Head coach John Tortorella of the New York Rangers looks on from the bench during a game against the Florida Panthers on February 26, 2009 at Madison Square Garden in New York City. (Photo by Scott Levy/NHLI via Getty Images)
When John Tortorella was named head coach of the Rangers, three of his former players - Vinny Lecavalier, Martin St-Louis and Pavel Kubina - commented that Rangers players had best be on “Tortorella Time.”
As Kubina said, “If you are on time, you are late. If the bus is leaving at 5:00 and you show up at 5:00, the bus has already left.”
Kubina may have been remembering January 2003 in Nashville. Backup goaltender John Grahame overslept and was not on the bus. Dave Andreychuk, the team captain, got off the bus to find him and as he departed, Torts told him, “David, the bus leaves at 11:00, and if you aren’t on it, we will leave without you.”
David did not make it back to the bus on time and, true to Tortorella’s word, the bus left without him. Due to the route we took out of the hotel, Andreychuk was able to track down the bus and rejoin us, however “Tortorella Time” had once again prevailed and a player’s status was of no consequence.
Torts’ hard-nosed, aggressive, in-your-face-with-direct-honesty approach is coming to the Rangers. It’s just a matter of when and over which issue we will see it come out.
However, what has struck me most about Tortorella’s brief tenure with the Rangers is the statement he made to the media that now is a time when “you need to be with them.” The Blueshirts should breathe a huge sigh of relief hearing those words.
Tortorella usually saves “being with them” for the post-season. During the grind of the 82-game regular season Torts recognizes the need to push and sometimes grind his team. However, when he enters the playoffs, Torts reverses course and plants himself firmly behind his hockey club as its greatest cheerleader and facilitator.
It was that “behind them” mentality that caused Torts to tell Ken Hitchcock to “shut your yap” during the 2004 post-season. It was that same thinking that led him to calm his team in the Stanley Cup final against Calgary by telling them the “mayor of Canada” had visited the Flames dressing room when the Prime Minister stopped by. The same approach prompted him to paint a picture of the incredible pressure that must be on Calgary to win the Stanley Cup at home in Game 6 following our loss at home in overtime in Game 5.
Make no mistake: when Torts decides it is time to “get behind” his team, a kinder and gentler John Tortorella takes over. That is the position the Rangers are in now. However, that attitude will prevail only as long as Torts believes he is getting a proper response from his players.
He has already openly questioned the conditioning of some members of his team, which means the Rangers who are still on board for training camp 2009 will find out why “Camp Torturella” is the toughest camp known to man. He has also decreed that no one is to step on the Ranger logo in the dressing room.
From “Tortorella Time” to “Camp Torturella” to Stay Off the Logo, the in-your-face head coach we have come to know and love will soon make his presence felt on Broadway.
In the meantime, Rangers players should take maximum advantage of the “being with them” stage, because after this season they are unlikely to see it again until the following post-season.
Jay Feaster is a former GM of the Tampa Bay Lightning, where he took over in 2002 and helped build the team into a Stanley Cup champion in 2004. As he did last season, he will blog on THN.com throughout the 2008-09 campaign. Read his other entries HERE.