It's Inevitable: John Tortorella Is Coaching His Final 20 Games With The Columbus Blue Jackets; We Should Appreciate It

By Ed Francis on March 29, 2021 at 1:45 pm
John Tortorella is in his sixth season as the Columbus Blue Jackets bench boss, and it's almost certainly his last.
Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

John Tortorella is an excellent coach.

The proof is in the pudding, which is an idiom for stating that his work speaks for itself. His career coaching record is well above the .500 mark, he's finished with more wins than losses in all four of his head coaching jobs (even in Vancouver, where it was widely labeled a failure), he's won the Jack Adams Award multiple times (once with Columbus), and coached the Tampa Bay Lightning to a Stanley Cup in the 2003-04 season.

But even the best pudding leaves the refrigerator eventually, and the expiration date for Torts' run as Columbus' bench boss will come Saturday, May 8th, in Nationwide Arena. 

The 5th Line has been a vocal group on the internet; most clamoring for his immediate exit. 

That's not going to happen - yet. 

Tortorella will finish out the season. Replacing a coach this late in the season is rare; while Buffalo and Calgary have made changes behind the bench this month, the Sabres are historically awful and the Flames made the change more than three weeks ago, when the season hadn't yet reached the halfway point for Calgary. 

But let's play this out and say they do dump Tortorella. Who are they going to replace him with? They won't go outside of the organization this late in the year, so that leaves Brad Shaw and Brad Larsen as your potential season-finishing coaches. Larsen's job has been called for more than even Tortorella's, which leaves Brad Shaw as the only potential coaching option. He's been with Torts' in all five of his full seasons in Columbus, so it doesn't seem to be a change worth making with little to nothing left on the line. 

Even more than the limited options (option), the reality that some refuse to accept is that Tortorella will finish out the season because he has earned the right to do that. After stepping in early during the 2015-16 season following the dismissal of formal Columbus coach Todd Richards, Tortorella turned a group that started the season with seven regulation losses into a team that ended the season with points in more games than not. For the now 62-year-old coach, the season ended with more wins than regulation losses. 

Since then, the Blue Jackets have made the playoffs in every year; only three teams have longer active streaks. The high point, of course, was the historical 2019 sweep of the Tampa Bay Lightning. 

This year will likely mark the end of the postseason streak, but it does not take away from the fact that Tortorella put Columbus hockey on the map, and brought respect to a franchise that didn't have much of it before his arrival.

These things may seem hard to appreciate in the thick of a season-long struggle, but it does not make them any less true. Has he lost the team this year? It's possible, to some extent, but at some point, the coach can only do so much. The on-ice effort has to come from the players. 

As our own Dan Dukart pointed out in a separate piece, key players have been widely absent for most, if not all, of the season, particularly on defense. It's easy to blame the coach, but it's the same coach that has gotten the most from these players year after year, so why would they stop now? Coaches can coach execution, but players are ultimately responsible for execution. They are, after all, professional athletes. This is a flawed team, and Tortorella is far from a perfect coach. He's said as much, many times over. But he can't coach players who aren't playing with passion, and at some point, that falls on the players.

Speaking of passion, few coaches have more than Tortorella, who would always go to bat for his team - even if it meant a hefty fine a threat of even more for being a vocal supporter of his players.

It is possible, even likely, that this team will be better in the 2021-22 season. Players will come and go, there will (hopefully) be a level of normalcy that we're all still trying to get back, and a new head coach is going to bring a change in philosophy that will likely align with the roster as it is currently (or will be) construed. 

And when that happens, it will be assumed that John Tortorella was the sole problem with the 2020-21 Columbus Blue Jackets. 

Just don't forget the half decade in which he was the solution.

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