“We had some bad performances and kept losing,” general manager Jarmo Kekalainen said. “We came to a decision after [the game Tuesday], this can’t go any longer without making a change. John Tortorella is an experienced National Hockey League coach with a proven track record of success. He is a Stanley Cup winner, and we believe the right person to lead our team at this time.”
Tortorella was most recently fired by the Vancouver Canucks after the 2013-2014 season, which wound up a failed experiment for both parties. The Blue Jackets have signed Torts to a three year contract, which is effectively the same term remaining on his deal in Vancouver. The Canucks were still paying him $2 million a season and will still be on the hook for some of the new deal with Columbus, which is why they’ll receive a second round draft pick for any of the next three draft years.
“It’s the third-youngest team (in the NHL),” Tortorella said of his new digs. “They’ve got some pieces. It’s really exciting because you’re going to be teaching, developing kids to be pros.”
The Blue Jackets’ slow start comes on the heels of a terrific finish to 2014-2015, where they went 16-2-1 to close out the season. Now, they’re the only NHL team without a point this season and just one of three teams since the league’s 1967 expansion to open a season with seven regulation losses. Ouch.
Expectations were high for Columbus, what with the addition of Brandon Saad up front. The former Chicago Blackhawk was put on a line with Nick Foligno and Ryan Johansen and saw some tremendous preseason success, piling up 29 points in just four games ahead of the regular season.
But it was not to be, at least not yet. Goalie Sergei Bobrovsky admitted to having “no confidence” after allowing 23 goals in five starts. And Columbus has allowed 18 goals in the third period alone.
So Tortorella, the winningest American-born coach in NHL history, will have his work cut out for him. He’ll go on to coach Team USA at the 2016 World Cup of Hockey, too, but Columbus is at the top of his list and he’s got a lot to figure out.
This is a team in crisis and Kekalainen is placing his bet on one of the most combustible coaches in league history. Perhaps this hiring is designed to shake up the market in Columbus, to get teams and players to stand up and take notice. Perhaps that will work and the Jackets will start piling up some wins. Or perhaps it will break down even further. Whatever happens, we’ll be watching.