Hey NHL... Lighten Up a Bit

At National Hockey League headquarters in New York, they believe rules are rules. They clearly don't believe that rules are made to be broken, or bent just a bit when common sense requires.

If they did, Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella wouldn't have been forced to miss Thursday's game at Nashville to comply with the NHL's rule that any player or coach must miss one regular season game if they skip the league's All-Star Weekend when invited.

Tortorella is expected to rejoin the team this week when it begins the second half of the season at the New York Rangers on Tuesday night.

The Blue Jackets are coming off a phenomenal first half, albeit one that ended with a thud. The team has gone 5-6 in 11 games since a 16-game winning streak, the second-longest in National Hockey League history.

Tortorella has clearly done a fantastic job with a team that had the NHL's fourth-worst record last season.

The Columbus' job is Tortorella's fourth in his career. He won a Stanley Cup at the first, in Tampa, and his career has since been marked by volatile explosions when things went south with the Rangers and Vancouver Canucks.

Even so, Tortorella is well-liked by many in the league, which became evident Thursday when he left the Blue Jackets to tend to what the team termed, a family emergency.

Understandably, everyone thought that meant someone very close to Tortorella was in serious jeopardy. The outpouring of concern was such he felt compelled to issue a second statement later that night that everyone close to him was fine, including his son, an Army Ranger.

Over the weekend, the reason for Tortorella's departure prior to the Jackets' loss in Nashville, and his absence from All-Star weekend in Los Angeles, came to light.

He took leave from the team to care for a sick pit bull owned by his son.

If you don't know, Tortorella and his wife have a long history of supporting animal rights causes. His family's foundation - The John and Christine Tortorella Foundation - finds homes for rescue and foster dogs.

It's a travesty that NHL rules required Tortorella to leave his team to play a regular-season game without him in order for him to do something noble for his family.

This is what Tortorella said about the situation after the details became public:

"This absolutely is not an emergency. I want to clear that up...I needed a few days during the All-Star break -- not having to go to the All-Star Game -- to take care of something very important to my family and my son. I needed to see this through."

I assume the NHL holds a one-game suspension over its players and coaches to prevent players from cavalierly skipping its marquee mid-season event.

The idea is that no player would leave his teammates' hanging, missing a regular-season game, to skip out on the All-Star game.

But Tortorella was forced to do that, either skip the game in Nashville on Thursday or the one in New York on Tuesday, to get out of his commitments in Los Angeles as the coach of the Metropolitan Division team.

Holding him to the same standard as a player is a joke in this case, because no one is coming to an All-Star game to watch John Tortorella, or anyone else, coach.

You know who stood in for him? Wayne Gretzky, who was honored among the 100 greatest NHL players of all-time.

Who's more likely to boost All-Star Game attendance...Wayne Gretzky behind the bench, or John Tortorella?

The NHL All-Star game is a joke, anyway. There's nothing riding on the outcome. They even tricked it up this year to include a tournament among the four divisions with 3-on-3 hockey.

There was absolutely no reason for Tortorella to be there, and its outrageous the Blue Jackets suffered a penalty by forcing him to choose a regular-season game to skip to he could miss a needless trip to L.A.

You can say it's just one game, and it might be, but it is not uncommon in the NHL for playoff berths or playoff seedings to be decided by one point.

We'll never know if the Jackets would have claimed one point, by getting the Nashville game to overtime, or two points, by winning it, if Tortorella had been on the bench.

But we shouldn't have to wonder.

And thanks to the NHL's stupid rule that it foolishly applied to Tortorella, it will remain a concern until the second half of the season plays out.

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