John Tortorella is getting suspended. That seems certain.
What’s compelling to watch here is whether the NHL gives coaching counterpart Bob Hartley any sort of rap on the knuckles for his role in Saturday’s festivities at Rogers Arena. In case you somehow missed it, the Vancouver Canucks’ 3-2 shoot-out win featured a line brawl off the opening face-off and Tortorella’s first-intermission bid to run a gauntlet of Calgary Flames players to get at Hartley inside their dressing room.
If he could do it again, Tortorella should have opted for the old Trojan Horse treatment, getting assistant coach Mike Sullivan to sneak him inside a phoney gift box and then drop it off at the door to the Flames’ room.
That’s at least as plausible as Hartley starting a tough guy forward line and then essentially shrugging his shoulders and giving it a ‘Who knew?’ when asked about what transpired.
Kevin Westgarth, Blair Jones and Brian McGrattan have four points and 142 penalty minutes this season in 67 games combined. That opening face-off was the third draw Westgarth’s taken in his 10-game campaign. Yet Hartley, with the straightest of faces, was saying afterwards, “Those guys are playing well for us. They got us a goal last game. Obviously, we’re not scoring many goals. We had absolutely zero intentions there.”
As the home team, the Canucks got to look at Calgary’s line-up and plot their first five skaters accordingly. Tortorella could have turned to his No. 1 forward unit of Henrik and Daniel Sedin and Alex Burrows and told them to avoid confrontation, or turtle at the very worst and let the referees sort it out.
That might have worked. For argument’s sake, though, let’s say that McGrattan tries to engage Daniel Sedin and messes up Sedin’s shoulder before relenting and skating away. Tortorella is out of a job this morning with that scenario.
You can point to hockey’s “code,” and the fact that tough guys aren’t supposed to go after skill guys, but that didn’t seem to apply when Buffalo Sabres enforcer John Scott did his best to rough up Toronto Maple Leafs sniper Phil Kessel off a face-off in a preseason game in September.
Then Buffalo coach Ron Rolston was fined an undisclosed amount for “player selection and team conduct,” according to the league. Like Hartley, Rolston was the visiting coach that night. That incident, mind you, took place in the third period, so it doesn’t have the same blatant statement that Hartley’s opening line-up decision takes on.
He’s culpable. Not as much as Tortorella, but guilty nonetheless.
Tortorella’s biggest boosters can sell that he was supporting his players, but even they have trouble arguing he wasn’t over the top in going to brink of the Flames’ dressing room. There were rumours on Twitter immediately afterwards Saturday about a meeting coming with NHL brass for Tortorella as soon as Monday. A league official told The Province on Sunday there’s nothing scheduled yet, but, rest assured, it’s coming.
For comparison, in April, 1999, Montreal Canadiens winger Shayne Corson was suspended for five games for trying to get after Vancouver defenceman Ed Jovanovski in the Canucks’ dressing room at Rogers Arena. Jovanovski allegedly said something about a Corson family member.
And in September, 1999, Washington Capitals general manager George McPhee was suspended for a month and fined $20,000 for punching Chicago Blackhawks coach Lorne Molleken after an exhibition game. McPhee was upset that Chicago had used a tough guy line-up against his team.
Try to find those incidents on YouTube. You can’t do it. There are already assorted versions of Tortorella’s foray into Flame territory for you to view. It will be the background footage for every TV editorial about what’s rotten with hockey for the next few months.
The NHL won’t appreciate that.
Hartley and Tortorella do have history. In October, 2005, then Atlanta Thrashers coach Hartley visited the office of then Tampa Bay Lightning coach Tortorella after a testy game which featured Atlanta tough guy Eric Boulton injuring Tampa Bay defenceman Paul Ranger with a cheap shot elbow in the waning stages of a 6-0 Lightning win.
Asked that night what was said between them, Tortorella told reporters: “None of your business.”
Tortorella also has history with these type of games. He hasn’t been above starting a road contest with his tough guys. With the New York Rangers, he did just that for a December, 2011 contest against the New Jersey Devils. One fight happened off the draw. Three months later, in March, 2012, the Devils, behind coach Peter DeBoer, returned the favour and three bouts took place at the puck drop.
And we can’t neglect to mention that Brian Burke, the former Canuck GM, is in power in Calgary, as president of hockey operations. You think Hartley was looking to show off a little truculence against Burke’s old team?
Vancouver plays Calgary next on March 8 at home. There won’t be any shortage of storylines that week.