy stand in there.”

That is pretty much the response you should expect from Tortorella because he absolutely loves that sort of game. But let’s be honest, that is not what the Blue Jackets need Wennberg to be doing because there is always going to be an injury risk there. The last thing the Blue Jackets need at this point is for one of their most talented players and their second leading scorer to be lost to an injury in something like that (we recently saw Arizona lose one of its best players, Max Domi, to an injury after he was involved in a fight). Especially when it was in response to what appeared to be a legal hit. But it all worked out this time.

Wennberg has 25 points (six goals and 19 assists) in 28 games for the Blue Jackets this season.

With another shutout win, Johnson tightens grip on Calgary’s starting gig


COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) Journeyman goalie Chad Johnson, in his first season with Calgary, is beginning to show he can be a source of stability for the up-and-down Flames.

Johnson made 34 saves for his second shutout in five starts, leading Calgary over the Columbus Blue Jackets 2-0 on Wednesday night.

“We just wanted to come in here and stick to our system,” said Johnson, who also blanked the Minnesota Wild on Nov. 15. “Get some pucks deep and wait for our opportunities and we did that and capitalized on the chances that we had.”

Johnson is 4-1 in his past five starts.

Troy Brouwer and Micheal Ferland scored for Calgary, which has sought consistency between the pipes during the early part of the season. The Flames, whose maligned special teams came up big in this one, have traded wins and losses for five games.

“Johnny made some big saves for us and that breeds confidence throughout the lineup,” Calgary’s Matt Stajan said.

Columbus dropped to 10-3-3 in its last 16 and has lost two straight at home since rolling off seven wins in a row, a franchise record.

“We were on the outside all night long,” Columbus coach John Tortorella said. “Chad saw every shot. I thought our first period was good but from then it went downhill.”

Calgary, ranked 29th in penalty killing entering the game, was perfect during a long Columbus power play in the second period, and then its league-worst power play added a goal in the third.

Calgary led 1-0 despite being significantly outshot before Ferland snapped one past Sergei Bobrovsky from the slot at 6:25 of the third. Leading to the score, Dennis Wideman kept the puck in the zone on a play that Markus Hannikainen tried to skate out of danger.

Johnson did the rest, calmly turning aside shot after shot.

“There were times when we were on our heels but I think we still stuck together and battled as a group,” he said.

After a scoreless first period, the action picked up in the second. Matthew Tkachuk‘s double minor for high-sticking 14 seconds in put the Blue Jackets on the man advantage, but the league’s top power play only mustered one shot. The Flames allowed three power-play scores Monday in a loss at Buffalo.

“Sloppy, it hurt us momentum wise,” Tortorella said. “Four minutes we really had nothing accomplished. I think they end up with a couple of scoring chances.”

Calgary took the lead shortly after aided by a bad sequence for Seth Jones. He was flat footed in his own zone when his pass was easily intercepted by Brouwer at the blue line. Kris Versteeg got the puck and marched around Jones, threading a pass back to Brouwer for the doorstep tap-in to make it 1-0 at 6:35.

“I just tried to make a play and get it over to Brouwer going to the net,” Versteeg said.

Five minutes later, Cam Atkinson zoomed in on a breakaway, but Johnson gloved his shot.

“We were able to turn a corner after he (Johnson) stopped that breakaway in the second and we know it wasn’t pretty before that,” Stajan said. “But then we started to get pucks deep and shots on net. We played a solid third period. It’s a good road win.”

NOTES: Brouwer’s goal was his first in 10 games. … Jones played his second game since missing six with a foot injury. … Columbus LW Matt Calvert, who last Friday scored an overtime goal to down the Rangers after getting 36 stitches in his forehead during the game, was scratched with an upper-body ailment. … Versteeg returned after missing nine games with a bad groin. …Calgary C Sam Bennett skated in his 100th career game.


Blue Jackets: Visit Tampa Bay on Sunday.

Flames: Play the third of a season-long six-game road trip Sunday in Boston.