As promised—and I’m sure you were eagerly awaiting it—PART II of our Q & A with Tampa Bay Lightning blogger, John Fontana, on whether or not John Tortorella coaches #TheRightWay.
But first, the best cameo in Public Service Announcement history!
Q: How responsible was Torts for turning St. Louis into a superstar and for helping Richards mature into a Conn Smythe winner? Did they emerge as stars thanks to Torts or in spite of him?
A: Every coach who oversees skilled players is, in part, responsible for their success and failings. To insinuate otherwise is to think a coach’s responsibility is simply setting the lineup.
Let me throw back this question at you: Marian Gaborik is the Rangers offensive star, who started his career in Minnesota and had repetitive groin and leg issues. He joined the New York Rangers, and under Tortorella those issues have abated even though the Madison Square Garden ice is considered the worst playing surface in the league. Is Tortorella’s “Camp Torturella” training regimen responsible, in part, for helping Gaborik strengthen problematic muscles and avoid injury? Or is he just in a better place because he’s playing in New York and not Minnesota?
How dare you to try to jinx our Glorious Gabby?!?! Who do you think you are?!? I’m not even going to answer that question in fear of angering the Hockey Gods.
Dear Hockey Gods,
We know Gabby is injury-prone and we fully accept his fate. With that said, please keep his groin, hip and shoulder muscles intact until mid-June. Thank you.
-The Garden Faithful
(With that said, you probably have a point. I wouldn’t fully credit Torts for keeping Gaborik on the ice, but I’m sure it has helped his conditioning. His overall play on the ice? It has remained on par with how he performed in Minnesota when healthy.)
Q: Did Torts have a hard-on for Fedotenko before his two goals in Game Seven of the Finals? Rangers fans are convinced if Torts is here in 2020, Feds will still be getting crunch-time minutes.
A: Ruslan Fedotenko played under John Tortorella in Tampa, as you know. Rusty (Ed’s Note: Rusty! Who knew?!?) knows Torts system, Rusty can play within the system effectively and spread that knowledge around to his teammates. It’s not because Fedotenko gives Tortorella a hard-on, it’s because he’s playing a role in Torts gameplan.
Q: What did Lightning fans think of Torts? What ticked you guys off the most about him? I’m sure the feeling was more positive in ’04 than by the time he was fired in ’08, but what was the overall feeling towards him? And how did the media feel about him?
A: He was beloved.
Oh, was John Tortorella abrasive? Yeah. Could he be a dick? Sure. Did he ever rub fans the wrong way? Yeah, but it wasn’t 2007-08 (which I’ll elaborate on below), it was 2001-02 when John was coaching his first season in Tampa. He took Vinny Lecavalier’s captaincy away (after Lecavalier’s contract holdout to start the season) and put Lecavalier in the doghouse to a point Lecavalier wanted out of town. Yeah, fans sided with the franchise player – but Torts won out, and won the backing of ownership who refused to trade Vinny.
Not only did Torts win out, but Lecavalier himself admits he’s a better player thanks to what he went through with Tortorella that season. Problems were too often personnel related from 2005-06 until the end of Torts tenure in Tampa. That failing wasn’t on Torts so much as it was on horrible drafting, bad decisions by GM Jay Feaster and circumstances beyond both men’s control.
Q: Why did Torts fall out of favor in Tampa Bay? Was his personality too abrasive? Did the team quit on him? Did management and fans simply get tired of his stubbornness? Describe the break-up between him and the Lightning.
A: Hockey. That’s it in a nutshell. THAT’S why John Tortorella was dismissed in Tampa Bay after the 2007-08 season – the incoming ownership group (one of the most impulsively asinine ownership groups that the NHL has seen in the modern era).
You see, Torts got canned, but you miss the entire story of the season: Ownership was in limbo from August 7, 2007, until around the trade deadline in 2008. That means the team could not take on or subtract any significant payroll and change the franchises value. That means personnel problems could only be addressed with minor league reserves. And the prospects who were promoted to Tampa were not going to cure the broader ills of the Lightning (see: Goaltending).
Tortorella had to coach with what he had. Jay Feaster couldn’t make a trade. Basically everyone had to suffer that season: players, coaching, management, and the fans.
Did John Tortorella fall out of favor with the fans or the media? We were used to his antics and embraced it. He missed the playoffs only two times in his seven seasons as head coach of the Lightning: 2001-02 and 2007-08.
Now let’s finish this history lesson: Rumors started in March 2008 that the incoming ownership group wanted to bring in Barry Melrose as the head coach (a guy who hadn’t coached in the league in a decade). Torts’ fate was not sealed by his style, coaching, lack of results, or some public gaffe. His fate was sealed by the incoming owners (Oren Koules and Len Barrie, also known as “The Cowboys”) that were planning to turn the Tampa Bay Lightning into their own personal fantasy hockey team.
Melrose, their hand-picked coach, lasted 16 games with the team before getting fired.
Q: Lastly, did the Lightning win the Stanley Cup thanks to Torts or in spite of him? From what you know about this year’s Rangers team, do you think Torts can earn his second ring? (Editor’s Note: What we meant by the “in spite of him” question, was how integral a role did he play in the team winning a Cup. Poorly worded on our end.)
A: How many professional sport teams won a championship in spite of their head coach? (Editor’s Note: The 1995 Dallas Cowboys!) This isn’t a video game, this isn’t fantasy hockey, this is professional sports – where coaches are involved at all levels of game plans, training, staffing, lineups, etc. They live and breathe the sport. To insinuate a team – any team – is winning in spite of their head coach is to simply admit to bias. Did the New York Giants win the Super Bowl in spite of their head coach? Did Boston win the Cup last year in spite of Claude Julien? Did the Yankees win World Series rings in the 1990’s in spite of Joe Torre?
If John Tortorella doesn’t take the Rangers deep in the playoffs, there will be reasons for it. But the reasons won’t be because he didn’t play Sean Avery. The reason won’t be because he had the team adhere to his system. The reason won’t be because the Rangers didn’t trade for Rick Nash. It will be because the Rangers got beat.
John Tortorella winning a second Stanley Cup is something I’d like to see, but the NHL’s second season isn’t based on how well a team is playing in the regular season. It’s based on how well they play when it’s absolutely do-or-die.
Capping off our Torts tribute, here are the Top Ten John Tortorella Moments (meltdowns) of All-Time!