Amid Kesler’s 10th — and final — season with the Canucks, the team was underperforming and headed toward its first playoff-less summer since 2008. And with Tortorella at the helm, the atmosphere inside the dressing room quickly became intense over the final few months.
Following an embarrassing 6-1 loss to the Dallas Stars on March 6, 2014, the 6-foot-2 centre was called into his coach’s office to discuss his recent performance. That conversation, however, didn’t end peacefully.
“[I] come in and we go over video and every clip just about me,” Kesler said in an interview on the latest episode of Spittin’ Chiclets. “Like over and over, and he finally stops the clip and he’s like, ‘I’m f–king worried about you, Kes. I’m really worried about you, you want out of here.’ And I said, ‘you don’t have to f–king worry about me.’ And trade deadline is passed now, so I’m staying.
“I stand up in my stall, his nose is in like my chest, and I’m looking down at him like, ‘you want to make this about me and you again?’ And we just went back and forth. And then he throws a tantrum, throws the remote and he’s like, ‘I’m f–king out of here.’ And he leaves.”
Afterwards, Kesler’s teammates praised him for standing up to Torts, which apparently had been unheard of previously. But the 2010-11 Selke Trophy winner refused to fall into that same crowd.
“I had a bunch of young guys coming up like, ‘oh that’s the best thing I’ve ever seen,’ cause no one ever stands up to the guy,” Kesler said. “Everybody respects him, but they’re also scared of him.”
Later that day, things became heated between Kesler and Tortorella again, but on the ice this time. That’s when the 23rd selection from 2003 thought he’d be dropping the gloves against his coach.
“So he comes up onto the ice, and I’m skating around, and he comes up and shoves me on the ice,” Kesler said. “This is in Vancouver, there’s cameras in the bleachers, in the stands. And I’m like, ‘holy sh-t, we’re doing this right now, I’m going to fight a coach. Like, I’m fighting a coach, on the ice, right now.’”
Instead, unexpectedly, Tortorella applauded Kesler for pushing back against his earlier criticism. The former Canucks head coach even offered to return his “A” to him, which had been removed from his jersey earlier in the season.
Kesler provided a hilarious response to that gesture, admitting he already knew both of them wouldn’t return to Vancouver the following season. And he was right.
“He pushes me again and I turn to him and he’s like, ‘I f–king love it, Kes. That’s why you’re going to be back. If I’m back here and you’re back here, you’re gonna get your ‘A’ back.’ And I go, “Torts, I’m not gonna be back here and you know you’re not gonna be back here. So that’s not gonna happen.’ And he starts laughing and skates away.”
It's not every day a player almost fights one of his coaches. Given Tortorella’s track record, though, it’s not surprising he was involved in this kind of incident.
Kesler last played with the Anaheim Ducks in 2018-19 but has yet to officially retire. Though, that’s likely to occur sometime soon. The 38-year-old’s career consisted of 1,001 games split across two franchises (the Ducks and Canucks) from 2003-19.
The right-handed forward scored 258 goals and 573 points during his time in the NHL. He registered 20 goals or more in nine of his 15 professional seasons.
Tortorella, who now coaches the Philadelphia Flyers, is on his fifth different franchise since beginning his NHL coaching career in 1999. So far, the team has put up a promising 4-2-0 start.
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