Vancouver Canucks Coach John Tortorella was suspended 15 days by the NHL, including six games, without pay on Monday for an altercation near the Calgary Flames’ dressing room during Saturday night’s game. Calgary coach Bob Hartley, whose goon-tastic lineup to start the game sparked a brawl and enraged Tortorella, was fined $25,000 for his part as the catalyst.
What did we learn from all of this malarkey? Here are six lessons from the John Tortorella affair:
1. Don’t Get Caught On Camera
What’s the one common rejoinder in Brendan Shanahan’s suspension explanations?
“As the video shows …”
Face it: Had CBC’s cameras not caught Tortorella going after the Flames coaches, this is probably a hefty fine and that’s that. But there was video evidence, and video evidence that was shown on national television and quickly spread throughout the world via YouTube. It wasn’t just “did you hear what Tortorella did?” but rather “did you SEE what Tortorella did?”
It’s the second time this has happened to Torts, both resulting in suspensions. The first time was that water bottle incident with a fan in Washington in 2009; TV cameras didn’t catch him squirting a fan, but other video footage which subsequently leaked did. Hence, Tortorella was banned for a game.
We believe it was the great Bobby Heenan who once said: “Cheating is only cheating when you get caught.”
2. The NHL Is Seriously Sick Of Your Goon Lineups
The NHL has slowly tried to keep coaches from putting goon lineups out to instigate brawls.
Expanding the instigator rule to punish fighters in the last five minutes of a game was the first step. Fining Ron Rolston for “player selection” after putting John Scott on the ice to engage any Toronto Maple Leaf in an altercation upped the ante. Fining Bob Hartley for putting out his fourth line to antagonize Tortorella is the next step.
“We are holding Mr. Hartley responsible for the actions of Flames' right wing Kevin Westgarth, who took the game's opening face-off and attempted to instigate a premeditated fight with an unwilling opponent -- the Canucks' Kevin Bieksa,” wrote Colin Campbell.
Translation: If you’re putting someone out there to start a brawl and a brawl happens against an unwilling opponent, prepare to pay up.
3. Kevin Bieska Is The New Patrice Bergeron
Did you see how cleanly he won that draw?
Granted it was against Kevin Westgarth, whose faceoff strategy appeared to be: “1. Stand there; 2. Puck Drops; 3. Who Cares? 4. Get Punchy.”
But Bieksa totally schooled him.
Alas, his win made the official stat sheet but he’s not listed among the Canucks’ faceoff men. Anti-Defensemen bias we say!
4. Tortorella And Hartley Sorta Hate Each Other
Who knew one of the NHL’s greatest coaching feuds was Tortorella and Hartley?
Hartley has made his share of enemies over the years, as a coach known for using the muscle on his roster to antagonize or head-hunt opponents. He and Tortorella were coaching in the AHL when Torts accused Hartley of “goon tactics” and Hartley did the same, accusing one of Tortorella’s players of a “barbaric act” during an Oct. 1995 game.
In 2005, Tortorella and Hartley had a meeting in the coaches’ office over a head-hunting incident involving Eric Boulton of Hartley’s Atlanta Thrashers late in a game against Tortorella’s Lightning. “The ... guy should be playing in the ... East Coast Hockey League, but instead he takes out a ... NHLer,” said Tortorella of Boulton, profanities filling in the ellipses.
As Scott Nichol, former NHLer and a witness to the Tortorella/Hartley feud in 1995, said: "They know how to push each other's buttons pretty well.”
5. Going After The Opposing Coaches In A Hallway > Claiming A Game Was Fixed
When Tortorella inferred that the referees in the 2012 Winter Classic had conspired with the NHL and NBC to send the game into overtime, he was fined $30,000, later claiming the remarks were made sarcastically.
(Which they were. Sorta. But he was making a larger point about the officiating in the game being terrible, which would have likely earned a fine anyway.)
For attempting to confront Bob Hartley in the dressing room after the first period on Saturday night, Tortorella’s financial hit is likely between $75,000-$80,000 according to estimates from Elliotte Friedman and others.
Luckily, Tortorella never openly talked about signing the Dwight Howard, which will run you $150,000 in the NBA.
6. Finally, You CAN Poke The Bear
If nothing else, this moment reinforced Tortorella’s reputation as a hothead whose temper and ego are always going to get in the way of his god-given ability to coach a hockey team.
Hartley provoked him like Peter DeBoer provoked him during Tortorella’s days with the Rangers. He’s got giant, obvious buttons to push.
This doesn’t make him a bad coach, but it does make him one whose impulse control problems can sometimes be to the detriment of his team. And that’s why Mike Sullivan is coaching the Canucks for the next six games.