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Top Shelf: Meltdown earns Tortorella a sabbatical

By Dan Di Sciullo, NHL Editor

Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - 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.

01/21 14:47:13 ET

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2013 - 2014 NHL Eastern Conference Standings
 
Atlantic Division W L OTL Pts GF GA Home Away Div
p-Boston 54 19 9 117 261 177 31-7-3 23-12-6 18-9-3
x-Tampa Bay 46 27 9 101 240 215 25-10-6 21-17-3 19-8-3
x-Montreal 46 28 8 100 215 204 23-13-5 23-15-3 18-8-4
x-Detroit 39 28 15 93 222 230 18-13-10 21-15-5 17-8-5
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Florida 29 45 8 66 196 268 16-20-5 13-25-3 13-16-1
Buffalo 21 51 10 52 157 248 13-21-7 8-30-3 7-18-5
 
Metropolitan Division W L OTL Pts GF GA Home Away Div
y-Pittsburgh 51 24 7 109 249 207 28-9-4 23-15-3 20-8-2
x-NY Rangers 45 31 6 96 218 193 20-17-4 25-14-2 16-11-3
x-Philadelphia 42 30 10 94 236 235 24-14-3 18-16-7 15-11-4
x-Columbus 43 32 7 93 231 216 22-15-4 21-17-3 16-13-1
Washington 38 30 14 90 235 240 21-13-7 17-17-7 12-15-3
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Carolina 36 35 11 83 207 230 18-17-6 18-18-5 15-13-2
NY Islanders 34 37 11 79 225 267 13-19-9 21-18-2 10-16-4
 
x= clinched playoff berth
y= clinched division title
z= clinched overall points title
2013 - 2014 NHL Western Conference Standings
 
Central Division W L OTL Pts GF GA Home Away Div
y-Colorado 52 22 8 112 250 220 26-11-4 26-11-4 19-6-3
x-St. Louis 52 23 7 111 248 191 28-9-4 24-14-3 21-6-2
x-Chicago 46 21 15 107 267 220 27-7-7 19-14-8 13-13-3
x-Minnesota 43 27 12 98 207 206 26-10-5 17-17-7 14-12-3
x-Dallas 40 31 11 91 235 228 23-11-7 17-20-4 13-11-5
Nashville 38 32 12 88 216 242 19-17-5 19-15-7 12-13-4
Winnipeg 37 35 10 84 227 237 18-17-6 19-18-4 9-15-5
 
Pacific Division W L OTL Pts GF GA Home Away Div
z-Anaheim 54 20 8 116 266 209 29-8-4 25-12-4 22-4-3
x-San Jose 51 22 9 111 249 200 29-7-5 22-15-4 18-7-3
x-Los Angeles 46 28 8 100 206 174 23-14-4 23-14-4 16-10-3
Phoenix 37 30 15 89 216 231 22-14-5 15-16-10 14-9-6
Vancouver 36 35 11 83 196 223 20-15-6 16-20-5 12-13-4
Calgary 35 40 7 77 209 241 19-19-3 16-21-4 11-15-3
Edmonton 29 44 9 67 203 270 16-22-3 13-22-6 8-17-4
 
x= clinched playoff berth
y= clinched division title
z= clinched overall points title
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