The NHL has had its fair share of embarrassments in recent years: the Columbus Blue Jackets phallic cannon mascot, a third lockout in 18 years, the Guardian Project.
None of those warranted a suspension in the league's eyes. But Canucks coach John Tortorella rose to that level with his actions Saturday night in Vancouver.
Tortorella was hammered with a 15-day (six-game) suspension by the NHL on Monday night for trying to get inside the Calgary Flames locker room during the first intermission of Saturday's game that featured eight ejections and more unnecessary violence than Grand Theft Auto.
From the story on NHL.com:
"Mr. Tortorella's actions in attempting to enter the Calgary Flames locker room after the first period were both dangerous and an embarrassment to the League," said NHL Senior Executive Vice President of Hockey Operations Colin Campbell. "Coaches in the NHL bear the responsibility of providing leadership, even when emotions run high, and Mr. Tortorella failed in his responsibility to the game."
The shame of it all is Tortorella was so close to coming out of that melee as the good guy, the man in the white hat. He was one good decision away from being painted as an unwilling participant in a gong show staged by Flames coach Bob Hartley, who was fined $25,000 as well for icing a pair of goons with bad intentions to start the game.
Tortorella appeared to have turned over a new leaf after four-plus tumultuous seasons with the New York Rangers that followed seven-plus bombastic seasons with the Tampa Bay Lightning.
But it seems he just can't escape his nature.
Tortorella's time in New York was littered with run-ins with fans, media and the league. He was suspended one game during the 2009 playoffs for squirting a water bottle at fans in the Verizon Center and fined a total of $60,000 for three incidents: icing Dane Byers in the final minute of a game for the purpose of him instigating a fight, accusing officials at the 2012 Winter Classic of aiding the Flyers and criticizing the Penguins organization following a particularly chippy affair.
The coach was fired with one year left on his contract and arrived in Vancouver this season as a new man. He talked of his need to change. And for 49 games, he did seem to be a different man. There were no media run-ins, no drenching of fans with water bottles, no accusatory comments about the integrity of officials, no crying foul about the star players on another team.
To his credit, the thing that got him in trouble this time is the thing that has made him a successful coach—standing up for his players.
Ask anyone who has played under Tortorella about him, and sure, you may hear about how volatile he can be and how the locker room can be a tense place. But the one thing they all appreciate is the fact he always has their backs. There isn't a player in the Canucks locker room right now who wouldn't run through a wall—but not the wall to the visiting locker room—for their coach.
But that's what got him in trouble Saturday, which is both commendable and sad. Tortorella felt another team was taking liberties with his players, and he wasn't going to have it. If it meant breaking down the door to the visiting locker room and giving Hartley a piece of his mind between periods, then that was what he was going to do.
However, it brings into question if an old coach can be taught new tricks. If Tortorella is forever to be doomed by his emotions clouding his judgment, will this happen again? Now that he has fallen off the anger wagon, will it be easier for him to slip up again?
Theoretically, Tortorella is in control of that. And don't lose sight of the fact that Tortorella is a cagey man who was coaching a team at the time that had lost of eight of nine and was slipping in the West. If you asked Tortorella if charging the Flames locker room would bring his team closer together over the rest of the season but cost him six games and a few bucks, he'd probably take it every time.
Instilling an identity of toughness is a big thing with Tortorella, and this will go a long way toward doing just that with the Canucks.
Tortorella has always coached on the edge, and this time he fell off it, despite having the best intentions.
Dave Lozo covers the NHL for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @DaveLozo.
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