John Tortorella, Maple Leafs and NHL coaching salary explosion

Puck Daddy

The NHL salary cap prevents franchises like the Toronto Maple Leafs from using bottomless financial reverses to create the best team money can buy, on the ice.

But as they’ve shown in the last few seasons: There’s no salary cap on managerial compensation, and there’s no salary cap on coaches.

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Mike Babcock’s $6.25 million annual salary infamously reset the bar for NHL head coaches. “A new arms race among head coaches has commenced. The starting gun has gone off,” agent Allan Walsh told the Canadian Press in 2015, after the deal was announced.

That deal begot Joel Quenneville making $6 million annually and then Claude Julien getting $5 million to rescue the Montreal Canadiens and so forth.

What’s fascinating about this escalation is that there’s no stuffing the genie back in the bottle. (Although we look forward to the rap song about attempting it in Guy Richie’s “Aladdin.”) The next lockout could roll back escalating salaries, or put further controls in place to protect general managers from themselves. That’s not going to affect coaching salaries.

Which means teams with far shallower pockets than the Maple Leafs are going to have to ante up for their coaches.

Which brings us to the Columbus Blue Jackets and the guy who just won the Jack Adams Award last month.

Here’s some interesting stuff from Aaron Portzline on John Tortorella:

Tortorella’s situation bears watching. He’s entering the final year of his contract, a five-year, $10 million deal signed with Vancouver in 2013. Since the Blue Jackets hired him in October 2015, they’ve paid only $750,000 of his $2 million annual salary, with the Canucks picking up the rest. In other words, the Blue Jackets have been paying less for their coach than just about any other team in the NHL. Even the $2 million figure puts him only in the middle of the pack, but that’s about to change.

… The Blue Jackets, who have never paid more than $1.5 million for a coach (Ken Hitchcock), might need to pay Tortorella $3.5 million or more per season to keep him. But these negotiations are no longer simple. It’s possible that Tortorella, who declined to discuss his contract, will go into the season without an extension in place.

First off: What a sweetheart deal for the Jackets on that Tortorella contract, huh?

What’s fascinating about Tortorella here with the Blue Jackets is a meeting of the personal and the professional.

Let’s face it: John Davidson, president of the Jackets, tossed a life preserver to Tortorella after what was, at the time, the biggest professional embarrassment of his career in Vancouver. (Later trumped by Team USA flopped in a World Cup tournament constructed so they’d meet Canada in the final on ESPN.)

Tortorella seems like an unfailingly loyal guy, and the Blue Jackets took a chance on him. So there’s that.

But at the same time, he’s a Jack Adams winner already “making” $2 million per season. All coaches are being lifted by this tide, and we seriously doubt Tortorella is going to take a steep discount at a time when his peers are all scurrying up the same compensation latter.

For what it’s worth: Tortorella’s long-time friend, the guy with the back-to-back Stanley Cups with the Pittsburgh Penguins, gets his next contract after the 2020 season.

What is that Mike Sullivan deal going to be worth, for the Penguins or a team looking to “Babcock” him.

Greg Wyshynski is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Contact him at or find him on Twitter. His book, TAKE YOUR EYE OFF THE PUCK, is available on Amazon and wherever books are sold.


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