Top Shelf: Meltdown earns Tortorella a sabbatical

Philadelphia, PA ( - A great deal had been written about how John Tortorella seemed to mellow a bit since he moved from New York to Vancouver.

In retrospect, it seems the fiery head coach hasn't really changed all that much.

Tortorella was handed a well-deserved 15-day suspension by the NHL on Monday, stemming from his actions in Saturday's fight-filled game between his Vancouver Canucks and the Calgary Flames.

To recap, Tortorella took offense to Flames head coach Bob Hartley's decision to start the game with his fourth line and the Canucks bench boss answered by putting his toughest guys to match Hartley's perceived aggression. The result was a line brawl just two seconds into the game and by the time the game was 4 1/2 minutes old, the teams had already combined for 150 penalty minutes.

It's unlikely the sin of matching grinder for grinder alone would have resulted in a suspension for Tortorella, but his actions between the first and second periods ensured his ban.

Tortorella had tried to engage Hartley in a shouting match in the immediate aftermath of the line brawl, but the Calgary coach didn't seem all that interested in responding. Not to be deterred, Torts tried to get into the Flames locker room to confront Hartley during the first intermission, but was prevented from reaching the threshold by a host of Calgary players, who were led by hulking forward Brian McGrattan.

Even though Tortorella had a right to be angry about Hartley's choice in a starting lineup, the Canucks head coach obviously went way overboard in dealing with it. For his part, Tortorella has not shied away from talking about his decision to start fighters to combat Calgary's fourth line. He felt like he had no choice but to protect his best players and didn't think playing his top line was an option in this situation.

"I see the starting lineup and I know the other guy across the bench. It's easy for people to say put the Sedins out there and it's deflated," Tortorella said. "I can't put our players at risk that way. With the lineup he had, I am not going to put those type of players at risk, and that's what ensues.

"I'm not proud of it. I have apologized to every one of the players involved in it. I don't feel great about it at all."

While Tortorella was forthcoming about what happened in the opening minutes of the contest, he refused to speak on the circumstances that led him to try to challenge Hartley in between periods. If you think Tortorella will eventually break down and apologize for the incident, then you probably haven't paid much attention to the passionate American coach's career up to now.

Although the league doesn't reveal how much money Tortorella will lose during his 15-day banishment - a span that will include six games with Canucks assistant Mike Sullivan behind the bench - the NHL did have some harsh words for Vancouver's head coach. NHL senior executive vice president of hockey operations Colin Campbell called Tortorella's actions "both dangerous and an embarrassment to the league."

Tortorella is not allowed to have any contact with his club during his suspension, which is retroactive to Jan. 19. The forced ban will last until Feb. 2 or less than a week before the league goes on a break for the 2014 Winter Olympics.

Although the coach's meltdown was not a shining moment for either him or the Canucks franchise, it does seem like the timing of it isn't the worst thing for Vancouver. After all, the Canucks' win over Calgary on Saturday - a 3-2 shootout decision - was only the second for the club in its last 10 games.

Perhaps, Tortorella needs a break to figure things out and his players could benefit from a change in leadership, if only for a few weeks. It seems unlikely the club could play any worse under Sullivan that it had been in the games leading up to the suspension, a stretch that included a humiliating 9-1 loss in Anaheim on Jan. 15.

Maybe the mandated coaching switch will have a positive effect on the club, as perhaps it gets closer together to try to work through a difficult situation.

As for Tortorella, nobody expects him to return from his layoff singing "Hare Krishna," but the time away could help re-energize him after a rough couple of weeks.

Tortorella leaves with Vancouver holding onto one of the last two playoff spots in the Western Conference. It's true the next few weeks could make or break the club's postseason chances, but it's more likely the Canucks will still be in the mix when Tortorella's sabbatical reaches its end.

Either way, it's hard to argue against the NHL's decision to send Tortorella away for a few weeks. But just like the coach's move from the East Coast to the laid-back West, the suspension will likely do little to change his demeanor.