After losing their seventh game in a row to begin the season, something had to give in Columbus. Following a 4-0 loss to the Islanders at home, talk was rampant that they would replace their coach. The ax fell this morning on Todd Richards. John Tortorella is returning to coach the Blue Jackets.
Expected to make the playoffs with the off-season deal for Brandon Saad, the Jackets have performed miserably. A stunning home loss to the Rangers in their home opener was a ominous sign. The Blueshirts shellacked them in the MSG rematch. Since, all they’ve done is lose and get outscored 34-13.
Tortorella takes over a team whose confidence has been shaken. Starting goalie Sergei Bobrovsky has over a 5.00 goals-against-average. That’s a former Vezina winner. The Jackets lack of team defense has been a sore spot. The blueline isn’t strong. Jack Johnson and Fedor Tyutin anchor it. David Savard and Ryan Murray are part of the top four.
The Jackets boast talent up front. Saad is tied with Boone Jenner for the team lead with three goals. Ryan Johansen has a goal and team best six points. Cam Atkinson has only one goal and was a healthy scratch last night. That was a red flag.
New captain Nick Foligno and Brandon Dubinsky are team leaders. It’ll be interesting to see how Dubinsky reacts to being reunited with Tortorella. In ’11-12, he went from the top line to the checking line as Tortorella guided the Rangers to the East’s best record and the franchise’s first trip back to the Eastern Conference Final since ’97. How will the two coexist in Columbus?
For Tortorella, who is now 57, it’s one more chance to get behind an NHL bench. Considering how badly he did in his one year with the Canucks, I wondered if he’d ever get another opportunity. Since he was still under contract to Vancouver, Columbus worked out compensation. The Canucks will receive a second round pick.
Many pundits have already critiqued the move. Here’s my short reply. When Tortorella was here, he taught the Rangers to become a better team. The principles of a strong team defense and great goalie were the foundation. He developed key pieces such as Ryan McDonagh, Derek Stepan, Dan Girardi, Marc Staal and ex-Blueshirts Dubinsky, Ryan Callahan and Artem Anisimov. Brian Boyle and Brandon Prust owe him their careers. He believed in them.
Under Tortorella, Henrik Lundqvist won a Vezina. Even Chris Kreider said he learned under him. Considering his continued inconsistency, he isn’t yet a finished product even under Alain Vigneault. When asked about the prospect of playing for Tortorella at next year’s World Cup Of Hockey, Kreider said he’d love to.
The real question with Tortorella is has he learned anything after being a year away from the NHL. He isn’t perfect. No one is. As evidenced by his mishandling of Brad Richards and wild challenge to Flames coach Bob Hartley following a brawl with it spilling into the locker room. Of course, Torts press conferences are always a treat. He should be paid by the word. Poor reporters.
So can he turn around a team that on paper doesn’t have enough defense? That remains to be seen. He certainly can make them tougher to play against. It should be interesting.