Oh, if only we could climb inside the head of Brandon Dubinsky on Wednesday morning, as news breaks that his Columbus Blue Jackets have fired head coach Todd Richards and hired John Tortorella, who coached Dubinsky with the New York Rangers.
The same Tortorella whose relationship with Dubinsky “fell apart” in New York. The same Tortorella that Dubinsky felt had crumbling relationships with other players, which necessitated his firing from the Rangers.
What is he telling his teammates today? What are they asking him?
Then again, that was the old Torts; this is the new Torts!
The one who learned humility and even some semblance of decorum – well, save for trying to assault an opposing coach near the locker rooms – after he lasted one season with the Vancouver Canucks. The man hired by GM Dean Lombardi to coach Team USA in the World Cup of Hockey, precisely because he acknowledged past mistakes.
So maybe that new lease on life transfers over to his relationship with players like Dubinsky.
Or maybe Dubinsky is playing for the Kings by next week. Who can say, really?
“After much deliberation and discussion, we have made the very difficult decision late last night to remove Todd Richards as our head coach and we’ve reached an agreement with John Tortorella to join the Columbus Blue Jackets in that capacity,” said GM Jarmo Kekalainen via a statement.
“None of us saw our season unfolding the way it has and every one of us from management to coaches to players bears responsibility. There is still a lot of hockey to be played and we believe this change was necessary to give our team the best chance to accomplish the goals we’ve set for this season.”
It's a three-year deal, according to the team.
Why Tortorella in Columbus? Well, to state the obvious: Todd Richards had to go, despite being the team's franchise leader in wins and winning percentage. He was 127-112-21 after taking over for Scott Arniel in the 2011-12 season, and led the CBJ to the postseason for only their second time.
The Blue Jackets dropped to 0-7-0 this season with a 4-0 defeat to the New York Islanders on home ice last night, and a west coast trip was looming.
They were bad. Real bad (Michael Jackson). According to Adam Gretz, the Columbus Blue Jackets’ minus-21 goal differential was the fourth-worst mark in NHL history after seven games, and the worst since the 1985-86 Detroit Red Wings. Curtis McElhinney, who took the loss last night, has a .891 save percentage; Sergei Bobrovsky, the franchise goalie, has a .835.
The fact is that the Blue Jackets no longer know who they are, or how to execute the style of hockey that’s become synonymous with them under Richards. GM Jarmo Kekalainen essentially said their fundamentals have eroded under a coach whose calling card was keeping it simple, playing blue-collar hockey and paying attention to the little things.
It’s fascinating, then, that Tortorella’s the call.
Sure, team president John Davidson is an unabashed fan. But Torts preaches essentially the same sermon as Richards, only with more blocked shots and at a higher volume.
Usually, you see teams fire a coach and then hire his opposite, in style or temperament. Not here. Hiring Tortorella is an indication that the Blue Jackets think that style of hockey can win with this roster, and that perhaps the style he played with the Rangers – from the crease out, blocking shots, close to the vest – is the only thing that can reverse their fortunes.
It’s a huge wager. Tortorella had a reported $6 million left on his deal with the Canucks entering this season, although Vancouver is apparently picking up some salary. The compensation going back to the Canucks is a second-round pick, which is very steep. Some felt the Jackets wouldn’t ante up to hire him. But ante they have, for a 57-year-old coach that was 444-371-115 with Tampa Bay, the Rangers and Vancouver, winning the 2004 Stanley Cup with the the Lightning.
If it’s a lack of fundamentals that’s plaguing the Blue Jackets, Tortorella will hammer them into their skulls. If it’s a lack of intensity or urgency, introducing Tortorella to your bench can be like dropping an M-80 into your gas tank.
If it’s a lack of personality or identity that has the Blue Jackets off to this early season stumble … well, they just hired the hockey embodiment of both, for better or worse.
Let the healing (and the screaming) begin.
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