COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — John Tortorella hoisted a Stanley Cup in Tampa Bay and led the New York Rangers to the verge of a championship berth.
At woebegone Columbus, the Blue Jackets have a more modest goal for the veteran coach: Win a game.
Tortorella is back coaching in the NHL after the Blue Jackets fired Todd Richards on Wednesday with the team off to an 0-7 start.
Tortorella, who won the Stanley Cup with the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2004, has been out of hockey since the Canucks fired him in May 2014 after one season in Vancouver. He takes over for Richards, who had been with the Blue Jackets since 2012 and led them to only their second NHL playoff appearance in 2013-14, when they lost to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the opening round.
“One of the problems right now is expectations,” Tortorella said. “Expectations that weren’t there last year with this club.”
Columbus is just the sixth NHL team to open with seven consecutive losses after a 4-0 defeat against the New York Islanders on Tuesday night. It’s the Blue Jackets’ worst start in franchise history, and their longest losing streak since dropping seven straight in regulation from Nov. 11-25, 2005.
That’s not the type of start that was expected from a team that restocked its roster this summer after closing last season on 16-2-1 run.
“We’re not responding the right way,” general manager Jarmo Kekalainen said. “By no means does this let anyone off the hook.”
Tortorella signed a three-year contract and will make his debut Thursday when Columbus visits Minnesota. The Blue Jackets play seven of their next eight games on the road. Tortorella said he wanted to learn as much as he could about his struggling team.
“I need to listen,” he said. “I want the players to speak to the staff just to find out where they’re at.”
With a 446-375-115 record over 14 seasons, the 57-year-old Tortorella is the NHL’s winningest U.S.-born coach. Tortorella coached Tampa Bay for seven seasons — compiling a mark of 239-222-36-38 and earning the Jack Adams Award as NHL coach of the year in the championship 2003-04 season.
“John Tortorella is an experienced National Hockey League coach with a proven track record of success,” Kekalainen said. “He is a Stanley Cup winner, and we believe the right person to lead our team at this time.”
Tortorella is suddenly in demand after his year off.
Last month, he was hired by USA Hockey to coach the American team competing in the NHL’s World Cup of Hockey tournament next year.
Tortorella acknowledged spending the past year soul-searching to determine what he might have done differently in Vancouver. It was a season in which a second-half collapse led to the Canucks missing the playoffs three years after reaching the Stanley Cup final.
“I have searched and looked at situations of what I could’ve done a better job there, and I do have some answers with that,” he said. “So sure, I think you become a better coach when you dig deep.”
Richards finished with a 127-112-21 record with the Blue Jackets.
They have scored just 13 goals and have allowed an NHL-worst 34. Veteran goalie Sergei Bobrovsky is struggling with a 5.07 goals-against average and an 83.5 save percentage.
“We’re going to spend time on how we play,” Tortorella said. “It’s about us, not so much what’s going on with other teams.”