John Tortorella won't be back as coach of Columbus Blue Jackets

John Tortorella will not return as coach of the Columbus Blue Jackets, the team announced Sunday.

There had been heavy speculation in recent weeks that Tortorella's six-season tenure with the Blue Jackets would come to an end. He didn't have a contract for next season and Columbus finished in last place in the Central Division with an 18-26-12 record (.429 points percentage).

"Torts and I have had numerous conversations throughout the season, and we have agreed that the time is right for both he and club to go our separate ways," Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen said in a statement announcing the news. "He is a great coach and his accomplishments with our club over the past six seasons speak for themselves. He has played an integral role in our success since his arrival, and we are extremely grateful for his passion and commitment to the Blue Jackets and our city. He was the right coach at the right time and helped us establish a standard that we will carry forward."

Tortorella, whose Blue Jackets outlasted the Red Wings 5-4 in overtime on Saturday night, finished with a record of 227-166-54 with the Blue Jackets, his fourth NHL team. They qualified for the playoffs in four of his six seasons, failing to advance past the first round each time except for 2019, when Columbus swept top-seeded Tampa Bay in an opening-round shocker.

"After discussion and consideration of the future direction of the team, Jarmo and I have come to a mutual agreement to part ways," Tortorella said in the statement. "I'd like to thank the Columbus Blue Jackets organization for the opportunity to coach this team and live in the great Columbus-area. It has been a privilege to work with the players, coaches and hockey operations staff, which is one of the best in the League. Also, I want to thank the CBJ fans and the community for the support they've given the team and for the work of the CBJ family in support of the community."

The regular-season finale in Columbus, Ohio, had the feel of a farewell for Tortorella. Fans chanted his name during the game. And the coach made the unusual move of having all of the Blue Jackets coaches -- including video coach Dan Singleton -- work the game from behind the bench.

Veteran winger Cam Atkinson, who played for Tortorella during the coach's entire tenure in Columbus, talked Saturday about how much he appreciated his time with him. "It's been six years together. Learned a lot from him. Definitely grown, not just as a hockey player, but as a person," he said. "That's all you want as a player. A coach that trusts you."

As usual, Tortorella's season in Columbus had its controversies with the players. His high-profile benching of center Pierre-Luc Dubois preceded the Jackets' trading him to Winnipeg for star winger Patrik Laine, whom Tortorella also subsequently benched. But Tortorella said he remains bonded with many of the players on the roster.

"The players in there, I grew up with them," he said Saturday. "I started at a very old age with this team, but I still grew with those guys. It's been an honor to coach them."

Tortorella has also coached the Lightning, Rangers and Canucks.