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After getting benched for the entire third period in the Columbus Blue Jackets’ loss to the Dallas Stars in Tuesday night, there was talk that center Ryan Johansen will be a healthy scratch on Thursday at Arizona.
So this is going to go one of two ways for Johansen – who had 71 points in 82 games last season – and the Blue Jackets: He takes it personally, has no time for John Tortorella’s antics, and demands out; or this tough love eventually leads to Johansen becoming a better player or, at the very least, one that Tortorella can stomach.
The latter option is, frankly, the more likely one.
Johansen needs to work on several aspects of his game. He can make lazy passes. His turnovers can be egregious and costly. He needs to be better in his own end, as this tourism-masquerading-as-defense in an overtime loss to the Los Angeles Kings shows us:
But the “tough love” scenario is also the most likely because Tortorella is practiced in the art of butting heads with young offensive stars, not backing down and getting results.
Two words: Vincent Lecavalier.
He was stripped of his Tampa Bay Lightning captaincy for being “too young” in 2001-02, Tortorella’s first full season as head coach. As punishment for a training camp holdout, Lecavalier was benched in his first game of that season. Lecavalier later made a trade demand; it didn't happen.
The tough love would continue. In Dec. 2003, he benched Lecavalier in the third period of a 1-1 tie (remember those?) against the Boston Bruins. Vinny was, like Johansen is, 23 years old. Vinny was, like Johansen is, coming off the best offensive season of his young career, with 33 goals and 45 assists in 80 games. And he was benched, for his defensive lapses.
There was shock and awe about it. If Twitter was around, there would have been the same fantasy-trade scenarios we’re seeing for Ry-Jo.
But you know what? Lecavalier will tell you that while he and Torts aren’t exactly exchanging holiday cards, that tough love made him a better player and made him a better leader.
In Johansen’s case, Tortorella has been clear with what he’s looking for since he took the Blue Jackets’ gig. From NHL.com, Torts said:
“It's the little things you do as you're trying to become a pro, because Joey has a lot to learn as far as what it is to be a pro. I say that and that shouldn't surprise anybody because he's still a fairly young man in this game. The points are great. That's great. But I don't judge him on the points. I watch his game and we're going through a teaching process. We're trying to get the right type of foundation on what it is to be a pro and what's the definition of competing, what's the definition of hardness, what is the definition of engagement. It's all those things. He's right in the middle of it with us."
"Well, Joey is a little older right now and has been in the League a little longer, but I went through a process with Vinny Lecavalier out in Tampa. I think it's very similar, although Joey is a little bit older. It's my job to make sure that not only him, but everybody is accountable in all these different areas.”
And just like Jay Feaster had Torts' back in Tampa, Blue Jackets management supports him with Johansen.
There’s no question that going hard on players like Lecavalier and Johansen has undercurrents of grandstanding for Tortorella. It’s a message to the rest of the roster that no matter how big your profile, contract or point total is, you’re as accountable as the guy on the fourth line.
That’s the ancillary benefit. The primary one is getting your best young players to mature into leaders in every aspect, and Lecavalier has said you’re either on board with Tortorella’s methods or you’re not.
"Everybody knows how Torts is, and after a few years you get to understand it a little more. But he's very demanding on young players, and I don't think everybody takes him the same way, which is normal. Everybody reacts differently to different situations. Some guys don't react well to that."
How Johansen reacts to it will say a lot about where he is as an NHL player ... and where in the NHL he’ll play.
Hey, anyone can get traded. Even guys with Blue Jackets themed basketball courts.
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