How long until John Tortorella is back behind an NHL bench?
It’s no secret that John Tortorella’s tenure in Vancouver was a disaster, but here’s one story you may not have heard.
Tortorella never actually lived in Vancouver. Instead, he lived in nearby Point Roberts, which is across the American border, but only about a 45-minute drive from Rogers Arena on a good day. For practice days (which were so rare the players complained) Tortorella would drive in for a brief appearance, and then head home, leaving his assistants to handle everything else.
Mike Gillis got so frustrated with his quick turnarounds that the team eventually built a bed into Tortorella’s office so he could take naps there instead of driving home. You can watch Willie Desjardins react with bemusement to the fold-out bed in this video of the Canucks showing their new coach into his office.
But despite Tortorella’s one-and-done turn in Vancouver, which is destined for infamy and seems like a pretty logical endpoint to his NHL head coaching career, former GM Jay Feaster is confident that Tortorella’s not done.
“I think time heals all wounds,” he said in an exclusive interview with the Fischler Report:
I believe that John will get back. General managers in the league know he’s a good coach, and you take the good with the bad. Part of what makes him a good coach is that he does not have the political correctness gene. He is not worried about what you or me or what anybody else thinks about him – he’s going to do what he thinks is right. I think some time away, so time to decompress, I think that’ll be good for him.
I don’t have any doubt that at some point in time, a team is going to be struggling and a team is going to need some discipline, some structure, and a general manager is going to say, “This is a guy that can provide it.”
Feaster’s probably right. It won’t be too long before some team decides they need discipline, and then makes the puzzling leap that the famously difficult Tortorella is the man to provide it.
It will be insane, especially when you consider a story Feaster told just prior to vouching for Tortorella, about one of the legendary run-ins between Torts and Larry Brooks of the New York Post.
After a heated game versus the Devils, Feaster was worried Tortorella would blow up if he went out for his postgame presser before calming down:
We were literally nose to nose in each other’s faces. I was between he and the door. He said, “Jay, I’m telling you, I’m fine.” We go back and forth with this song and dance, so off he goes to do the media. It wasn’t three minutes later that somebody came walking by and said, “Guess what your head coach just told [NY Post reporter] Larry Brooks to do on live television?” Of course he dropped another F-bomb and he came back in and I looked at him and I said, “I thought you were fine!” He hanged his head and looked at me and said, “Did I put you in a bad spot?” If I had a dollar for every time I heard him say, “Did I put you in a bad spot?” We had a lot of fun together.
“Did I put you in a bad spot?” is the new “Did I do that?” One assumes he also said this to Mike Gillis after trying to punch his way through the Calgary Flames’ hallway like that one scene in Oldboy.
And yet, Tortorella’s next opportunity — to be a paragon of discipline, ironically enough — will undoubtedly come. I can hardly fathom it. Back in March, I asked aloud if we were living in the end times of Tortorella’s coaching career:
If John Tortorella is let go after this season, he may never coach in the NHL again. There were few that wanted him last season before the Canucks surprised everyone and decided to take a chance, and they were burned for it. Who else is going to look at what’s happened here in Vancouver, and how clearly at fault the coach has been for much of it — how out of control he was that night in the hallway versus Calgary, how badly he mismanaged his goalies at the Winter Classic, how thoroughly he destroyed the Sedinery that made Vancouver so special, how, by the end of one season, nothing worked, and he looked completely out of ideas — and say, ‘he’s our guy’?
Nobody is, I suggested, foolishly, but Feaster’s words are a reminder that I wasn’t being nearly cynical enough about the NHL’s front-office recycling program.
Still, as crazy as it seems to me, I’m looking forward to Tortorella’s return. Hockey needs personalities like him — guys who can’t help but be themselves, regardless of how difficult that is.
And let me tell you, it is difficult. In the interview, Feaster tells of players coming to his office to complain about Tortorella’s in-your-face approach.
“The guy would come in and say, ‘He hates me.’ I would always tell him, ‘Don’t flatter yourself, he hates all of us.'”