John Tortorella is not a temporary fix for the Columbus Blue Jackets. The team didn’t hire the coach just for a push this season.
When team management opted to replace former coach Todd Richards with Tortorella, who was fired two offseasons ago by the Vancouver Canucks, they were tying themselves to Tortorella for the long-term.
“If there was somebody available at the time who we felt was going to be the person to come in and try to straighten this thing out immediately, John was our guy,” president of hockey operations John Davidson said in a phone interview with Puck Daddy. “You can go the other route and put an internal coach in there, and if it works it works, you saw that work in Ottawa last year. Or if it doesn’t work you have all season or the summer to see which coaches are available to make the change. But our feeling was that with John he’s an exceptional coach. He’s had success. He’s had success at teaching, he’s had success at driving people and making them better, so that’s where we are.”
The decision to hire Tortorella one week ago came after much deliberation by Davidson, team assistant general manager Bill Zito and general manager Jarmo Kekalainen.
Shortly before they made the choice to call hire Tortorella, the three sat in Davidson’s home for 11 hours, from morning into the evening, deliberating what went wrong with the team and how to fix it.
Columbus came into the season as an under-the-radar Stanley Cup pick. It had a young first-line center in Ryan Johansen, a new power winger in Brandon Saad, a former Vezina Trophy winner in goal with Sergei Bobrovsky along with some solid puck-moving defensemen.
But the team started the year 0-8-0, the worst start in the NHL since the 1943-44 New York Rangers.
“I’ve never seen, in all my years, see something go south so quickly,” Davidson said.
Before the Blue Jackets decided to hire Tortorella, Davidson said there was a vetting process of the coach, who sometimes comes across as 'over-the-top' with his fiery personality.
“We did some research with various players that played for him and the feedback was remarkable for what the players thought of him regarding his coaching and how he helped them with their careers,” Davidson said. “Some didn’t realize it at first but certainly realized it after. Some realized it right away. Very, very, very little negative response from anybody.”
Davidson and Tortorella go far back – to when Tortorella was an assistant coach with the New York Rangers in 1999-2000 and Davidson was a team broadcaster. Because of this, Davidson has a unique perspective on Tortorella. He knew Tortorella before the coach became a big name in the hockey world by winning the 2004 Stanley Cup. He also understands a coach’s relationship with reporters, which hasn’t been a strong suit of Tortorella’s.
“I think there’s the perception of John when you see him on television when he’s having a disagreement in the hallway with Bob Hartley. That’s something he wishes he wouldn’t have done, but it’s not him, it’s not the way he coaches,” Davidson said. “He has had some issues with media, but to me that’s part of the package for sure because it’s part of your responsibilities. But regarding the actual job of coaching I don’t hear too much negative at all.”
If anything, the two have at least one common interest – dogs.
Both love the creatures.
“He and I are in the same boat, we both have rescue dogs,” Davidson said.
What are the expectations of the Blue Jackets with Tortorella as coach? Can they make a run? It’s way too early to bring that up to Davidson. The Blue Jackets are just five points out of a Wild Card spot. That’s not exactly insurmountable with 72 games left. The team is 2-1-0 with Tortorella as coach.
“Sometimes it can go south very quickly and to get it back north again is a much tougher process and we’re in the middle of that right now,” Davidson said. “You have one foot in the grave. You have to get that foot out of the grave quick.”
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