Surprise, surprise: John Tortorella has already stapled Patrik Laine to the bench

Justin Cuthbert
·4 min read
COLUMBUS, OH - FEBRUARY 8: Patrik Laine #29 of the Columbus Blue Jackets sits on the bench in the third period of a game against the Carolina Hurricanes on February 8, 2021 at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio.  (Photo by Jamie Sabau/NHLI via Getty Images)
Columbus Blue Jackets forward Patrik Laine was benched Monday. Will it be the last time this happens? (Jamie Sabau/NHLI via Getty Images)

As far as fit, one early theory on the yet-to-be-established relationship between Patrik Laine and John Tortorella was that the Columbus Blue Jackets head coach would go out of his way, would set aside his rigid views on how the game should be played, just to make the superstar player feel welcome.

I suppose we know now that Tortorella amends his moral code for no one.

On Monday night, in his fourth game since his trade from the Winnipeg Jets, Laine found himself in the exact position that the star player he was acquired for — Pierre-Luc Dubois — had became quite familiar with: glued to the bench for long stretches, including the final 26 minutes and 17 seconds in a 3-2 win over the Carolina Hurricanes.

As it was astutely pointed out on Twitter, Laine received the Tortorella cold shoulder before Dubois could even play a game with the Jets.

Tortorella was unwilling to share his rationale for the benching post-game, but it seems we can deduce from the evidence that a missed assignment played a significant role, even if the head coach denied that it was the sole reason. Laine did not see a single shift after Carolina’s Brock McGinn cleaned up a loose puck to tie the game while the star forward stood flat-footed in the defensive zone, appearing to simply hope that the puck would bounce his way.

On one hand, Tortorella’s rigidity with Laine in particular is understandable. To make up the talent discrepancy the Blue Jackets are normally facing, it takes an entire team to buy into the structure and perform within it, and Laine shouldn’t be excused from that.

That said, the management of this asset is of utmost importance to the franchise. With players like Artemi Panarin, Sergei Bobrovsky, and Dubois choosing or demanding to exit just in the last few seasons alone, the situation almost demands that the club goes out of its way to indulge its stars.

But even more important than that, it seems Laine had earned some rope — or at least the opportunity to receive and immediately put constructive criticism into practice. Laine had three goals in as many games entering the contest, including two versus the Hurricanes last time out.

He’d been a spark to an offence that had produced 12 goals in his three games against two of the toughest teams, traditionally, to score against in the NHL in Dallas and Carolina.

But it wasn’t enough.

“It’s what I feel I need to do,” Tortorella said in the postgame. “The last thing I want to do is bench a player, but … we’re just disjointed in all areas, quite honestly, both on and off the ice.”

How Laine responds to the incident and the conversations he will soon have with Tortorella remains to be seen, but what he’s proven in his career to this point is an ability to set aside drama and simply perform. But what’s also true about Laine’s career is that he will have these lapses in focus, and the details will often escape his game. For that reason, the relationship with Tortorella, and the Blue Jackets, may just come down to how the head coach balances the imperfections with the immense talent in the star forward’s arsenal.

Again, it just seems so incredibly important that the organization convinces Laine to take a shine to situation, and that he’s given every opportunity to flourish in Columbus. You want to treat Laine like every other player, many of whom have felt Tortorella’s wrath just this season, but the truth of the matter is that Laine isn’t like every other player.

It falls on Tortorella to realize this.

Columbus can’t afford to have another star player grow to be unhappy.

Should Laine reach that point, management has to take a hard look and decide what’s more important: the talent on the ice or the unbending principles of a head coach.

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