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Tortorella’s past, present success has him in line for a big raise

Columbus' John Tortorella is entering a contract year, and after capturing his second Jack Adams and coaching the team to its best record ever, he could become one of the league's highest-paid coaches.

It would be fair to say that when John Tortorella was hired by the Blue Jackets, Columbus was desperate for some coach, any coach, who could turn things around.

At the time, seven games into the 2015-16 campaign, the Blue Jackets were off to one of the worst starts in league history. Columbus had dropped each of its first seven games in regulation, failing to pick up a single point through the first 10 days of the season while being outscored 34-13 in the process. It led to then-coach Todd Richards’ firing, Tortorella's subsequent hiring and the Blue Jackets setting out to reverse course on an abysmal start. And it actually kind of worked. Over the next 75 games, the Tortorella-led Blue Jackets pieced together a 34-33-8 record and, despite missing the playoffs, managed to build some hope that a fresh start in 2016-17 would allow Columbus to return to the post-season for the third time in franchise history. 

We all saw how that turned out this past season. Not only were the Blue Jackets much improved, they were one of the best teams in the league. Led by Vezina Trophy winner and Hart Trophy finalist Sergei Bobrovsky and a deep and talented core of forwards and blueliners, Columbus pieced together the fourth-highest point total, 108 points, and third-best goal differential at plus-54. It was far and away the best season in franchise history — an impressive 15 points better than any campaign prior — and in the midst of it all the Blue Jackets went on an astounding 16-game winning streak.

Unfortunately for Columbus, the post-season didn’t go as planned, losing in five games in the first round to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins, but Tortorella was recognized for his effort behind the bench during the regular season. At the NHL Awards, he was awarded the Jack Adams Trophy as coach of the year for the second time in his career.

And this past season, as well as the second Jack Adams, is going to make things awfully interesting for Tortorella and the Blue Jackets this coming campaign.

When the 2017-18 season is up, so is Tortorella’s contract as Columbus bench boss. That could mean the sometimes-fiery coach is in line to become one of the league’s highest-paid coaches. That would be quite the change for Tortorella, who has been paid $2 million per season since stepping behind the Blue Jackets’ bench. And though that may seem a high price to pay for a coach, it’s actually comparatively low, especially as we’ve entered into a new era for coaching salaries. 

Months before Tortorella went to Columbus, the Toronto Maple Leafs inked coach Mike Babcock to a record eight-year, $50-million contract. That’s $6.25 million per season. In January 2016, coach Joel Quenneville signed a three-year extension with the Chicago Blackhawks, believed to pay him around $6-million per season. And in the year and a half that has passed since Quenneville’s deal, we’ve seen two more coaches start to hit the $4-million-plus mark in salary. In January 2017, New York Rangers bench boss Alain Vigneault signed a deal worth $4 million for 2017-18 and 2018-19, with an increase to $4.25 million in 2019-20. Meanwhile, Claude Julien was scooped up on a deal that pays a reported $5-million per season over the next five campaigns.

It’s not only the big-money deals that serve to pump up Tortorella’s salary, however. It’s also those signed by first-time or relatively inexperienced NHL coaches that will see Tortorella able to command more. According to Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman, four of this summer’s hirings are set to earn roughly half of what Tortorella is earning despite the fact their resumes aren’t nearly as beefy. Rick Tocchet, who is taking over for the Arizona Coyotes, leads the pack at a reported $1.5 million per season, while Bob Boughner (Florida Panthers), Phil Housley (Buffalo Sabres) and Travis Green (Vancouver Canucks) will all earn in the neighborhood of $1 million on their respective contracts.

So, where does that put Tortorella? In speaking with the Columbus Disptach’s Aaron Portzline, Tortorella’s agent Neil Glasberg had an idea. “Who just won coach of the year?” Glasberg told Portzline. “It’s not the first time he’s won the Jack Adams Trophy, either. He’s won a Stanley Cup. The Blue Jackets just had the best season in franchise history, and it’s not even close. Yeah, he should be among the top-paid coaches in the league.”

To become one of the highest-paid bench bosses in the NHL, Tortorella would have to enter that $4-million territory and that seems like a reasonable salary range for him when you consider his credentials. His 530 wins are the 22nd-most in league history, he boasts a .545 points percentage, has the aforementioned Stanley Cup and two Jack Adams, making him one of only six coaches to win the award twice. None of the other bench bosses making $4 million-plus has won coach of the year honors more than once, and Babcock is the lone one without the award.

That said, the four other coaches do outmeasure Tortorella in overall success. Quenneville is second all-time in wins (857), Vigneault (614) and Babcock (596) rank 14th and 16th and Julien narrowly edges out Tortorella in 18th place with 554 wins. In terms of points percentage, though, Julien, Babcock and Quenneville all fall between .605 and .618, while Vigneault ranks fourth of the five coaches at .596. And in the playoffs, each coach has a better winning percentage than Tortorella. Babcock leads the charge at .560, Quenneville is second at .549, Julien is third at .548 while Vigneault’s .489 mark is slightly better than Tortorella’s .468 post-season success rate. Of course, it again bears mention that Tortorella does have a Cup. That counts for something.

But there’s an interesting wrinkle with the Blue Jackets, as pointed out by Portzline. Despite Tortorella earning $2 million, only $750,000 of that is paid by Columbus. The other $1.25-million comes courtesy of the Vancouver Canucks, who fired Tortorella back in 2014. Thus, handing Tortorella a $4-million deal would be to pay him more than four-times more than they’re currently shelling out, not to mention more than double what the franchise has ever paid to a coach. The previous high was $1.5 million, reported Portzline, paid to Ken Hitchcock.

Given Tortorella’s recent success, though, the Blue Jackets might have to pay up to keep their coach in town, and even putting his past accomplishments aside, his recent success might dictate that he’s worthy of inclusion among the league’s highest-paid coaches.

(Coaching salaries via CapFriendly)

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