It would’ve been easy for John Tortorella to sit at the podium post-game and grumble about officiating, offer short non-answers to most questions and then go on his way.
But this is where a lot of folks are wrong about Tortorella, who has been on the job as Blue Jackets head coach since October 2015 – aka, when the club was 0-7 out of the gate and playing with as much confidence as Kylo Ren had while interrogating Rey in The Force Awakens.
Star Wars fans, you get the reference.
Instead, Tortorella gave an insightful and honest assessment of where his team began the season and how it grew over the course of 82 games. This is a club that, by and large, was rejected by all pundits as a possible contender and picked by most to be in the draft lottery conversation for a second straight year.
Sure, the experts were wrong. But in a lot of ways, Tortorella was right about his team and pushed many of the right buttons in a 50-win campaign that will likely earn him the Jack Adams Award as top coach in the league.
He believed that they had potential to contend. He believed they had lost their way early in 2015-16 and, with a little confidence and a few tweaks, they had the makings of a playoff team in what quickly became the toughest division in the business.
Was he pissed off the Blue Jackets bowed out in five games? Of course. But that didn’t stop Tortorella from acknowledging the accomplishments of a team that wasn’t really supposed to have any.
“We’re a good team,” he said. “I’m not going to the young and inexperienced (angle); I’m not going there at all. I thought our guys had no fear. A very good team we played. We put a ton of good minutes in.
“I’m proud of our club, I am. I’m not going to piss and moan about it…they won. We have to lick our wounds and learn. I can’t wait to get going again with them, quite honestly, I’m proud of them.”
For the majority of the season, the Blue Jackets were one of the NHL’s youngest teams – third-youngest, according to QuantHockey.com, at 25.7 years old – and featured rookies and young players in high-profile positions.
Their top two defensemen were 19 and 22 years old. Their No. 1 center was 22 years old, and they were led in goal-scoring by a 27-year-old former sixth-round pick who was named an NHL All-Star for the first time in his career.
It’s okay if there are good and bad feelings. It’s okay to bubble on the result, but Tortorella wants to keep looking ahead with a group he feels is only scratching the surface.
“We played our ass off. That’s not a 4-1 series,” he said.
“We’ve grown. I thought tonight was a perfect example. They ramped it up and surged, but then we came back and played. We didn’t lose ourselves completely, then we went back at them. Give (Pittsburgh) credit – that’s a good hockey club and a well-coached team.”