John Tortorella

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Tortorella sour about Blue Jackets’ off-season exodus

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Say ‘mass exodus in Columbus’ to John Tortorella and sit back and enjoy the fireworks.

After winning their first playoff series in franchise history, and doing so in such emphatic fashion by sweeping the Tampa Bay Lightning after their historic regular season, three of the biggest names who helped get them there took their talents elsewhere this summer.

Sergei Bobrovsky signed a mammoth deal in Florida. Artemi Panarin signed an even bigger deal in New York with the Rangers. And Matt Duchene, who was brought in at the trade deadline, and perhaps one of the three that had the best (but still not great) odds of re-signing, left for the sights and sounds of Nashville.

It all made for a bit of a sour summer for Torts.

“I’m pissed,” Tortorella told The Athletic’s Aaron Portzline in a wide-ranging interview. “Yeah, I’m pissed. I’m pissed for my players. I’m pissed for my organization. And I’m pissed on behalf of my city.”

Tortorella let loose in the interview in a very Tortorellan way. He said he has tremendous respect for the players that left in the mass exodus, but if it was about winning, well…

[MORE: Panarin to Rangers | Bob to Panthers | Duchene to Predators]

“Don’t talk about god—- winning, like you want to go somewhere to win. It’s right there in front of you,” he said. “I respect them all. But I don’t want to hear “I want to win” when it’s right f—— here. I respect them, but I’m really pissed. It was right there, where we were really progressing.”

Columbus’ summer hasn’t included much, with only Gustav Nyquist being the notable addition — a move that Tortorella called a very good one by general manager Jarmo Kekalainen.

It won’t likely replace the loss of the team’s top point producer, a top-line center and a No. 1 goalie, however. The team will be looking for its youth to step up, including 19-year-old Alex Texier, who showed well for the club at the tail-end of last season, including eight playoff games.

The team will also be looking to Joonas Korpisalo to take the No. 1 job between the pipes in camp.

Tortorella said the whole thing has left him not having to worry about instilling a chip-on-the-shoulder mentality on the remaining players.

“I’m saying, ‘Hell with them, we want to be here, let’s get it together and get going.; I wish them nothing but the best, but I’m pissed that they leave Columbus, because I think we’ve got a really good thing going here,” he said.

Meanwhile, regarding restricted free agent Zach Werenski, Torts told Portzline that he’d be “disgusted” if his player was to missing training camp.

“I just don’t want him to miss a beat here,” Tortorella said, raving about how Werenski has grown as a player.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Bobrovsky on leaving Blue Jackets for Panthers: ‘I needed changes’

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Sergei Bobrovsky has revealed that there was never a chance he’d re-sign in Columbus.

‘Bob,’ who was the biggest goalie on the free-agent market before he was snatched up by the Florida Panthers on a mammoth seven-year, $70M deal on July 1, told Sport24’s Daria Tuboltseva on Wednesday that he needed a change of scenery.

He also stated that general manager Jarmo Kekalainen knew his intentions a year before he was set to hit unrestricted free agency.

“They didn’t act,” Bobrovsky said. “On the contrary, they started to speak about a contract extension more frequently. I am that type of person. I made my plans known and didn’t play any games (with the organization). It would be much harder for me to look at the mirror in case I’d say to everyone that I’m staying and then leave.”

Kekalainen went all in at the trade deadline, electing to keep both Bobrovsky and Artemi Panarin (along with selling a pile of futures for Matt Duchene and Ryan Dzingel — both who also left the team in free agency) for a Stanley Cup run that would ultimately end in Round 2 against the Boston Bruins.

Bobrovsky, a two-time Vezina Trophy recipient, went into detail about a tumultuous final season, his last of seven with the Blue Jackets.

“I was suspended by the team, there were some conflicts in the team, a lot of meetings and some of them just because of me,” he said. “I didn’t feel myself comfortable. And still, the Jackets tried and tried to extend me all season long.”

According to Bob, the team went so far as to offer him a psychologist.

“It was weird because I have one since being 21 year old,” he said. “When your own team criticizes you and isn’t sure in you can’t like it, it’s awkward.”

[Panthers take huge risk on Bobrovsky: 7 years, $70M]

The mental grind got to Bob, who posted a .913 save percentage and nine shutouts during the regular season.

“It was [tough mentally], especially at the start of the season. The atmosphere wasn’t really pleasant, there were conflicts inside the locker room, a lot of team meetings, [my] suspension, few other things. But as a professional, I was working hard to stay focused and win every game.”

One incident, in particular, played out in the public sphere.

On Jan. 8, the Blue Jackets lost 4-0 to the Tampa Bay Lightning. Bob was pulled in the third period after allowing four goals on 19 shots. He left the bench and didn’t dress for the team’s next game.

“There are certain expectations and values that we have established for our players that define our culture,” Kekalainen would say via a press release from the team. “An incident occurred in which Sergei failed to meet those expectations and values, so we made the decision that he would not be with the team for tonight’s game. This is an internal matter and we will have no further comment at this time.”

The wide-ranging interview also delved into Bobrovsky’s relationship with Blue Jackets bench boss John Tortorella, one he categorized as up and down.

“Torts has his pluses and minuses,” Bobrovsky said. “He is what he is. Impulsive. Says what he thinks. Does what he thinks is right. There were days when he was complimentary during the regular season, but there were also days when he might criticize during a press conference or in the locker room. I [didn’t always agree] with his opinion and because of that we had multiple [heated] conversations.

“But he has many pluses too. The team started to play better after his arrival. He installed discipline. He demanded the maximum from each player. We started to make the playoffs regularly. He’s also a skilled psychologist and a very strong motivator.”

Now 31, Bobrovsky revealed that he had other offers — good offers — but said Florida was his first option.

“It’s a good young team, solid management, a very good coach just arrived,” he said. “I believe I have a chance to win the Stanley Cup with this team. Plus living conditions, you play a winter sport in the South, with palm trees and ocean around you.”

MORE: Bobrovsky says he came to Florida to win the Stanley Cup

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Tortorella on Blue Jackets’ goalie outlook, post-Bobrovsky future

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The Columbus Blue Jackets are headed toward what might be the most fascinating offseason of any team in the NHL thanks to their trade deadline splurge that saw them send off most of their 2019 draft picks in an effort to load up for a playoff run.

The good news is the additions of Matt Duchene and Ryan Dzingel not only helped the Blue Jackets make the playoffs for the third year in a row (their longest streak in franchise history), but also have their most successful postseason to date, reaching Round 2 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs where they fell in six games to the eventual Eastern Conference champion Boston Bruins. That came after a stunning and emphatic Round 1 sweep of the Presidents’ Trophy winning Tampa Bay Lightning. It gave Blue Jackets fans a taste of success they hadn’t yet experienced and helped raise the bar on a franchise that had consistently been an afterthought.

None of that is a bad thing.

The problem is that along with their own stars, Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky, Duchene and Dzingel are also eligible for unrestricted free agency this summer and there is a very real chance that none of that quartet will return to the team next season. Combine that with the fact the team only has two draft picks in this month’s draft (their own third-round pick, and a seventh-round pick that previously belonged to the Calgary Flames) and, as of now, only five for the 2020 class (if Duchene re-signs with the Blue Jackets, their 2020 first-round pick will also go to the Ottawa Senators as part of a condition attached to that trade) and there is a lot of work for general manager Jarmo Kekalainen.

That means a lot of changes are probably coming for the Blue Jackets.

The biggest of those changes will be in net where Bobrovsky is almost certainly going to be moving on in free agency.

With limited trade resources at their disposal and a thin crop of potential free agents at the position that spot might have to be filled from within, and that is not going to be easy given how important Bobrovsky has been to the Blue Jackets over the past seven years. Poke fun at his playoff resume and worry about the potential issues that would come with signing him to a seven-year contract at his current age all you want, but the reality is he has been one of the league’s best goalies and a two-time Vezina Trophy winner with the team.

It is not going to be easy to just replace that.

The internal option is Joonas Korpisalo, Bobrovsky’s top backup the past four years, while the team also signed 25-year-old Elvis Merzlikins to a one-year, one-way contract this past month.

On Monday, Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella appeared on 97.1 The Fan in Columbus and talked about the team’s offseason, with a special emphasis on the goaltending situation without Bobrovsky and how that might impact the team’s style of play.

“I don’t think Bob’s going to be here,” said Tortorella while appearing on his Hockey and Hounds segment with hosts Anthony Rothman and Bobby Carpenter (you can listen to the full segment here).

“You’re losing a very, very good goaltender. We may have young goaltenders that are going to be taking over that position. I have to start thinking about just a little bit of a change in style of play in order to protect them a little bit to get their feet wet. Korpi has obviously played, but Merzlikins is coming in here, we have couple of other guys coming in here, I’m not sure what it looks like. So we have to start thinking about style of play.”

The only conclusion that can be reached when hearing him talking about protecting inexperienced goalies is a more conservative approach, which might be necessary anyway Panarin and Duchene leave.

He was later asked if Korpisalo can be a No. 1 goalie for the team and after a slight hesitation in his response, expressed some confidence in him.

“I do,” said Tortorella. “I say that in a respectful way, because it’s hard to say if a guy that is kind of spotted in — you know Korpi ran with the ball early in the regular season, and we saw once he was playing a lot of games, we saw his game grow. I have not given him many opportunities to run with it because I simply can’t because I had Bob. He has certainly showed us, like a lot of players at that position, if you have the ball and you run with it and you are playing every other night and you get into a little bit of a roll, you are certainly going to play better. So that’s what we are going to look for with Korpi, we feel it’s in him, he hasn’t really had an opportunity go a couple of months being the No. 1 guy, he’s had a few weeks at certain times. He’s going to get an opportunity, that’s one think as I’ve talked to a few guys coming here, and maybe some guys from last year that didn’t get the ice time they wanted, it’s going to be an open book, you’re going to get an opportunity and you’re going to make the decision on if you play or not.”

The concern with Korpisalo is that his performance the past three years has not been great, even after a promising start to the 2018-19 season.

His save percentage the past two years is only .897, and if you go back to the start of the 2016-17 season it is only .899, a mark that places him 61st out of the 65 goalies that have appeared in at least 40 games since then.

Combine that with Merzlikins, who has zero games of NHL experience, and there is a lot of uncertainty at the position.

It is no wonder that Tortorella is looking at a slight change in the team’s playing style.

Making a trade seems like a major challenge given how depleted the team’s trade chips are after the deadline, while the free agent market after Bobrovsky is, in a word, unappealing. Robin Lehner is the next most significant name out there, but the New York Islanders are probably not going to let him get away.

Even with the likely free agent departures there is still a good bit of talent on this roster. Seth Jones and Zach Werenski are stars on the blue line and there is still going to be some real talent at forward with Cam Atkinson and rapidly improving younger players like Pierre-Luc Dubois and Oliver Bjorkstrand. But the goaltending might end up making or breaking what this team is capable of in 2019-20, and right now the entire position seems like a giant mystery.

(S/T 1st Ohio Battery)

Related: Blue Jackets ink Bobrovsky’s potential successor

Guarantee? Tortorella says Blue Jackets will push Bruins to Game 7

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John Tortorella didn’t use the word “guarantee” in making a confident statement about the Blue Jackets pushing the Bruins to a Game 7 after Boston took a 3-2 series lead in Game 5 on Saturday, but yeah, he pretty much guaranteed it.

An often-exasperated Torts said that he was happy with the overall intensity and efforts of his team, yet Tortorella also called for more game-breaking, stating that “we need more guys being creative and making plays.”

Torts also requested that reporters stopping asking “dumb questions,” and that basically put out The Bat Signal for something interesting to happen. Tortorella didn’t need much prompting to give a near-guarantee …

“Things happen for a reason. I truly believe that,” Tortorella said. “We will be back here for Game 7.”

After a few questions, Tortorella was given a chance to backtrack in explaining that semi-guarantee. Instead, when asked why he thinks Columbus will win Game 6, he said “We will,” and “because we will.” So that’s a doubling down of sorts from Torts.

(You can watch Tortorella’s presser in the video above this post’s headline.)

This Blue Jackets – Bruins Round 2 series hasn’t included the nastiest of quotes, although the key characters have given the crowd what it wants. Brad Marchand stirred the pot, and also was unapologetic about throwing a cheap shot earlier in the series. And now Tortorella is giving us some precious bulletin board material.

The Bruins won Game 5 4-3 after a zany third period, one that featured a stretch that was downright dizzying. If that’s a sign that things are picking up to yet another level, and Torts is game to play along, then we’re in for a treat. In that case, just about everyone other than Bruins fans might hope that Tortorella isn’t just bold with this prediction, but actually correct.

Game 6 airs at 7 p.m. ET on Monday. You can watch Game 6 on NBCSN and stream it here.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Tortorella drives Blue Jackets into showdown with Bruins

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COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — John Tortorella was being battered on social media a month or so ago by doubters who thought his act had gotten stale in Columbus.

The 60-year-old Tortorella, the argument went, was having trouble getting his message across to a team that had loaded up with new talent at the trade deadline but was still stuck in the mud.

Then the Blue Jackets caught fire down the stretch. They won seven of their last eight games to reach the playoffs, swept the mighty Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round and are shipping up to Boston – the city that produced the fiery coach – to start the next series on Thursday night.

Suddenly Tortorella is a genius and master motivator again to the chat room crowd, and strangers are waiting outside the gate at his house to tell him how much he means to the city.

Torts doesn’t care what the keyboard warriors think one way or another or what the people in the stands think. He would rather spend time around homeless animals – he and wife Christine are passionate about dog rescue – than interact with most people. He doesn’t give a spit about social media and has no idea what an emoji is.

”If I ever have to worry about what people think of me, one way or another, that’s a crappy way to live for a coach,” he said. ”So I don’t pay much attention.”

Torts is the same as he ever was.

He may have mellowed in subtle ways over 17 years as an NHL head coach, toned down some of the yelling or loosened up on the rigid discipline, but not that much. He’s still volatile, blunt and demands maximum, body-sacrificing effort. In an interview earlier this season he lamented that players are just too friendly to one another in today’s game.

Not enough hate.

Tortorella’s methods of motivating players take many forms, and anyone who has followed his career or watched him in YouTube videos knows that he’s an old-school shouter .

The latest of his greatest hits came before Game 1 when a camera was recording in the dressing room before his team went out against the top-seeded Lightning.

Tortorella came forth with an impassioned, f-bomb-packed rager that peeled the paint off the walls. A 26-second segment tweeted out by the local Blue Jackets TV affiliate (minus the profanities) quickly became social-media gold. The gist was that Columbus could beat the better team with the proper effort.

”I’ve seen him like that before,” 20-year-old center Pierre Luc-Dubois said, ”but it was a little extra.”

The Blue Jackets were down 3-0 in the first period before rallying to an improbable 4-3 win to set up a stunning four-game sweep of the Lightning .

”I wish the camera was never in there, first of all,” Tortorella said. ”I said what I thought, and I still believe that. It’s such a mindset that you have to have collectively, not worry about how you match up on paper. If we’re going to keep proceeding here and be competitive and maybe win, the mindset and belief have to be that strong.”

Columbus captain Nick Foligno said there is always a method to Tortorella’s mind games.

”I think Torts really enjoys the behavioral side of coaching, trying to get the most out of his athletes mentally,” Foligno said. ”I think he knows physically you’re already going to prepare and do the things necessary, but I think for the most part it’s, ‘How can I push the buttons to get more out of you than you ever thought possible?’ And I think that’s what he’s done with this group.”

On Wednesday, Tortorella wasn’t in the mood to talk about Boston, which beat Columbus two out of three games in the last month of the season.

”Yeah, guys, I’m not going to spend my time talking about the Bruins and all that stuff there,” he said. ”We have a tremendous amount of respect for them, I can tell you that. We’re just going to concentrate on our team.”

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Follow Mitch Stacy on Twitter at https://twitter.com/mitchstacy