John Tortorella will not return as coach of the Columbus Blue Jackets, a source told ESPN on Saturday night.
There had been heavy speculation in recent weeks that Tortorella’s six-season tenure with the Blue Jackets would come to an end. He doesn’t have a contract for next season and Columbus finished in last place in the Central Division with an 18-26-12 record (.429 points percentage).
“It was awful. I’m not even sure if we won two games in a row. I know we didn’t win three in a row,” Tortorella said. “This one was a kick in the teeth for me. I struggle with it.”
Tortorella, whose Blue Jackets outlasted the Red Wings 5-4 in overtime on Saturday night, finished with a record of 227-166-54 with the Blue Jackets, his fourth NHL team. They qualified for the playoffs in four of his six seasons, failing to advance past the first round each time except for 2019, when Columbus swept top-seeded Tampa Bay in an opening-round shocker.
When asked on Saturday by ESPN if he’d like to return as Blue Jackets coach next season, Tortorella was noncommittal.
“I’ll put it to you this way: I think the discussion that [Columbus general manager Jarmo Kekalainen] and I are having … people talk about a shelf life. I don’t think there’s a shelf life for a coach. But what I believe in is whether it’s the right fit between the coach and the players. I think that’s the most important thing,” Tortorella said. “And that’s something Jarmo and I have discussed very honestly. I get it. Am I the right fit? These are the things we’ve talked about.”
The regular-season finale in Columbus, Ohio, had the feel of a farewell for Tortorella. Fans chanted his name during the game. And the coach made the unusual move of having all of the Blue Jackets coaches — including video coach Dan Singleton — work the game from behind the bench.
Veteran winger Cam Atkinson, who played for Tortorella during the coach’s entire tenure in Columbus, talked about how much he appreciated his time with him. “It’s been six years together. Learned a lot from him. Definitely grown, not just as a hockey player, but as a person,” he said. “That’s all you want as a player. A coach that trusts you.”
As usual, Tortorella’s season in Columbus had its controversies with the players. His high-profile benching of center Pierre-Luc Dubois preceded the Jackets’ trading him to Winnipeg for star winger Patrik Laine, whom Tortorella also subsequently benched. But Tortorella said he remains bonded with many of the players on the roster.
“The players in there, I grew up with them,” he said. “I started at a very old age with this team, but I still grew with those guys. It’s been an honor to coach them.”
Tortorella has also coached the Lightning, Rangers and Canucks.
The Athletic was first to report the end of his tenure in Columbus.