John Tortorella has the charisma, intelligence and passion of a great leader, but sometimes he gets so caught up in his own world that he cannot get out of his own way. The embarrassing confrontation with Larry Brooks of the New York Post on Thursday is the most recent example of the Rangers coach at his worst, but here's a first-hand account of Tortorella at his best.
It's the 2004 Stanley Cup Playoffs and the Tampa Bay Lightning have fired a shot before their first-round series with the Islanders even begins. Lightning management has boxed the Islanders out of their regular hotel in Tampa Bay for Games 1 and 2. Sniping on both sides begins in the media, and when the Islanders -- a big underdog in the 1 vs. 8 series -- earn a split in the two games it looks like the series is going to be a nasty one.
When the Lightning arrive on Long Island for Games 3 and 4, they learn payback is a bitch. Among other things, it's about 110 degrees in the visiting team locker room at Nassau Coliseum. They also find their room is not stocked with most of the usual amenities, like soap.
Back then I was the Communications VP with the Islanders. I'm in the Coliseum hallway talking to my PR colleague with the Lightning when a very sweaty John Tortorella approaches. "This has to stop," the Tampa Bay head coach says. "Can you see if Mike Milbury will speak with me so we can settle this like gentlemen"?
Tortorella pleads to the then-Islanders GM: "This is getting stupid, Mike. For everyone's sake let's put this behind us and act like pros." Tortorella apologizes for any nonsense that went down in Tampa Bay. Milbury apologizes as well, the two shake hands and within minutes the Lightning room is cooled.
Tortorella's Lightning went on to win both games in New York, close out the series in Game 5 and win the Stanley Cup. Contrast this example of smart communication with what happened on Thursday.
The Rangers coach had countless hours to confront Brooks about any of the writer's work, yet chose to do so after a game and with the cameras rolling. Tortorella could have gone toe-to-toe with Brooks in a hallway or private office after practice. Fascinating how Tortorella worked for TSN when he was between coaching gigs, yet shows little grasp of how the media brings the game to the people who buy his team's tickets, merchandise and television programming. He is clueless about how the game behind the game is played.
If you don't need another writer to underline how Tortorella is not always the classiest gent, consider the response on Thursday by Hall of Fame defenseman Brian Leetch. After the scene was shown on MSG Network, the former Ranger turned part-time commentator said it wasn't the time or place and the coach was initiating a battle he will not win.
Tortorella was often disrespectful to people outside his very small circle in his years in Tampa Bay. Upon hearing the news of Tortorella's hiring in New York, a Lightning employee -- one of the best people in this business -- told me, "Good coach, but his act will get old in two years. There are a lot more people in New York for him to tick off." Tortorella's defenders say he produces the occasional sideshow to take the pressure off his team. Riiiiight. Even if you believed that, how did this one work out? The Rangers lost 6-0 in Montreal on Saturday.
The 51-year-old coach is always an intriguing watch, even if sometimes it's like watching a car crash. Too bad for him. There are so many executives and influential media members in and around Madison Square Garden that Tortorella could be building long-working relationships with. Instead he'll need a playoff berth this year just to make it to his second full season in New York.
He can motivate and teach and, thanks to a quartet of brilliant players in Tampa Bay at the peak of their games – Martin St. Louis, Vincent Lecavalier, Brad Richards and Nikolai Khabibulin – he has a Stanley Cup on his resume. But John, you're a hockey coach. Get over yourself. If you don't stop acting like everyone is in your way, you'll be out of the prized Rangers job and become radioactive around the league. You'd look pretty silly ever sitting in a TV studio again.
The Montreal Canadiens and their fans contributed $159,553 to the disaster relief efforts in Haiti. The team encouraged fans at a pair of home games to donate and the fans stepped up with an impressive total of just under $60,000. Although the Canadiens pledged to match the fans' contributions, the franchise rounded it up in a big way and donated $100,000.
One of the NHL Players Association's obstacles to ever becoming, well, an association worth taking seriously, is its stance on two hockey icons. According to one former executive with the union, a large segment of power players still cannot get over the image of Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux trying to save the day during the lockout season of 2004-05.
"Some of the key guys, I'm talking about the big movers and shakers that got rid of (former head) Paul Kelly, they have contempt for Lemieux and Gretzky," the source told FanHouse. "They actually say things like, 'What have those guys ever done for us?'
"It's like they don't know about Gretzky giving up his marketing rights as a player when he could have made tens of millions of dollars on his own. It's like they can't accept Mario moving on with his life and becoming a successful owner. The arguments we had over two of the best people this game has ever seen ... I'm telling you, if the fans could have listened in, they would have been sick to their stomachs."
The NHLPA, of course, has a lot of issues to sort out – like naming an executive director, for instance. But if the players cannot even agree that Gretzky and Lemieux should be worshipped, they may never get their act together.
1 . Duncan Keith, Chicago: Among defensemen, Keith (pictured) is second (behind Mike Green) in scoring and second (behind Joni Pitkanen) in time on ice, but first in the category of most valuable to a contending team.
2. Mike Green, Washington: The game's most bizarrely and unfairly disrespected player -- not even picked for the Canadian Olympic Team -- Green lets everyone else assume he's nothing without Alex Ovechkin and just plays his game. Green is the second-best player on his team and has been the second-best defenseman in the league this season.
3. Dan Boyle, San Jose: One more time, with feeling -- Tampa Bay traded Boyle to the Sharks for Matt Carle, Ty Wishart, a first-round pick and a fourth-round pick. Without the trade, San Jose is a second division team in the West and the Lightning are not scrapping for eighth every year in the East.
4. Chris Pronger, Philadelphia: The Flyers have fallen short of expectations so far this season, but their big acquisition of last summer has not. The 36-year-old is still a danger to opponents in every zone and is top 10 among defensemen in scoring, plus/minus and time on ice.
5. Nicklas Lidstrom, Detroit: So many worthy candidates -- Shea Weber, super soph Drew Doughty -- but Lidstrom gets the nod because ... well, because he's Nik Lidstrom.
In the three weeks since, Boston has gone 2-8-2 (including a 5-1 loss in Carolina on Sunday) and is now lumped in with eight teams separated by only three points for the final three playoffs spots in the East. The Phil Kessel trade has not helped the Maple Leafs or the Bruins this season, at least until Boston makes a lottery pick with Toronto's first-rounder in June. But GM Peter Chiarelli is more concerned with his underachieving team in the present.
If the Bruins' slide continues, speculation about the future of head coach and Chiarelli pal Claude Julien is likely to increase.
One of the most absurd scenes in pro sports occurs in the NHL when a player is accidentally high-sticked and everyone looks to see if he is bleeding. Do refs really need a guy to bleed – doesn't matter whether it's a Tarantino bloodbath or a shaving nick – to determine whether a penalty should be two or four minutes? ...
Two years after Garth Snow questioned the hockey program at the University of Minnesota when Kyle Okposo left school, Kings GM Dean Lombardi takes a shot at 70-year-old Red Berenson and the Michigan Wolverines. What's next -- Bill Polian ripping on Joe Paterno and Penn State? This is what happens when 18-year-old hockey players are drafted before they start college. ...
First, Keith Ballard accidentally took out Tomas Vokoun with a wild slash in frustration after a goal. On Thursday, Dennis Seidenberg cleared the puck with a slapper that fractured Nathan Horton's tibia and will sideline the team's leading scorer for 4-6 weeks. The Panthers have seen the enemy. ...
Fans and media challenged by keeping up with every prospect in hockey, take heart. Jacques Lemaire understands. The good-natured Devils coach candidly revealed he's not familiar with every player on New Jersey's roster these days. "We have six regular players out and guys are coming back and forth from the minors," said Lemaire. "I'm behind the bench and I see some of the names on the backs of the jerseys. I have to tell you, I remember some of them from training camp, but I really do not know them all."
Didn't you used to be ... Steve Mason?
Hail to the Writers: Dave Molinari, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette; James Mirtle, Globe & Mail
Coaches' Handbook, Rule 37: If one of your players throws a questionable hit that could lead to a suspension, always tell the media after the game, "I haven't seen the video."
Today's Three Stars: 3. Walt Tkachuk 2. Wendel Clark 1. Trevor Linden