When you think of John Tortorella, the first thing that comes to mind is probably a fiery exchange in New York with Rangers reporter Larry Brooks, or perhaps it’s a vision of him storming to the Calgary Flames dressing room door when he was head coach of the Vancouver Canucks.
Either way, you get the point: Most people will associate Tortorella as an angry coach.
But something has changed this season in Columbus.
“John Tortorella was asked by Columbus management at the start of the season to calm down a little bit because we’ve all seen his outbursts for many years,” Kelly Hrudey said on Hockey Night in Canada. “And he hasn’t calmed down because they’re having a winning season. If you look at his time in Tampa and with the New York Rangers, also really successful teams, but he still had those outbursts at the end of the game.
“More so they wanted him to have a lot more patience with the young players, you think of a guy like Zach Werenski a guy that’s really skilled, but he’s a young defenceman, he’s going to make some mistakes so allow that to happen.
“He’s really embraced it, he’s really enjoyed it. He came back from the World Cup I’m told really relaxed and ready to go.”
Indeed, Tortorella has been getting some great performances out of some of his youngest players. Werenski, a power play quarterback, is already getting a lot of Calder Trophy buzz in a very strong rookie class. Alexander Wennberg, 21, has 25 points in 28 games after scoring 40 points as a sophomore last season. Brandon Saad, 23, has 23 points in 28 games.
One thing Tortorella has changed for the Blue Jackets this season is doing away with morning skates. In an interview with NHL.com, Tortorella talked about allowing players to play and not over-coaching them.
“(Players) get on the ice and they can’t think straight because there’s so much information,” Tortorella told Tim Campbell. “I think that’s one of the biggest adjustments all coaches are making now, including me, is to let them play. Give them a foundation but let them play and get out of their way.
“But if it’s the same mistake and it is constant and if it’s something you can control through laziness and just not the will to play, that’s part of my job to lean on them that way. It’s ever-changing. We’re just trying to go about our business.”
The Tape To Tape Podcast discuss the change of John Tortorella
The Blue Jackets are currently riding an eight-game winning streak and find themselves just two points out of top spot in the Eastern Conference. Tortorella also spoke about how he was “graced” about being able to have the coaches he had with him on the Team USA bench during the World Cup, which included Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan, Predators assistant Phil Housley and Flyers AHL coach (Lehigh Valley) Scott Gordon. All of those teams are high-event squads who put a ton of shots on net and score a pile of goals as well.
It’s no coincidence then that the Jackets average the third-most goals per game in the NHL (3.32) and the eighth-most shots (31.0).
Tortorella is famous for once saying, as coach of the Tampa Bay Lightning, that “safe is death” so perhaps it shouldn’t be a surprise that he’s changed his style to adapt to a more up-tempo NHL game where shots and scoring chances are valued more than ever before. If he played it safe, and continued to coach the same way he has before, it would certainly be death in the changing NHL landscape.
“I still am who I am. I’m not going to change that,” he told NHL.com. “But I also understand and learn from some youthful guys that bring a whole different demeanour and thoughts into coaching.”