If Columbus Blue Jackets head coach John Tortorella isn’t happy about something, he’ll let you know… and he’ll probably use some flowery language to get his points across.
That’s what happened Sunday when Torts popped off at Pittsburgh Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford and defenceman Jack Johnson who signed a five-year deal with the Pens after more than six seasons in Columbus.
“I’ve really been wanting to be a part of a winning culture, in a place where the expectations to win are as high as can be, and there’s a chance to win,” Johnson told reporters in Pittsburgh Sunday afternoon.
That comment rubbed Tortorella the wrong way since it suggests Columbus doesn’t have a winning culture or high expectations.
Johnson struggled in 2017-18 tying a career low in points with 11 in 77 games while averaging a career low 19:33 of ice time per game. He was scratched throughout the playoffs and Rutherford suggested it wasn’t because of his performance on the ice.
“I don’t think he had a bad year,” Rutherford said. “He was a healthy scratch at the end of the season. I know the reason why. It wasn’t because of how he was playing.”
Tortorella really didn’t appreciate what Rutherford had to say and he let his feelings be known in a fiery interview with Blue Jackets beat reporter Aaron Portzline of The Athletic.
“We wish him the best. But for him to put it the way he put it today is [expletive],” Tortorella said. “And to have a general manager question our decision-making from three hours away, he must be a [expletive] magician.”
Johnson’s personal and financial issues have played out in the public eye for years and Tortorella said the organization both sympathizes with what Johnson went through and has “bent over backwards” to help him out.
“That’s what pisses me off,” Tortorella said. “He doesn’t have enough [expletive] to call me back, because I’ve tried to get in touch with him. You don’t [expletive] on an organization that’s done nothing but try to help you. We all know Jack has had some problems along the way here; it’s very well-chronicled. All we’ve done is try to [expletive] help him.
“I love the [expletive] guy. I’ve had him on the Olympic team. I get him on the World Cup team. I love the guy. But for him to do this is ridiculous. He has got to start pointing the finger at himself, not other people. If I’m a [former] teammate of his and I play against him next year … my gosh.”
Johnson later clarified he didn’t intend to take a shot at the Blue Jackets.
“When I first came to Columbus, I was looking forward to helping create a winning culture, help build it,” Johnson told Portzline. “I’ve had a wonderful time in Columbus. I met my wife there, started a family there, nothing but great friends and relationships there. I believe they have a winning culture there. All I meant was, I’m excited to be part of Pittsburgh’s winning culture. It came down to me making a hockey decision. I have no animosity and nothing bad to say, and I didn’t mean any parting shots whatsoever.”
Back to Rutherford, though. The GM’s comments really riled Tortorella up.
“The thing that pisses me off the most is a general manager in this league questioning and talking about our decision-making,” Tortorella added. “Shut the [expletive] up! Jack and I had an open, honest conversation all through this. Jack and I have known one another forever, and I love the guy. There’s no agenda here. You think [scratching Johnson was] an easy decision for me, after what Jack Johnson has been in this league and what he is?
“But that can’t get in my way as far as making the right decisions for this hockey club, and that’s all we do, so Rutherford should shut the [expletive] up. … I don’t want to go to name-calling, ‘cause I know Jimmy. He’s a good man. They’re both good people. But what the [expletive] are they doing? Get on with your business! I hope [Johnson] plays his ass off for ’em, but stay the [expletive] out of our business when you don’t know what’s going on.”
The first time the Blue Jackets and Penguins meet next season is on Nov. 24 in Pittsburgh.
Save the date.