Yesterday, when the Pittsburgh Penguins signed Jack Johnson, they held an introductory press conference together. Nothing unusual there.
Two comments made, one by Johnson and one by general manager Jim Rutherford really stuck in the craw of the Columbus Blue Jackets and they fired back at Pittsburgh.
For his part, Johnson mentioned how excited he was to start anew in Pittsburgh and join a strong team. That in itself wasn’t terrible, but then he added a backhanded, “I’ve been looking to be in a winning culture and a place where the expectations to win are as high as they can be. I don’t think I could have asked for a better opportunity here” comment. Harsh, possibly unnecessary but also true - the Blue Jackets have 0 franchise playoff wins, the Pens have more Stanley Cups than anyone since 1990.
The real gasoline on the fire seemed to come from Rutherford, who when asked why he would invest a five year contract with a significant salary on a player who had a terrible season and ended as a healthy scratch for CBJ’s playoff appearance, GMJR said:
“I don’t think he had a bad year, he was a healthy scratch at the end of the season. I know the reason why. It wasn’t because of how he was playing.”
A weird suggestion by Rutherford. Understandably, this rubbed Columbus the wrong way. Their GM Jarmo Kekalainen made a totally reasonable statement to refute this.
That could have been it, but then you might have remembered the Blue Jackets coach is a crazy person who likes to ramble and rail out against anything and all things Pittsburgh. The Athletic got the good stuff:
“All I know is, this organization, from the lawyers, the front office, J.D. (John Davidson), the managers, the coaches, players … has done nothing but try to help Jack,” Tortorella told The Athletic. “And for him to backhand slap us like this is utter bull****, and he should know better.
“No one wishes anything bad to happen to him and his family. We wish him the best. But for him to put it the way he put it today is bull****. And to have a general manager question our decision-making from three hours away, he must be a f***** magician.”
“That’s what pisses me off,” he said. “He doesn’t have enough balls to call me back, because I’ve tried to get in touch with him. You don’t shit on an organization that’s done nothing but try to help you. We all know Jack has had some problems along the way here; it’s very well-chronicled. All we’ve done is try to f***** help him.
“I love the f***** guy (Johnson). I’ve had him on the Olympic team. I get him on the World Cup team. I love the guy. But for him to do this is ridiculous. He has got to start pointing the finger at himself, not other people.
“If I’m a (former) teammate of his and I play against him next year … my gosh … ”
“The thing that pisses me off the most is a general manager in this league questioning and talking about our decision-making,” Tortorella said. “Shut the f*** up!
“Jack and I had an open, honest conversation all through this. Jack and I have known one another forever, and I love the guy. There’s no agenda here. You think that’s an easy decision for me, after what Jack Johnson has been in this league and what he is?
“But that can’t get in my way as far as making the right decisions for this hockey club, and that’s all we do, so Rutherford should shut the f*** up.”
It’s ironic that the guy who once complained about the Penguins being whiners has to give a profane summer rant whining about the Penguins, but so it goes.
All of these things are true— Adam Gretz (@AGretz) July 2, 2018
1. John Tortorella totally overreacted
2. Jim Rutherford was wrong to suggest he *knows* why Jack Johnson was benched when he was just trying to justify his own questionable signing
3. All of this is entertaining as hell.
The Pittsburgh/Columbus rivalry hasn’t truly gotten to full steam yet, as it hasn’t been too competitive on the ice just yet, but with actions like this, look out. The first time Johnson returns to Columbus will be a very exciting and interesting game.