John Tortorella’s act appears to have run its course. The Rangers’ coach talks tough, has little use for media questions that he deems unworthy of his time, demands his players regularly disregard their personal safety by diving in front of 100 mph slap shots, and then throws said players under the bus by publicly ripping them.
What has it gotten him? Apparently, a humiliating exit from the Stanley Cup playoffs.
The Rangers are facing a sweep at the hands of the Bruins, and Tortorella could be staring at the end of his tumultuous six-year tenure in New York. It’s not solely that the Rangers are losing to the Bruins; it’s how they are waltzing into the off-season sunset. His team appears disinterested, disorganized and distracted. There was no sense of urgency in Tuesday’s Game 3 defeat. Worse, Tortorella made few adjustments to counter how the Bruins stymied New York’s fore-check or to repair his team’s insipid power play.
Tortorella’s press conferences are must-see TV, no doubt about that. Sometimes he’s candid and droll, hockey’s answer to Bill Parcells. At other times he goes all Bill Belichick on the media, offering pithy, cryptic responses that provide little enlightenment. Mainly, he views himself as the one in control, contemptuously dismissing inquiries with “Next question” or arrogantly, abruptly ending press conferences a minute or so after they begin.
That’s not to say he doesn’t occasionally have reason to be flippant. He provided a Hall-of-Fame response during the Rangers’ first-round series when a reporter requested that he “talk about . . . ” and Tortorella shot back, “Ask me a question.” Beautiful.
It all works when you win. That’s always the bottom line with any coach in any sport. Belichick can offer non-answers to reporters’ questions forever as long as the Patriots are playoff-bound every January. If Bobby Valentine had led the Red Sox to the World Series last fall, do you think anyone would have cared that he was an egomaniacal fruitcake?
But start losing and fans demand accountability and explanations. Owners, too.
If the Rangers are eliminated by the Bruins, Tortorella’s New York resume will read like this:
– First-round loss;
– Missed playoffs;
– First-round loss;
– Lost in conference finals;
– Second-round loss.
Not exactly compelling evidence to keep a coach who is constantly courting controversy.
Right now, Tortorella is losing, and he’s losing ugly. The Rangers are a mess, especially on the power play, and the coach is getting heat for failing to make changes. On NBC, analysts Mike Milbury and Pierre McGuire have taken turns ripping into Tortorella, both for the power play and his criticism of second line wing Carl Hagelin earlier in the series. Asked why Hagelin wasn’t seeing more time when the Rangers had the man advantage, Tortorella said “because he stinks on the power play.”
Milbury, who coached the Bruins to the Cup finals in 1990, didn’t much like that comment.
“I haven’t heard John Tortorella take responsibility for a power play that’s had (Rick) Nash, (Marian) Gaborik, (Brad) Richards, a whole host of good-looking defensemen, and can’t get anything done,” he said on NBC’s pregame show prior to Game 2. “I think it’s time for John Tortorella to take a look at how he’s coaching this thing.”
McGuire was equally disgusted.
“Throwing your player (Hagelin) under the bus at this time of year — no, I’m not buying it,” he said. “(The power play) has been a problem all season long. It’s the schematic that’s wrong. Not the players.”
Hagelin and his teammates have yet to verbally respond to Tortorella’s rip, but perhaps they’ve made their statement with their play on the ice. Coaches have lost teams for far less, and the Rangers appear weary of Tortorella’s methods.
It’s a shame, really, because he is entertaining, and I’d love to watch him in action over a seven-game series. I might not feel that way if I were covering the series and forced to attend his press conferences, ask questions and risk being the subject of one of his classic harangues. But from the safety of my couch, it’s amusing.
Right now, fewer and fewer people, and in particular Rangers’ fans, are finding anything humorous about Tortorella. Except perhaps, as a black comedy, his team’s glaring lack of fire.