As the Columbus Blue Jackets spiral down the standings, general manager Jarmo Kekalainen gave head coach John Tortorella a vote of confidence on Tuesday.
“This coaching staff has gotten us out of slumps before. They’ve done a great job in the past five or six years they’ve been here. They are the ones that are going to get out of this jam as well, with the team that we have,” Kekalainen said.
Columbus is 8-10-5 on the season. Their .457 points percentage puts them second-to-last in the Central Division ahead of Detroit, whom the Blue Jackets host on Tuesday night. Columbus is winless in its last five games (0-4-1) and has one win in its last eight games (1-5-2).
When told of that vote of confidence from his general manager, Tortorella said, “I appreciate that. I just hate him having to do that.”
Tortorella, 62, is in his sixth season with the Blue Jackets, having led them to the playoffs four times. He said over the weekend that he wasn’t concerned about his job security.
“We’re all big boys here. When you’re losing games and you’re playing as poorly as we’re playing, those questions should be asked,” Tortorella said on Tuesday. “I’m not going to coach a team to keep my job. I’m going to coach the team to do the best I can for the team. That will never change.”
Tortorella’s conservative, grinding style of play and his fiery temperament have created a swirl of questions about his future with the franchise. He made headlines this season for benching some high-profile players including center Pierre-Luc Dubois, whom the Blue Jackets traded to the Winnipeg Jets, and Patrik Laine, the player Columbus acquired for Dubois. Kekalainen talked about the Jackets finding ways to make the game fun in order to break out of their losing streak. Can that happen with Tortorella’s style?
“I think he has a great feel for his own coaching style, when he needs to loosen up and when he has to tighten the rope. He knows when he has to back off a bit or get a little closer,” Kekalainen said.
Tortorella said he wouldn’t change the way he manages players.
“Accountability is accountability. It’s a great summertime word. People like to use ‘accountability’ and ‘culture’ during the [offseason] but it needs to be at hand every day when the season starts,” he said. “Don’t confuse accountability with paralyzing players or tightening them up. I feel like as professionals, you have to be held accountable. The coach’s responsibility is how to do it with each individual. Pushing the right button in one instance may be different from one guy to the other. That’s what we have to walk through.”
While there’s been speculation that Tortorella had “lost the room” during this losing skid, Columbus forward Cam Atkinson said the players have “not even the slightest bit” tuned out their coach.
Along with their struggles on the ice, one factor that’s sparked speculation about Tortorella’s future is his contract status. According to multiple reports, he’s in the last year of his deal. Kekalainen said the “unusual circumstances” due to coronavirus pandemic “have impacted contract talks,” and that “we owe him a lot for what he’s done with this franchise. All the other issues will get solved in time.”
But when asked if Tortorella would finish the season as Blue Jackets head coach, Kekalainen noticeably pivoted away from that guarantee.
“What I said is that I have 100% confidence that these [coaches] will get us out of this,” he said.