No doubt about it, John Tortorella is a polarizing coach; he was before, during, and might be one after his time with the Columbus Blue Jackets. However you feel about Tortorella (or “Torts”), his Blue Jackets days are over.
The Blue Jackets made it official on Sunday, saying the head coach and the team “mutually” agreed to part ways.
From Columbus GM Jarmo Kekalainen:
“Torts and I have had numerous conversations throughout the season, and we have agreed that the time is right for both he and club to go our separate ways. He is a great coach and his accomplishments with our club over the past six seasons speak for themselves. He has played an integral role in our success since his arrival, and we are extremely grateful for his passion and commitment to the Blue Jackets and our city. He was the right coach at the right time and helped us establish a standard that we will carry forward.”
“After discussion and consideration of the future direction of the team, Jarmo and I have come to a mutual agreement to part ways,” said Tortorella, who’s contract was up after this season. “I’d like to thank the Columbus Blue Jackets organization for the opportunity to coach this team and live in the great Columbus-area. It has been a privilege to work with the players, coaches and hockey operations staff, which is one of the best in the League. Also, I want to thank the CBJ fans and the community for the support they’ve given the team and for the work of the CBJ family in support of the community.
Tortorella era over with Blue Jackets
The parting of ways was expected by many, and the Blue Jackets staff gave Tortorella a send-off Saturday night.
A full slate of Tortorella’s coaching and support staff joins him on the bench for tonight’s game. (Jared Boll was there last night as well) #CBJ pic.twitter.com/3qpIxCWIva
— Alison (@AlisonL) May 8, 2021
Tortorella coached the Blue Jackets from 2015-16 through 2020-21. The Blue Jackets made the playoffs four times under Torts, winning two series. Most memorably, Columbus swept a powerhouse Lightning team one year before Tampa Bay won a Stanley Cup.
A mixed legacy
Again, Tortorella leaves behind a polarizing legacy with the Blue Jackets, and as an NHL coach.
Many will praise Torts for the Blue Jackets’ upset victories, and their scrappy play through injuries. Some will credit Tortorella, as much as Kekalainen, with establishing the Blue Jackets as a more viable NHL franchise.
I don’t care what anyone says, John Tortorella goes down as a legend. He changed the culture, brought this city endless unforgettable moments, and stood up for his players every step of the way. #CBJ
Class act though and though. Best of luck in whatever’s next, Torts❤️
— Nasher (@TheNasher61) May 9, 2021
On the other hand, it’s fair to wonder how many players Tortorella scared off. And some will definitely look back on benching players from Pierre-Luc Dubois and Patrik Laine as doing far more harm than good. Did someone like Artemi Panarin leave town primarily (or in part) because of Torts?
Those are fair questions to ask. If a coach scares off star players, does it shed a different light on being underdogs? (Ultimately, you don’t play the role of underdogs forever, right?)
Sometimes people can fall into a trap when a team seemingly overachieves. Could it be that, by pulling off the occasional upset, the good times get exaggerated?
under tortorella, columbus won a grand total of eight playoff games in five-plus seasons. averaged 93 points per 82 regular-season games. https://t.co/xm3zn7pEpv
— 🦖 ryan lambert 🦕 (@twolinepass) May 8, 2021
Big, difficult questions for Blue Jackets post-Torts
Kekalainen — or perhaps a new GM? — will face big questions about the Blue Jackets’ future, even beyond replacing Tortorella.
That larger outlook is a post for another day, but in short:
- The Blue Jackets must figure out what to do with Patrik Laine, who’s set to be an RFA. Should they sign Laine for long-term, short-term, or even trade his rights? Few easy answers after a profoundly terrible season for the player and the team.
- Some key potential extensions loom, too. Both Zach Werenski and Seth Jones will need new contracts after 2021-22. Would the Blue Jackets need to overpay to keep one or both? (That’s especially scary if you believe, as many do, that Seth Jones’ actual impact might not match the hype he generates. Yikes.)
- Among other factors, the Blue Jackets also need to make some decisions in net. Both Elvis Merzlikins and Joonas Korpisalo enter contract years, too.
- Naturally, the Seattle Kraken Expansion Draft could set the stage for difficult decisions.
Now … it doesn’t have to be a bad thing.
As tough as those questions are, the Blue Jackets could also forge a new identity with Tortorella gone. All of that uncertainty also highlights that Columbus has some flexibility — if they don’t back themselves into a corner.
But if uncertainty makes you nervous, then the Torts-less Blue Jackets might leave some fans breaking out in hives.
James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.