Gross Misconduct Hockey Thoughts from a drifter on the hockey landscape

02/25/2009

The Fonz and I – We Be Tight, Yo!

Filed under: John Tortorella,New York Rangers,Tom Renney — Joe Yerdon @ 2:15 AM

Upon hearing the news of the New York Rangers firing Tom Renney I admit that I wasn’t surprised to see that he would be the fall guy for an organization headed up by a dopey owner that hangs on to big name general managers a bit too long.

I digress.

What got to me was who the Rangers named to replace Renney. Mind you, this new coach is going to have to deal with a team that can’t score in a whorehouse, has serious issues on defense and the only steady guy is the one getting hung out to dry most often in goaltender Henrik Lundqvist.

You figure after what a wreck Renney was, the Rangers were going to need a taskmaster and a brilliant psychologist to try and right the ship. General Manager Glen Sather called upon Stanley Cup Champion head coach John Tortorella.

You know, the guy that lead the Tampa Bay Lightning to the Cup the season before Herr Bettman decided not playing hockey was in the league’s best interests.

John Tortorella is a great coach, I just can’t help but think that by throwing him into this incredible mess of a situation is going to have The Fonz begging to be working for Len Barrie and Oren Koules in sunny Florida again, especially since Glen Sather seems to be doing everything in his power to earn the Rangers a time slot for an MTV reality show.


On Sean Avery, “[Tortorella] doesn’t have the history with Sean that we do. I think that over time he could learn to love him like I have.” “We’ll deal with [Avery] in the next week I’m sure.”

Yeah, that’ll go over just great. That will be as warm and fuzzy of a moment as it was when Puck and Pedro had it out over peanut butter on Real World: San Francisco.

The great part about this is that this now allows me to say that I’ve been chastized by the current head coach of the New York Rangers, a guy whose name is etched upon the Greatest Trophy in Professional Sports.

Let me explain and rewind time a little bit, shall we?

It’s September 2001, it’s a little over two weeks after 9/11 and my friend Dom and I are in Syracuse covering a Tampa Bay-Columbus pre-season NHL matchup for our college television station in Oswego, NY. We’re doing pre-game interviews so when we put the game together it’ll all make sense when we wanted to air it tape delayed for our campus and sure enough we were able to lock down a talk with Coach Tortorella.

Dom and I are psyched because this is the big time for us getting to do this and Tortorella and the Lightning are a team we both had our eyes on for the future. What wasn’t to like? They just traded for Nikolai Khabibulin, they had Martin St. Louis who we loved because he was a tiny guy and he played at the University of Vermont. Brad Richards was on the scene now. Most importantly, they had Vincent Lecavalier on the team.

That night Vincent Lecavalier wasn’t going to play – not because they wanted to keep him fresh (a good reason why St. Louis didn’t play that night) but because he was holding out on his contract. The training camp rosters were loaded with all sorts of favorites and famous names for us to look at and ask about including former Buffalo Sabres Matthew Barnaby and Dave Andreychuk.

Coach Tortorella comes out to meet with us, we shake hands and get the countdown from our friend and cameraman Justin. We’re ready to roll.

Dom starts us off great and we’re asking about how camp is going to this point and if he likes what he’s seen out of the team so far. We fire out a question about what it will be like to get a full season out of Nikolai Khabibulin in goal after obtaining him from Phoenix at the trade deadline the year before. We ask about the great speed and youth on the team with Brad Richards.

We’re flying things couldn’t be going better! That is until I probe a little deeper about the youth on the way in Tampa.

I, very foolishly, ask about Alexander Svitov the Lightning’s #1 pick from the draft and what he thinks he’ll add to this team. Tortorella bristles a bit and winces in returning my serve:

“I have no idea what he’ll add to this team, he’s staying in Russia so it won’t be this year.”

Ouch.

Dom kindly picks up my fumble and ensures that I won’t be alone in feeling the wrath of The Fonz when he asks about Vinny Lecavalier’s absence in camp and about what his status is with the follow-up question to my personnel faux pas:

“I don’t know what his status is and I don’t care. Fact is he’s not here when he should be. I only care about the guys that are in that room right now. That’s it.”

On that high note, we close out the interview, stop taping, and thank the coach for his time.

He quickly headed back into the locker room to probably mutter about what a pair of meatheads we were and get the team ready to play the Blue Jackets.

Yeah, that felt as awkward as it was to read.

I know for sure that any of the folks as well as Brooke our intrepid sideline reporter that night would vouch for this story and gladly clean up any errors in my memory of that night and I will add to this post anything they refresh my memory about.

That encounter did nothing to hurt my opinion of John Tortorella if anything it helped me like the guy more and I most certainly was rooting for the Lightning to win the Cup in 2004.

That said, is he the guy to throw into this ridiculous situation in New York?

Absolutely.

Why? Accountability.

John Tortorella will demand it from everyone in the Rangers locker room, something that’s been severely lacking under Tom Renney. Don’t get me wrong here, Renney’s a good guy by all accounts and he did the best he could given the platter of guano Glen Sather kept feeding him with. The problem for Tom Renney is that he didn’t/couldn’t/wouldn’t/wasn’t able to do that.

John Tortorella demands accountability for actions, doesn’t care who you are, how big of a star you are nor how much money you make. Just ask Vinny Lecavalier about that. No, seriously, just ask him about it he’ll talk.

Hell, I’m sick of writing “accountability” right now and it’s the new buzz word in New York to describe this move. Don’t believe me? Check what Google thinks of it.


A lack of accountability shows on a player’s face – that or it was a right cross.

If I were one of the Rangers players who busted my hump every night doing my job the best I could, not only would my name be Henrik Lundqvist but I’d feel very secure in my job even though Tortorella had a bad habit of making all of his goalies lose their mind in Tampa Bay.

Everyone else? Look out and get to know a few names of guys in Hartford. Names like Corey Potter and Bobby Sanguinetti on defense and forwards Pierre Parenteau and Artem Anisimov have all played very well for Hartford this year and you can bet that if Tortorella wants to send a message to somone slacking off he’ll do it by calling on these guys.

I know that if my name was Wade Redden or Dmitri Kalinin I’d be ready to start butting heads because it will happen with them, it’s almost inevitable. Guys that will likely catch Fonz’s stink-eye up front though are the likes of Chris Drury and Aaron Voros. It wouldn’t shock me in the least to see Voros be the guy who gets designated for assignment once Avery is claimed by the Rangers leading to the Madison Square Garden main event rumble between player and coach.

I’m done talking about Avery for now since I’m not doing a blog focused on the AHL but trust me, I’ll be laughing a lot if Avery is claimed by a team with a higher priority than the Rangers when the Stars look to fish him through recall waivers so the Rangers can take him off their hands.

I will laugh a lot at this and might even celebrate with a photo, but I’m not expecting it.

Will this be enough for the Rangers this year? Probably. Despite their terrible play, they’re still a playoff team – such is life in the Eastern Conference this year. Care to wonder why so many of the NHLs top scorers can be found in the East? Take a look at the “GA” column in the standings here and look how bad some of the teams there are.

Disgusting.

Will it get the Rangers to the Stanley Cup Finals? Not a freakin’ chance, but it will be enough to allow the Rangers to play better and start winning some games again and maybe, just maybe, advance out of the first round in the playoffs.

After all, if the Rangers aren’t going to score, they need to keep the other team off the sheet better and Tortorella will get that out of this team come hell or high water.

06/10/2008

Looking Ahead — Also, What It Takes to Upset John Tortorella

Fools! The whole lot of you! Hockey does not rest – in fact, outside of the Stanley Cup Playoffs and the week or two leading up to the trading deadline, the start of the NHL offseason is wrought with drama.

First of all, some coaches are finding homes while others are righteously being shown the door. There are rumors abounding that Barry Melrose will return to coaching in Tampa Bay after being away from it for nearly 15 years after being let go by the Los Angeles Kings, just go visit ESPN.com’s NHL section to see evidence of that.

One guy I’m keeping my eye on, and for purely selfish reasons, is John Tortorella. Back in late September of 2001, I was able to cover a pre-season matchup between the Lightning and Blue Jackets in Syracuse, NY and one of the guys we were able to get an interview with was Coach Tortorella. My partner in crime on this broadcast, Dom, and I were thrilled to get this opportunity and Torts was a guy that we were excited to talk to.

At the time, Vinny Lecavalier was mired in a contract squabble with the front office and it was looking like he was going to miss the beginning of the season. Not good if you’re a young and ready to move team like the Lightning. They’d just acquired Nikolai Khabibulin and Martin St. Louis was just about to break out after coming to Tampa from Calgary.

What transpires during our pre-game interview goes down in the annals of time as being perhaps the most uncomfortable couple of minutes ever. As you know, Tortorella is intense – in a big way – just ask anyone who’s played goal for him. After a couple of light introductory questions, I fire away asking about their first round draft pick. After all, it’s pre-season and this is the place where you would see a highly-touted kid. Problem was, the highly-touted kid they picked was Russian centerman Alexander Svitov…who was still in Russia. Torts set me straight and said he’d only seen the kid on tape but they’re high on him and hope to see him next season.

Oops.

Dom, being the ever diligent friend, ends up bailing me out by asking Torts about Lecavalier and his holdout. Visibly bothered by the question, Torts gruffly answers stating that he’s not in camp where he should be and that he only cares about the guys that bothered to come to camp in the first place.

Suffice to say, the interview was wrapped up quickly after that doubleheader of d’oh. Dom and I tag-teamed to put John Tortorella in a bad mood before the game even started. Awesome.

I’ve been a Tortorella fan before getting to talk to him and I greatly enjoyed seeing him win the Stanley Cup in 2004 as well as getting the nod to coach Team USA this year for the World Championships. He’ll get another job, he’ll go somewhere where there’s no questions about goaltending. He’ll go somewhere with a wily pack of veterans with a ton of talent. There’s only one team that fits that bill right now – and that is San Jose.

The convenience of the Internet and being able to tack onto what you’ve already written allows me to link you to a story out of Tampa and Vinny Lecavalier reflecting upon his years under John Tortorella and speaking a lot about that tumultuous start to the 2001-2002 season to which Dom and I paid witness to firsthand. Who doesn’t love the Internet?!

Elsewhere, older players are hanging it up.

Among them, Dominik Hasek, Mattias Norstrom and apparently Trevor Linden as well. One guy not hanging them up is Mats Sundin – and you better believe that with the Toronto Maple Leafs at the center of any action around him, especially with Mats as an unrestricted free agent, that all the cameras will be trained on what Sundin decides to do.

Of course, the early rumors surround Team Sweden of North America in Detroit lurking waiting to give Mats the shot at a Cup he so desires. While Sundin would no doubt fit in goldenly with the Red Wings, the big question is what kind of deal will Sundin ask for and how bad does he want to win. He could surely command a fat contract out of someone with the space, but a team like Detroit will not dump a ton of money on Sundin for a year or two.

Toronto will be hot on his case and expect a public relations fiasco if Sundin signs elsewhere. After all, it was Sundin who asked to not be traded at the deadline last year and most of the Maple Leafs fans lauded him endlessly for sticking with the team. Trick now is that if Sundin bolts elsewhere now, Toronto gets nothing in return for him whereas at the deadline, a lofty sum could’ve been brought in return. Either Mats ends up an idiotic saint or he’ll be the pariah of Toronto (wrongly) for going somewhere else – especially if it ends up being Detroit.

We’re also just a week or two away from the NHL Entry Draft where Steven Stamkos will be the top pick of the Tampa Bay Lightning. Lightning GM Jay Feaster dealt away Brad Richards to Dallas at the trade deadline this past season, and by winning the NHL Draft Lottery, he gets to draft his replacement in Stamkos. Stamkos is the real deal and he’ll get to score a ton in the NHL when he arrives – and given the situation the Lightning find themselves in, crippled by bad cap management and huge contracts, Stamkos may get the opportunity to jump into the lineup right away. He’ll make a great addition to a team starving for scoring talent beyond their first line.

The Los Angeles Kings pick second, and they really ought to feel a sense of relief that they’re not in the position to pick Stamkos or not because this team is loaded with young forward talent already and have goaltending on the way in Stephen Bernier but their defensive corps are severely lacking and after Stamkos, this is a defensemen draft.

The Kings and GM Dean Lombardi will have their choice of any of these Canadian junior defensemen: Drew Doughty, Zach Bogosian, Tyler Myers, Luke Schenn and Alex Pietrangelo who happens to be the son of former Whalers and Penguins goaltender Frank Pietrangelo. All of these guys rank out high on the NHL Central Scouting Board and all of them would be welcome in Los Angeles. Remember, the Kings were starting retreads like Jon Klemm for better parts of the season – and they desperately need other defensemen to surround young blue-chip stud Jack Johnson.

There’s so much going on and so much left to happen – it’s just funny to think that some people actually put hockey out of sight and out of mind once summer is underway.

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