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Gordo on the NHL: Coaching carousel sends Tortorella, Tocchet sailing to curb

Gordo on the NHL: Coaching carousel sends Tortorella, Tocchet sailing to curb


While the NHL regular season grinds on with make-up games this week, change is already afoot for some also-rans.

Coach John Tortorella exited the Columbus Blue Jackets after draining the life out of that squad. Also, the Arizona Coyotes moved on from coach Rick Tocchet.

New York Rangers coach David Quinn could be in peril with owner James Dolan ordering a shift from rebuilding to contending.

So the coaching carousel is gaining speed.

Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen’s refusal to jettison Tortorella earlier either came out of stubborn pride or his desire to rack up losses to improve draft position.

Tortorella ran off cornerstone center Pierre-Luc Dubois and alienated Patrik Laine, the talented by enigmatic winger who came from Winnipeg in the Dubois swap.

"I'll put it to you this way: People talk about a shelf life, I don't think there's a shelf life for a coach," Tortorella said shortly before getting fired. "But what I believe in is it the right fit. I think the fit of the players and personnel, I think that's the most important thing.”

He lost that fit this season.

"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.”

Tortorella departs after six years with the expiration of his contract. Will the Blue Jackets hire another fiery taskmaster or find a coach with a softer touch this time around?

"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 hard-driving Tocchet did heroic work with that undermanned Coyotes for the last four years. But general manager Bill Armstrong, the former Blues assistant GM, is giving the hockey operation a total makeover.

Perhaps the next step for the Desert Dogs is a descent into full tank-and-rebuild mode.

Don’t be surprised if Armstrong takes a look at Blues assistant coaches Mike Van Ryn and Steve Ott. Van Ryn worked for the Coyotes before the Blues hired him and Ott is one of the sport’s up-and-coming head coaching candidates. Armstrong knows both men well.


Buffalo Sabres star Jack Eichel came out of hiding Monday as the team dd exit interviews. He stopped short of demanding a trade from that god-awful franchise, but he sent very strong signals while discussing his estranged relationship with the franchise.

“I have a lot of thinking to do in this offseason,” Eichel said. “I think that there's a lot that I have to consider. But for now, obviously, I'm here.”

And . . .

“Listen, my No. 1 interest in Jack Eichel,” he told reporters. “You gotta look after yourself. You gotta look after what’s best for yourself. The organization has a similar job to do, which is to look out for what’s best for the Buffalo Sabres. It’s tough.

And . . .

“I’m only going to play hockey for long. I’m 24 years old. Hopefully I have many years in this amazing game left. But I have to take care of myself. It’s been tough at times, but I’ll come out of the other side of this.”

The New York Rangers have an army of elite prospects to offer up in a trade for Eichel, so expect lots of speculation on that front this summer. Jack is under contract until 2026 in Buffalo, but this situation is becoming untenable.


Sabres defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen also sent out trade-for-me flares to the rest of the NHL Monday. He gave GM Kevyn Adams the green light to shop him around.

“I'm open for all the ideas," Ristolainen said. “Right now, it's hard. Obviously the season just ended, so, yeah, I'm frustrated and I'm [mad] and it [stinks]. So I told him I'm open for all the scenarios: staying, or if he trades me, I'm fine with that, too.”

Former Blues, Blue Jackets and Rangers president John Davidson may not get another chance to run a team, but his firing in New York could lead him back to TV work. He was an elite analyst before coming to St. Louis at the behest of Dave Checketts.


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Jeff Gordon is an online sports columnist for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

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