Tortorella, Tocchet not returning to NHL benches in Columbus, Arizona

John Tortorella and Rick Tocchet will not return to the Columbus Blue Jackets and Arizona Coyotes next season, with the respective NHL teams agreeing to part ways with the head coaches.

Tortorella, whose contract is set to expire at the end of this season, would like to continue coaching in the league, The Athletic reported.

His decision to leave the Blue Jackets followed a conversation about the direction of the team with general manager Jarmo Kekalainen.

“It has been a privilege to work with the players, coaches and hockey operations staff, which is one of the best in the league,” Tortorella said in a statement released by the team.

“My family and I have loved living and working in the area. We have made life-long friends here, so we do feel considerable sadness, which is to be expected, when something so meaningful comes to an end.  This is a great hockey community.”

The Coyotes announcement came one day after the Tocchet-led club missed the playoffs for the seventh time in eight seasons. On Sunday, GM Bill Armstrong said “it is time for a new direction and new leadership.”

The 62-year-old Tortorella is the Blue Jackets’ winningest coach with a 227-166-54 record in five-plus seasons. Tortorella’s 673 victories across 20 seasons rank 12th in NHL history.

WATCH | Tortorella’s expletive-laden January 2020 news conference:

In an expletive-laden post-match press conference, Columbus Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella ripped into NHL officials for refusing to add time to the clock before Zach Werenski’s potential game-winner was waved off because time had expired. 0:58

The Boston native guided Columbus to four consecutive Stanley Cup playoff appearances from 2016 to 2020 and was a finalist for the Jack Adams Award as NHL coach of the year in 2017 and 2020. He won in 2017 after the Blue Jackets posted 108 points with a franchise-best 50-24-8 record.

“Torts and I have had numerous conversations throughout the season, and we have agreed that the time is right for both he and the 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.”

Blue Jackets assistant coaches Brad Shaw and Brad Larsen also are on expiring contracts, according to The Athletic, which added they could each be interviewed for the head-coaching job.

Goaltending coach Manny Legace is under contract for next season.

Tocchet parting ‘very difficult’

The Coyotes reached the post-season last year when the format was rejiggered due to the coronavirus pandemic and beat Nashville in four games before losing to Colorado in five.

“After meeting with Rick, we have agreed that a coaching change is in the best interest of the club,” Armstrong said in a statement. “This was a very difficult decision. … Rick is a very good coach and an incredible person, and we sincerely appreciate all his hard work and dedication to the Coyotes the past four years.”

Arizona was in playoff position heading into the final month of this season, holding the fourth spot in the West Division before losing 12 of 15 games to get eliminated. The Coyotes closed a 24-26-6 season with a pair of wins over San Jose to finish three points behind St. Louis for the West’s final playoff spot.

“It’s been an honour to coach the Coyotes the past four seasons,” Tocchet said. “I have great respect and admiration for all the players I coached in Arizona, along with my coaching staff, the medical staff, the equipment managers, the PR staff and the team services staff. They are the best in the NHL, and I appreciate all their help and hard work.”

The 57-year-old Tocchet was hired in 2017 to guide a middling team that hadn’t been to the playoffs since the 2012 Western Conference final. Arizona was hit hard by injuries during Tocchet’s tenure, particularly by goalies Darcy Kuemper and Antti Raanta, and repeatedly came up just short of the playoffs.

The Coyotes made playoff pushes in Tocchet’s first two seasons and got into the post-season last year when the NHL expanded the field in the pandemic “bubble” environment.

Tocchet, who played 18 NHL seasons and previously coached at Tampa Bay, went 125-131-34 at Arizona.

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