If you took most of your news from Twitter or other social media, you would swear John Tortorella is the chief figure in the NHL playoffs.
The New York Rangers head coach has always been a media antagonist but he’s really hit his stride this spring. His press conference after Wednesday night’s 3-2 loss to the New Jersey Devils was typical of such encounters, ones that are so short that scribes are jokingly setting over-under lines of less than a minute. Here’s the official NHL transcript:
Question: Coach, looked like you had them and it slipped away. What went wrong?
Coach Tortorella: A number of things. I'll keep it in the room.
Q: Can you just talk about the decision to sit Gaborik down?
Coach Tortorella: No.
Q: Did you feel this was the kind of effort you would have needed to win this game?
Coach Tortorella: No.
Q: Are you disappointed in this showing after you had an effort in Washington?
Coach Tortorella: I answered your first question. No.
Q: You seemed more concerned that some guys didn't play as much as they normally did, just not enough effort, results, everything?
Coach Tortorella: You need to improve as a hockey team every game.
Q: What areas would you like to see better?
Coach Tortorella: I'm going to keep it in the room.
By the end of the night, there was more whining on Twitter and in blogs on newspaper web sites and elsewhere from some hockey writers about the headaches of dealing with Tortorella. Some clever person created a parody Twitter account, @Tortsinterviews, which mainly blows off questioners with one-word answers.
There were also calls for a media boycott of all further Tortorella press conferences. This is where the media gets as silly as the coach.
The media’s job is to record the passing scene and/or offer opinions on same. Not to try and be part of the story, although this gets increasingly obscured by too many self-promoting nitwits who have access to microphones and laptops.
Dealing with jerks is part of the job. We can complain that someone like Tortorella is not being accountable to the fans when he pulls his condescending prima donna routine but we can’t ignore him. There are times when he comes out with far more candid observations about his players and opponents than other coaches ever do when the mood strikes him and we would not be doing our jobs if we too were acting like divas and weren’t around to record them. Besides, one of the privileges of the media is always getting the last word.
There is nothing wrong with venting about someone like Tortorella on social media. That’s what such things are for, to offer readers a glimpse behind scenes that are often left out of regular coverage. But that’s as far as it should go.
Not that your agent is without sin in this matter. In June, 2004, a rant about Tortorella appeared in the Globe and Mail under my byline.
I’ll plead that the complaint was the coach’s mercurial ways were derailing his team, that the Tampa Bay Lightning were down 3-2 in the Stanley Cup final to the Calgary Flames at least partly because they were getting as joyless and constipated as Tortorella. We all know how that turned out. It was the only known mistake by your correspondent, of course. Well, at least it was until that item a few weeks ago calling for Martin Brodeur to retire.
A good bet is that at least some of the denizens of the NHL’s head office do not like Tortorella’s act any more than the media does. With TV ratings in the U.S. climbing, the prospect of a New York-Los Angeles final is tantalizing. Anything viewed as threatening all that media attention makes some league executives reach for the Maalox, although in his own way Tortorella can create more attention, at least in the short term.
The coach gets away with this because he produces results. He has the 2004 Cup on his belt and is three wins away from taking the Rangers to their first NHL final since 1994.
Tortorella can also provide good copy even when he is not saying much. He is a demanding taskmaster and not from the coaches’ school that believes a player knows when he made a big mistake. Witness those television shots Wednesday of him chewing out Rangers forward Derek Stepan for a bad clearing attempt that led to the Devils’ first goal, which preceded the third-period benching of star winger Marian Gaborik for a similar gaffe that let the Devils tie the score late in the second.
However, Tortorella also inspires great loyalty in some players. None of the teams bidding on Brad Richards last summer had a chance as long as the Rangers made a competitive offer for the veteran centre. He won a Cup with Tortorella in Tampa and wanted to play for him again even though it’s not always a smooth ride. It’s like what Montreal Canadiens great Steve Shutt used to say (approximately) about Scotty Bowman: “We hated him for 364 days a year and on the 365th we got our Stanley Cup rings.”
The media, at least, can take solace in the fact Tortorella is just like his fellow coaches in one respect. When coaches are out of work, the first place they head is for a media job.
There is no more media-friendly fellow on earth than an unemployed coach or general manager. Tortorella was among the chattiest when he worked for TSN after getting the boot in Tampa and then it was back to business when the Rangers called.
At this point, though, a repeat of that hypocrisy is a long way off.