John Tortorella is out as Columbus Blue Jackets coach after six seasons. No replacement was named.
The Blue Jackets went 18-26-12 and tied the Detroit Red Wings for last in the eight-team Discover Central Division, missing the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2016.
“After discussion and consideration of the future direction of the team, Jarmo and I have come to a mutual agreement to part ways,” Tortorella said. “I’d like to thank the Columbus Blue Jackets organization for the opportunity to coach this team and live in the great Columbus-area. It has been a privilege to work with the players, coaches and hockey operations staff, which is one of the best in the League. Also, I want to thank the CBJ fans and the community for the support they’ve given the team and for the work of the CBJ family in support of the community.”
Tortorella was 227-166-54 in the regular season and 13-18 in the playoffs coaching the Blue Jackets. His 673 wins in 20 seasons with the Tampa Bay Lightning, New York Rangers, Vancouver Canucks and Blue Jackets are most among United States-born coaches in NHL history.
The two-time Jack Adams Award winner (2004, 2017), voted as NHL coach of the year, guided the Lightning to the 2004 Stanley Cup and the Blue Jackets to their first postseason series victory, against the 62-win Lightning in 2019, when they became the first team to sweep the Presidents’ Trophy winners in a best-of-7 series.
“‘Torts’ and I have had numerous conversations throughout the season, and we have agreed that the time is right for both he and club to go our separate ways,” Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen said. “He is a great coach and his accomplishments with our club over the past six seasons speak for themselves. He has played an integral role in our success since his arrival, and we are extremely grateful for his passion and commitment to the Blue Jackets and our city. He was the right coach at the right time and helped us establish a standard that we will carry forward.”
Tortorella was given a public vote of confidence by Kekalainen on March 2, when his coaching style specifically was addressed.
“I think he has a great feel for even his own coaching style, when he needs to loosen up and when he needs to tighten the rope,” Kekalainen said. “I work with him every day and we talk about those things every day, so he knows that sometimes he has to back off a bit and sometimes he needs to get a little closer. I do think that always has to start with the players in between [the ears].”
The Blue Jackets acquired forwards Patrik Laine and Jack Roslovic in a trade with the Winnipeg Jets on Jan. 23 for forward Pierre-Luc Dubois and a third-round pick in the 2022 NHL Draft, but were 14-23-9 since Laine made his Columbus debut Feb. 2.
Dubois had been benched the final 56 minutes of a game Jan. 21. Laine scored 21 points (10 goals, 11 assists) in 45 games for the Blue Jackets. He was benched for the final 6:34 of the third period and the 2:48 of overtime in a 5-4 loss to the Florida Panthers on March 11, when he was on the ice when the Panthers scored to rally from down 4-1 in the third to make it 4-2 and then 4-3. He also sat for the final 26:19 of a 3-2 win against the Carolina Hurricanes on Feb. 8, reportedly because of a verbal exchange with an assistant coach, his fourth game with the Blue Jackets.
“You guys think I don’t [want to] play ‘Patty’?” Tortorella said at the time. “I mean, I [want to] play him. But I still have to make calls as far as how the players are playing at that particular time.
“There’s no free passes because you’re notably the top gun. I don’t look at it that way. I look at what’s happening right now as far as in those minutes in the hockey game and go that way. [Do I] make mistakes? Absolutely. But I’m certainly [going to] go with my stomach as far as what I feel is best at that particular time for the hockey club.”
The Blue Jackets lost forward Boone Jenner for the season because of a broken finger sustained April 6, and top-pair defenseman Zach Werenski because of a sports hernia sustained April 8.
Defenseman David Savard was traded to the Lightning as part of a three-team deal with the Red Wings on April 10, and forward Nick Foligno, Columbus’ captain, was traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs on April 11 as part of a three-team deal that included the San Jose Sharks. The Blue Jackets received first-round picks in the 2021 NHL Draft from the Maple Leafs and the Lightning in the trades.
“You’ve got to try and learn from some of these things that happened, I think, as a coach, as a player, as an organization, as a manager, all the way through,” Tortorella said April 24. “I think everybody has to look at what happened here and learn from it. … That’s the greatest lessons you can take out of it.”
Laine can be a restricted free agent. Blue Jackets forward Mikhail Grigorenko, and defensemen Mikko Lehtonen and Michael Del Zotto, are pending unrestricted free agents.