Blue Jackets fire Todd Richards, hire John Tortorella
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) John Tortorella hoisted a Stanley Cup in Tampa Bay and led the New York Rangers to the verge of a championship berth.
At woebegone Columbus, the Blue Jackets have a more modest goal for the veteran coach: Win a game.
Tortorella is back coaching in the NHL after the Blue Jackets fired Todd Richards on Wednesday with the team off to an 0-7-0 start.
”He’s proven he’s a good coach,” said center Brandon Dubinsky, who played for Tortorella with the Rangers from 2008-12. ”He’s going to help our group. Unfortunately, it’s going to be at the expense of a great person and a great coach (but) we got another one. We’ve got to step up for him.”
Tortorella, who won the Stanley Cup with the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2004, has been out of hockey since the Canucks fired him in May 2014 after one season in Vancouver. He takes over for Richards, who had been with the Blue Jackets since 2012 and led them to only their second NHL playoff appearance in 2013-14, when they lost to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the opening round.
”One of the problems right now is expectations,” Tortorella said. ”Expectations that weren’t there last year with this club.”
Columbus is just the sixth NHL team to open with seven consecutive losses after a 4-0 defeat against the New York Islanders on Tuesday night. It’s the Blue Jackets’ worst start in franchise history, and their longest losing streak since dropping seven straight in regulation from Nov. 11-25, 2005.
”It was a tough start,” right wing Jared Boll said. ”Everything kept snowballing and losses kept piling up. It’s still only seven games. We’ve got a lot of hockey. We can’t hang our heads and feel sorry for ourselves and make excuses.”
That’s not the type of start that was expected from a team that restocked its roster this summer after closing last season on 16-2-1 run.
”We’re not responding the right way,” general manager Jarmo Kekalainen said. ”By no means does this let anyone off the hook.”
Tortorella signed a three-year contract and will make his debut Thursday when Columbus visits Minnesota. The Blue Jackets play seven of their next eight games on the road. Tortorella said he wanted to learn as much as he could about his struggling team.
”I need to listen,” he said. ”I want the players to speak to the staff just to find out where they’re at.”
With a 446-375-115 record over 14 seasons, the 57-year-old Tortorella is the NHL’s winningest U.S.-born coach. Tortorella coached Tampa Bay for seven seasons – compiling a mark of 239-222-36-38 and earning the Jack Adams Award as NHL coach of the year in the championship 2003-04 season.
Dubinsky, who butted heads with Tortorella at times in New York, said he now appreciates how the coach elevated his game.
”He got things out of me I didn’t know I had,” Dubinsky said. ”He’s helped my career and I anticipate he’s going to help me career and help a lot of guys here, especially with the amount of young guys we have here.”
For his part, Tortorella said Dubinsky was the first player he talked to when he arrived at Nationwide Arena on Wednesday.
”I need to lean on him,” Tortorella said. ”He’s part of that heartbeat of the club. He needs to be a conduit between the players and the coaching staff until I get to know the other guys.”
Tortorella is suddenly in demand after his year off.
Last month, he was hired by USA Hockey to coach the American team competing in the NHL’s World Cup of Hockey tournament next year.
Tortorella acknowledged spending the past year soul-searching to determine what he might have done differently in Vancouver. It was a season in which a second-half collapse led to the Canucks missing the playoffs three years after reaching the Stanley Cup final.
”I have searched and looked at situations of what I could’ve done a better job there, and I do have some answers with that,” he said. ”So sure, I think you become a better coach when you dig deep.”
Richards finished with a 127-112-21 record with the Blue Jackets.
They have scored just 13 goals and have allowed an NHL-worst 34. Veteran goalie Sergei Bobrovsky is struggling with a 5.07 goals-against average and an 83.5 save percentage.
”You look at our record and you knew something would happen if we kept going down this road and we kept going down this road,” captain Nick Foligno said.
Buffalo Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said he believes Columbus will win plenty of games this season and noted how quickly some teams make a change if they start poorly.
”The beginning of the year is a very critical time when you talk about a week later you could be .500,” he said. ”Peter Laviolette’s a good coach, clearly a good coach. He’s gone on to Nashville and done really good things there. And he lost the first three games and they made a change (in Philadelphia two years ago). It’s not what I would call fair. But it happens at the beginning of the season in hockey.”
AP Sports Writer Dan Gelston and AP Hockey Writer John Wawrow contributed to this report.