NHL has no choice but to suspend John Tortorella | Hockey | CBC Sports

Hockey Night in CanadaNHL has no choice but to suspend John Tortorella

Posted: Sunday, January 19, 2014 | 01:09 PM

Back to accessibility links
Referees get in the way of Vancouver Canucks head coach John Tortorella as he screams at the Calgary Flames bench at Rogers Arena in Vancouver, B.C. Saturday, January 18, 2014. (The Canadian Press) Referees get in the way of Vancouver Canucks head coach John Tortorella as he screams at the Calgary Flames bench at Rogers Arena in Vancouver, B.C. Saturday, January 18, 2014. (The Canadian Press)

Beginning of Story Content

Elliotte Friedman says the NHL has to send some kind of message to Vancouver Canucks coach John Tortorella after his locker room confrontation with members of the Calgary Flames.
Some questions before I fly home from Fight Night Saturday in Vancouver:

Will John Tortorella be suspended?


The NHL has no choice.

You can't have team personnel charging into the opponents' dressing room area. In fact, the league owes one of its most fearsome fighters, Brian McGrattan, a huge thank you for preventing an escalation of this conflict. McGrattan kept calm throughout a potentially explosive situation, holding back both Tortorella and Calgary assistant Clint Malarchuk from doing something they'd really regret.

The NHL, which has asked CBC for all video from the hallway camera that captured the event, frowns on coaching/management off-ice confrontations. 

Rule 46.8, "Fighting Off the Playing Surface," specifically deals with this, reading, "Whenever a Coach or other non-playing Club personnel becomes involved in an altercation with an opposing player, Coach or other non-playing Club personnel on or off the ice, shall be automatically suspended from the game, ordered to the dressing room and the matter will be reported to the Commissioner for further disciplinary action." 


Download Flash Player to view this content.

In 1999, Washington GM George McPhee was fined $20,000 and suspended one month for punching then-Chicago coach Lorne Molleken after an exhibition game. McPhee was angry at the Blackhawks for roughing up his team. There is no evidence Tortorella threw any punches, so that harsh a punishment seems unlikely.

But, the NHL has to send some kind of message. You give Tortorella's brethren any reason to think, "Hey, that wasn't a bad idea... let me try it" and you've got more of these coming.
 
Should John Tortorella have started different group?

We'll get to Bob Hartley's role in all this. PJ Stock and I had a good debate about how the Canucks coach responded. PJ felt Tortorella could have put out a skill line against McGrattan and Kevin Westgarth, thereby cooling the temperature. 

During the game, I texted a few coaches and GMs to ask their opinion and a couple executives agreed with PJ's point. So, it's not like he's on an island with this one. 

The reason I took the opposite stance was the coaches polled felt otherwise -- for one reason: Henrik Sedin's injury. An injury, by the way, that prevented Sedin from finishing the game. 

Calgary didn't need this game like Vancouver did. The Canucks have higher expectations and were reeling after a brutal week. A loss at home to the Flames was not acceptable.

If Sedin is healthy, Tortorella can throw another line or centre out there. But, in this situation, he needs Ryan Kesler and Brad Richardson to play. He cannot afford to lose them as secondary fighters or to injury or whatever. PJ said off-air Tortorella could have ordered them not to fight, but, in the heat of the moment, who knows what happens?

In some ways, he's in a no-win situation. He gets criticized for sending out his tough guys, but, if he sends out non-heavyweights, he probably gets ripped for serving them up to a beating.

What exactly was he doing in hallway?


Because he's going in front of the NHLs justice system, it doesn't benefit Tortorella to answer this question now. But, here is one man's theory:

It's been an interesting week for Vancouver. Not only were there three losses by a combined 11-1, but the Canucks had some unusual moments with the referees. Even Keith Olberman noticed Tom Sestito's 27-minute penalty parade in Los Angeles. Then, they were penalized with seven-minute five-on-three at the end of the Anaheim blowout.

Justified or not, that doesn't happen very often. 

I didn't get a chance to talk to anyone about it last night, but there is no doubt Vancouver feels it gets officiated much more harshly since the Alex Burrows/Stephane Auger incident in 2010. I look at it another way: sometimes, I think teams get penalized when they play "differently" than expected.

Basically, every team has its identity and some of them are edgy. Some aren't. The Canucks, right or wrongly, don't have an "edgy" reputation as a group. So, when things happen (like Sestito on Dustin Brown), it stands out. If Sestito played for Detroit, it would look weird, too. 

Anyway, I'm betting your house that Tortorella HATES this... and is going to try and change it. The Canucks are in a kind of transition anyways, with some good young prospects ready to force their way into the lineup as soon as next season.

As new blood finds it way in, he wants a new attitude, a change in the way his team is perceived. Was charging into the Flames' hallway a message to his team as much as it was a message to Calgary?

Shouldn't Bob Hartley be punished, too?


He's not getting suspended. But, you have to think he'll be fined. 

In September, then-Sabres coach Ron Rolston was fined a reported $10,000 for "player selection and team conduct" issues. John Scott was sent on the ice after Corey Tropp was injured in a fight with Toronto's Jamie Devane. Scott immediately went after Phil Kessel and the predictable gong show ensued.

If Rolston was guilty of "player selection" for that, then Hartley certainly is, too. He put on an amazingly innocent performance in his post-game media scrum, but, like Tortorella, he knows he's in trouble with the league and is thinking, "Do I want them to fine me $20,000...or $50,000? I'll take the lower one, thanks."

Last night was Westgarth's 10th game with Calgary and that line combination never started before Saturday. 

Just talking with the players Saturday morning, it is a hugely frustrated group. They are competing hard, but aren't scoring and losses are mounting. Hartley tried to ignite them the old-school way, simple as that.

Also, as some of you helpfully pointed out on Twitter, Hartley and Tortorella have a history. In 2005, with the former coaching Atlanta and the latter in Tampa, they met in Tortorella's office after he ripped Eric Boulton for elbowing Paul Ranger. 

As Tortorella yelled and Hartley stood there ignoring him -- which undoubtedly made the Canucks coach even angrier -- it was pretty obvious they don't give each other friendship bracelets.

Wasn't Brian Burke there?


Why yes. 

Let's make this very clear: Burke is not responsible for this. Hartley and Tortorella are adults responsible for their own actions.

But, let's look at what's going through Hartley's head on Saturday: The team is really trying, but has three wins in 16 games. The guy who hired you is gone and the guy in charge is publicly praising you, but that doesn't really mean a ton.

When he takes over, Burke comes right out and says he doesn't like the way the Flames play, wanting more toughness, for one thing. On Saturday, he ended a lengthy silence by telling The Calgary Sun's Eric Francis he can't sleep because the team is losing. And, he shows up at the game.

It's been kind of a weird dynamic with Burke so far. He hasn't been at a lot of road games, so when Hartley reads that and knows the boss is coming, his mind is working overtime. 

He's done the best possible job with this group and there are only 30 of these spots available. Hartley had to wait longer than he wanted to get this opportunity, so he's going to do whatever it takes to keep it. 

It made for a wild night. One that I won't soon forget, if ever. And one that will have some consequences.

End of Story Content

Back to accessibility links

Story Social Media

End of Story Social Media

Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Submission Policy

Note: The CBC does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comments, you acknowledge that CBC has the right to reproduce, broadcast and publicize those comments or any part thereof in any manner whatsoever. Please note that comments are moderated and published according to our submission guidelines.