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Blue Jackets hire Tortorella to replace Richards

by Craig Merz

COLUMBUS -- John Tortorella was named coach of the Columbus Blue Jackets on Wednesday after Todd Richards was fired.

The Blue Jackets are an NHL-worst 0-7-0 after losing 4-0 at home to the New York Islanders on Tuesday.

"We had some bad performances and kept losing," Columbus general manager Jarmo Kekalainen said. "We came to a decision after [the game Tuesday], this can't go any longer without making a change.

"John Tortorella is an experienced National Hockey League coach with a proven track record of success. He is a Stanley Cup winner, and we believe the right person to lead our team at this time."

Tortorella is 446-375-115 in 14 seasons with the Tampa Bay Lightning, New York Rangers and Vancouver Canucks. He won the 2004 Stanley Cup with the Lightning.

The 57-year-old signed a three-year contract. His first game will be Thursday at the Minnesota Wild that starts a stretch of seven of eight on the road.

"It's the third-youngest team (in the NHL)," Tortorella said of the Blue Jackets. "They've got some pieces. It's really exciting because you're going to be teaching, developing kids to be pros."

But he also inherits players who are wondering what went so wrong, so fast. Based off the end of last season, when the Blue Jackets went 15-1-1 with the Stanley Cup Playoffs long out of reach, they were expected to contend this season.

But the opposite happened. The Blue Jackets have been outscored 34-13, including 21-8 at home, and have looked lost and undisciplined much of the time.

Tortorella said he feels the players haven't handled the pressure well.

"I watched this team (last season) play pretty much straight-ahead, quick, hard, and watched them have success," he said. "I saw an identity last year. That's what we want to try and get back to.

"I do think one of the problems right now is the expectations, expectations that weren't there last year as a club. The confidence isn't there. A big part of it is to get these guys feeling good about themselves."

From what Tortorella said when he met with the media Wednesday, he made it sound like he needs to be a psychologist to help the players handle those expectations.

"It's a different type of pressure. It's easy to play when you're probably not going to get in (to the playoffs) and you make a great push," he said. "But when you have a lot of people picking you to be in a pretty good spot in the Eastern Conference, it plays with you.

"You think these athletes are strong and mentally tough and they can handle anything. These are human beings. They lose the confidence. They feel the pressure. They get fragile. It happens to all athletes. It's gotten off track."

Tortorella reiterated that comparing performances this season to the end of the 2014-15 is futile.

"They weren't playing under the expectations, they had all the injuries and no one thought [about them] and they came on with that push the end," he said.

"What we have to get through is learning how to play with expectations now because that's what's there. It's a lot of expectations on a young team. That's part of the game and that's part of growing up to be a pro. We're going to approach it and chip away at it every day."

His first task is getting to know the players.

"It's important to listen," Tortorella said. "I want the players to speak to the staff just to find out where they're at."

His new job came about quickly and was finalized early Wednesday morning. Kekalainen refused to say if there were other candidates.

"I don't want to get into that," he said. "We do our due diligence. We looked at every option out there. … You have to be prepared to make decisions. In-season there aren't that many options."

Because Tortorella was hired in-season and had term remaining on his contract with Vancouver, which fired him after the 2013-14 season, the Canucks will receive a future second-round pick in the NHL Draft from the Blue Jackets.

Tortorella leads American-born coaches with 446 NHL wins and will coach Team USA at the 2016 World Cup of Hockey.

Kekalainen would not say if Richards would have been fired regardless of the outcome against the Islanders.

"I think it's needless to speculate that," he said. "We made the decision last night and that was it."

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