National Columnist

Suspended Tortorella my kind of coach to play for -- but not cover

John Tortorella lets the Calgary bench and opposing coach Bob Hartley know how he feels. (Getty Images)
John Tortorella lets the Calgary bench and opposing coach Bob Hartley know how he feels. (Getty Images)

Grow up where I did, in Oklahoma and Mississippi, and you can't play hockey. Grow up when I did, before ESPN, and you can't watch hockey either. All of which is my loss -- because in another place and time, I would've loved to play for Vancouver coach John Tortorella.

Can't do that now, but I can take his side in a way I've never before taken a sports figure's side:

Please, Vancouver Canucks, pay him for the next 15 days -- even if he has been suspended without pay by the NHL. Don't pay him officially, but pay him anyway. Put it in a 401(k) in a relative's name. Write a check in the amount of his salary for 15 days and send it to his mortgage company. Buy his groceries the rest of the year. Hand him a brown paper bag full of unmarked twenties if you have to, but just pay the man.

And here I'm talking as much to the Vancouver players as the front office, because what Tortorella did, he did for his players. What he did was outrageous and unacceptable and even dangerous, because what he did after the first period of the Canucks' game Saturday night against Calgary was make a beeline for the Flames' locker room, where he tried to get at Flames coach Bob Hartley, presumably to beat Hartley about the head with his fists.

It was awful and unhinged and the most beautiful thing I've seen in a long, long time.

Understand, there are two different opinions here -- and both can be held by the same person:

1. The NHL had to discipline Tortorella, and discipline him strongly.

2. What Tortorella did was worth it.

And to take it a step farther, I sincerely hope the Canucks find a way to pass the hat and make up whatever income Tortorella lost. Each player could donate 10 percent of his salary this week to the cause. Consider it a tithe to their earthly father, their coach who so loves his players that when he sees another team, another coach trying to hurt them, he tries to hurt that other coach.

An eye for an eye, see. That's what Tortorella was going for between periods after Hartley started their game Saturday night by sending out his goon line. Tortorella responded by sending out his goon line, but only because he had to. What he couldn't do was send out his first line and watch those guys get beaten up by Hartley's goons. Tortorella defended his skilled players by sending out his fighters, and while I don't like fighting in hockey and wish it was gone, the fact of the matter is there is fighting in hockey and Hartley picked a fight -- and Tortorella defended his players by sending out his fighters.

Hartley's brutal intention was so clear that on TV the announcers were laughing about it before the game even started. Sure enough, the puck dropped and a 10-player brawl broke out. Before it was over Tortorella was standing as close to the Flames' bench as he could get, pointing and yelling at Hartley -- because Hartley was the bad guy here and Tortorella knew it.

And Tortorella isn't known as being the most wonderful guy, either. I don't follow hockey -- born in Hawaii, raised in Oklahoma and Mississippi before ESPN; what chance did I have? -- but I know all about Tortorella, whose press conferences are terrifying. He's smart like Gregg Popovich, dismissive like Bill Belichick and combative like Bill Parcells. He's a nightmare in his press conferences, which is why as a sportswriter I'm pretty sure I wouldn't want to be a beat writer covering his team. But I'd love to be a player on that team. This guy, I could play for.

Play for Hartley? No thanks. He's the true bad guy -- worse, the coward -- in this story. Hartley wanted to show how tough he is by sending out players to fight for him. Maybe he's compensating for other issues. Don't know, but sometimes the most obvious answer is the correct answer.

In any event, Hartley was the guy who picked a fight and then hid behind the actual tough people on his team. Tortorella is the guy who didn't like the fight, sent out his players to do their job, and then tried to get even with Hartley himself.

Get mad at Tortorella? Man, I want to hug that big lug for defending his players in the most visceral, vulnerable way possible. He lost 15 days' salary but gained the lifelong respect of everyone in his locker room -- and probably everyone in every other locker room in the NHL.

And about the salary he lost ...

Do the right thing, Canucks. Pay the man. Pay him after the fact, under the table, before next season, on Leap Year in 2016. Do it when and how you do it, but give the man his money, because he earned it Saturday night. Give me his address, and I'll send John Tortorella a check myself. Subject line: Please draft me.

 
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