John Tortorella will not return as coach of the Columbus Blue Jackets. Lynne Sladkey/Associated Press

COLUMBUS, Ohio — John Tortorella is out as coach of the Columbus Blue Jackets after six seasons.

General Manager Jarmo Kekalainen said in a statement Sunday that parting ways with the winningest coach in franchise history was a mutual decision.

The 62-year-old Tortorella, a former UMaine player, was in the last year of his contract, and the separation wasn’t a surprise after a tumultuous season that saw the Blue Jackets plunge to last place in their division amid the coach’s admitted failure to influence the team culture.

“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 a day after the Blue Jackets concluded the season with a 5-4 overtime win against Detroit. “He is a great coach and his accomplishments with our club over the past six seasons speak for themselves.”

The Blue Jackets went 227-166-54 under Tortorella, including a franchise-best 50-24-8 finish in 2016-17. But the wheels fell off during a terrible 2020-21 season (18-26-12).

The late-starting 56-game season began with the refusal of Pierre-Luc Dubois, one of the team’s brightest stars who often clashed with Tortorella, to sign a long-term contract. He was promptly traded to Winnipeg for forward Patrik Laine, who didn’t perform to expectations.

The Blue Jackets were unable to win consistently but managed to stay within striking distance of a playoff spot in the Central Division until late March when the losses began piling up.

Tortorella, known for his fiery temper and demanding, no-nonsense coaching style, acknowledged at times that he didn’t like the effort and culture of the team and was trying to reshape it during the season.

“We’ve gone through this a lot in the past few years and we were able to get the room straightened out,” Tortorella said after Saturday night’s game. “I did not do a good enough job in getting that to happen with the new personnel coming in, some distractions early on. We just never felt comfortable with the room as far as being cohesive. That’s my responsibility. Great learning experience.”

Tortorella clashed with his share of players. He says he treated all of them the same and wasn’t afraid to bench his stars if they deserved it. But players by and large respect him, especially the ones who gave the maximum effort and work ethic he demanded.

“He holds everybody accountable,” said forward Oliver Bjorkstrand, who developed into the team’s top scorer during Tortorella’s tenure. “It’s a process for a lot of guys, and it takes some time to learn. There’s times when he yells at you and puts pressure on you to play better and so on, but when you look back on it, it definitely helps you.”

COYOTES: Arizona and Coach Rick Tocchet mutually agreed to part ways after four seasons.

The announcement comes a day after the Coyotes missed the playoffs for the seventh time in eight seasons.

“After meeting with Rick, we have agreed that a coaching change is in the best interest of the club,” General Manager Bill Armstrong said in a statement. “This was a very difficult decision, but we believe that it is time for a new direction and new leadership. 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.”

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

Arizona was in playoff position heading into the final month of the 2020-21 season, holding the fourth spot in the West Division before losing 12 of 15 games. 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 honor 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.”

SUNDAY’S GAMES

BLACKHAWKS 4, STARS 2: Alex DeBrincat scored two more goals, Kevin Lankinen made 37 saves and Chicago welcomed fans back to the United Center with a victory over Dallas.

Chicago hosted a crowd of 3,820 for its first home game with fans in almost 14 months. It was the last U.S.-based NHL team to open its doors to the public during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Two of the biggest cheers of the night were for DeBrincat, who extended his goal-scoring streak to six in a row. He scored on a power play in the first period and then helped close it out when he made it 4-2 with his 31st of the season with 3:12 left.

FLAMES 6, SENATORS 1: Johnny Gaudreau and Matthew Tkachuk each had a goal and two assists as Calgary won at home to preserve its slim playoff hopes.

The Flames moved eight points behind Montreal for the fourth and final playoff spot in the North Division. To make the postseason, Calgary needs to win its remaining four games against the division-worst Canucks, and the Canadiens need to lose their remaining two games against Edmonton in regulation.


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