You’ve got to love “Torch.”
After years of working with Wild General Manager Chuck Fletcher and assistant GM Brent Flahr in Minnesota and Florida, John Torchetti’s not going to let not getting the full-time coaching job after hoisting the Wild up from the abyss last season get in the way of nearly two decades of friendship.
He has zero bitterness.
Two weeks ago, he grabbed a beer with “Flahrzy.” He keeps an eye on his old team and is proud “Grao, Schroeds and Foles” are getting full-time NHL shots. And, he still loves watching “Brods and ChAHlie,” “Nino and Haulzy,” “Spurge and Granny” on the tube.
And, Torchetti thinks Fletcher should be “GM of the $&#% Year.”
“What, you don’t?” Torchetti said on the phone after I chuckled mostly from the passion and accent in his voice, not so much the sentiment. “It may be only one move, but it was a heck of a move.”
Torchetti was referring to signing Eric Staal.
“You need three centermen in this league. We always used to say, ‘We need that third center,’ ” Torchetti said. “We all know they’ve got the ‘D’ and the goalie. And they’ve got some nice young guys coming. You see the world juniors?”
See what I mean about no bitterness? This is genuine stuff from a guy whose heart fractured when Fletcher called the day before hiring Bruce Boudreau to say, “Hey listen, we’re going in a different direction.”
“I said, ‘All right, have a good day,’ ” Torchetti said. “I didn’t feel like talking too much after that. … But I don’t mind that the guy that got the job [over me] has one of the best records in hockey for the last eight years. You know, that’s hockey.”
See what I mean about no bitterness?
A few weeks later, Fletcher offered Torchetti a nice package to return to Iowa as coach. But Torchetti had such a ball being around the NHL athlete again, he decided to stay in the league.
He had previously been an assistant with Tampa Bay, Florida, Chicago (won a Stanley Cup there in 2010) and Atlanta. So, he joined Jeff Blashill’s staff in Detroit and is having a blast working for such a storied franchise.
Now, he hopes for a similar second-half comeback to the one he guided in Minnesota.
The Red Wings, getting used to life without future Hall of Famer Pavel Datsyuk, have made the playoffs 25 years in a row but are four points from a wild-card spot. After Torchetti replaced Mike Yeo, the Wild won 15 of his first 21 games to grab a fourth consecutive playoff berth.
“It’s all a really good experience because you go from playing against the Red Wings and wanting to be like them when I was with the Blackhawks, and now we’ve got some young guys and we’re trying to develop them to be like the Blackhawks,” Torchetti said. “The [Dylan] Larkins … You know this [Andreas] Athanasiou?
“You ever see him skate? But he’s got to build consistency into his game. Larkin, same thing. [Anthony] Mantha, he’s been phenomenal. I mean these kids are all 20, 21 years old. And [Henrik] Zetterberg, whoever you put on his line has played pretty well.”
Torchetti’s role is forwards … and power play.
“We’re last in the power play, so, you know, I’ve got a little ways to go with that,” Torchetti said. “Don’t shoot. Don’t shoot enough. If someone can tell me how to get people to shoot, then we can write a book and be billionaires.”
And, Torch said former Wild player Thomas Vanek has been outstanding.
“He’s put his work in,” Torchetti said of Vanek, who leads Detroit in scoring. “He played pretty good for [me] last year. Just gotta be consistent. And he’s been doing that for us. Thomas has come in and wanted to prove something this year. He’s really done that.”
As you can tell, Torchetti’s in a good place right now.
Happy in Detroit, and happy watching his Wild friends from afar: “That team, I feel they’re going to be a strong power in the West.”
• With the March 1 trade deadline approaching, Thomas Vanek’s name is out there in trade rumors because he’s at the end of an affordable one-year deal. However, the Red Wings would like to re-sign him. Agent Steve Bartlett had dinner with Vanek on Thursday night to discuss options.
Other potential guys on the move: Colorado’s Matt Duchene and Gabriel Landeskog; Arizona’s Martin Hanzal (who might fit the Wild’s needs), and Radim Vrbata; St. Louis’ Kevin Shattenkirk; Winnipeg’s Drew Stafford; Dallas’ Patrick Sharp, and elder statesmen Jarome Iginla (Colorado) and Shane Doan (Arizona).
Shattenkirk’s an interesting one. The struggling Blues might give him permission to discuss extensions with other teams to raise his value before the deadline.
• Wild GM Chuck Fletcher continues to say he will not part with any of his core defensemen at the deadline. The Wild’s expected to be in the market for a bottom-six forward and perhaps a backup goalie, both to secure that spot because of Darcy Kuemper’s rocky play and the need to expose a goalie in the expansion draft who’s not named Devan Dubnyk.
• With Gerard Gallant on the open market as a coach, both the New York Islanders, now that they have fired Jack Capuano, and the Las Vegas Golden Knights have received permission to talk to the former Panthers coach. Also, it very much sounds like the NHL’s longest-tenured coach, Boston’s Claude Julien, is on the hot seat. This is very much why Vegas GM George McPhee plans to wait to hire a coach. He wants to see every option he’ll have for potential coaches.
WILD’S WEEK AHEAD
Sunday: 7 p.m. vs. Nashville
Tuesday: 7:30 p.m. at Dallas
Thursday: 7 p.m. vs. St. Louis
Sun. FSN+; Tue. FSN; Thu. NBCSN
Player to watch: Vladimir Tarasenko, Blues
St. Louis’ superstar, who lit up the Wild in the 2015 playoffs, is in the league’s top 10 in goals and points.
Wild coach Bruce Boudreau screaming for Scott Stevens when his former tough teammate, Ken Daneyko, kiddingly refused to leave the locker room before a Wild team meeting Tuesday.