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Tortorella out as Blue Jackets coach after six seasons

Replacement likely to be hired before start of NHL free agent period @NHLdotcom

John Tortorella is out as Columbus Blue Jackets coach after six seasons. No replacement was named.

The Blue Jackets were 18-26-12 this season and tied the Detroit Red Wings for last in the eight-team Discover Central Division. It was the first time Columbus missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs since 2015-16, Tortorella's first season as its coach.

"After discussion and consideration of the future direction of the team, Jarmo [Kekalainen, Blue Jackets general manager] 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."

Kekalainen said Monday the Blue Jackets are not in a rush to hire a coach.

"We're going to make sure that we do our due diligence with all the candidates that we think are worthy of consideration and could be a good fit with us," Kekalainen said. "We're not in a hurry. We've got some ideas already, some people we're going to consider, but we're going to take our time. I don't think we'll be able to wait until (NHL) free agency to get a new coach. That decision will come sooner."

Tortorella was 227-166-54 in the regular season and 13-18 in the playoffs with the Blue Jackets. He has the most regular-season and postseason wins of any coach in Blue Jackets history. His 673 wins in 20 seasons with the Tampa Bay Lightning, New York Rangers, Vancouver Canucks and Blue Jackets are the most by a United States-born coach in NHL history.

"'Torts' demands you play disciplined. He doesn't let anyone cheat," Kekalainen said. "That's basically what I told every player that comes here: If you work and compete you'll be fine with Torts and he'll let you play your skill game and give you a little leeway here and there, but he's going to demand the same work ethic and the same discipline from everybody, and not that's not to be cheated, and that's part of the strong culture that he's helped us build here and that's what's going to be required moving forward as well."

A two-time Jack Adams Award winner voted as NHL coach of the year (2004, 2017), Tortorella coached Tampa Bay to the Stanley Cup in 2004 and Columbus to its 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," 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.

"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 from the Winnipeg Jets on Jan. 23 for forward Pierre-Luc Dubois and a third-round pick in the 2022 NHL Draft. Dubois had been benched for the final two periods of a 3-2 overtime loss to the Lightning on Jan. 21.

"This is a year I think of learning and trying to make yourself better," Tortorella said following the season finale Saturday. "Certainly in my position, where I just don't think I did a good enough job, with the change of personnel, [Dubois] going. 

"We've gone through this a lot in the past few years and we were able to get the room straightened out. I did not do a good enough job in getting that to happen with the new personnel coming in, some distractions early on. We just never felt comfortable with the room as far as being cohesive. That's my responsibility. Great learning experience."

Laine, who scored 21 points (10 goals, 11 assists) in 45 games for the Blue Jackets, was benched for the final 26:19 of a 3-2 win against the Carolina Hurricanes on Feb. 8, his fourth game with Columbus, reportedly because of a verbal exchange with an assistant coach. Laine was also 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 in the third period to cut it to 4-2 and 4-3. 

"There are different ways of delivering that message," Kekalainen said. "Some do it with a little bit louder voice, some do it a little bit softer and there's always players that don't respond as well to the loud voice but respond better to the softer voice and vice versa. So, I don't think that you can ever find a coach that will please every player the same way or the group the same way. 

"I think the coach has to be the leader of the group and set the standard and show us the way and keep the strong values there every day and, I've said this a few times, that was the biggest thing that I liked about John Tortorella, that he will not allow you to cheat, and he will never compromise the standard ever, not for a minute, not for a second and not any day of the week."

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, the 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 a first-round pick in the 2021 NHL Draft from the Maple Leafs and from the Lightning in the trades.

"We fell off the mountain this year," Tortorella said. "We've got to start over. No matter what happened my relationship with those guys, it's never going to change because that's what happens in that type of situation. ...

"There is a lot more work to be done, but we're trying to get it on the right path and create the right culture. For these guys here, being with them was an honor."

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