The best and worst of volatile coach John Tortorella's eruptions
Love him or hate him, John Tortorella is never dull. Fiery, blunt and always outspoken, he is the winningest American bench boss in NHL history and a Stanley Cup champion (2004). During his 14 years (so far) in the league with the Canucks, Rangers, Lightning and now the Blue Jackets, he’s made plenty of headlines with his memorable pronouncements, blowups, and outbursts. Here are some of the highlights—or lowlights—depending on your perspective.
If his team’s games are ever snoozefests, Tortorella’s media scrums often make up for them by turning into must-see events. As this clever video collection illustrates, he can be as absurdly terse as he is bluntly outspoken.
The Hartley kerfuffle
The NHL was abuzz as Tortorella faced a disciplinary hearing for attempting to angrily barge into Calgary's dressing room during the first intermission of a game on January 18, 2014. The object of his ire was Flames coach Bob Hartley, with whom Tortorella had taken umbrage after Hartley sent out a lineup of fourth-line pugilists for the opening face-off. Tortorella responded in kind and a full-scale line brawl ensued, generating 152 penalty minutes and eight ejections in the game’s first two seconds. Vancouver’s bench boss was incensed—his passions undoubtedly fueled by his team’s skid of eight losses in its previous nine games, including a 9–1 demolition by the Anaheim Ducks—and he started screaming at Hartley while the melee unfolded. After the scoreless first period, Tortorella added a new chapter to his turbulent history, one that resulted in a 15-day, six-game suspension. (Hartley was fined $25,000 for his unseemly choice of on-ice personnel.)
Tortorella, who played winger in the ACHL and for the University of Maine, spent six seasons as the Tampa Bay Lightning’s bench boss, winning the 2004 Jack Adams Award as coach of the year after guiding the team to the franchise’s lone Stanley Cup. During his tenure, he cultivated a notable running feud with Larry Brooks, a New York Post columnist and New York Rangers beat writer. The exchange above is one of the most infamous as it occurred live on the air and included a clear F-bomb going off. The memorable moment below took place in January 2010, after Torts had moved on to New York where he was afforded the opportunity to exchange pleasantries with his pal Larry on a more frequent basis.
After being fired by Tampa Bay in June 2008 with a year remaining on his contract, Tortorella served as an analyst for TSN and made it clear that he was no fan of Sean Avery, saying after the Dallas Stars’ notorious agitator was suspended for making crude comments about former girlfriends, “He’s embarrassed himself. He’s embarrassed his organization. More important, he’s embarrassed his teammates who have to look out for him. But it’s the NHL. He’s embarrassed the whole league. Send him home.” As misfortune would have it, Avery ended up playing for the Rangers after they hired Tortorella as coach in February 2009.
Bullets from Broadway
During Tortorella’s four years behind New York’s bench, his Rangers were known for wearing down opponents with tenacious play. Unfortunately, he ultimately wore down his own players while he wore out his welcome. His teams fell short of a trip to the Stanley Cup Final, and in May 2013 he ended up leaving behind a swath of colorful language and unfulfilled promise, ultimately landing the coaching gig in Vancouver. This is not to suggest that Tortorella had no successes in New York. His teams played an honest game, blocked shots with every bruised bone in their bodies, and won more games than they lost. But there were also incidents like the one during Game 5 of the Rangers’ playoff series against Washington in 2009. Tortorella got into it with a heckling Caps fan, squirting and throwing a water bottle in response before waving a stick. The league suspended him for Game 6. The Rangers lost that one, 5–3, at home and were eliminated two nights later.
Tortorella has paid his share of fines for lambasting officials, drawing one $10,000 levy while coaching Tampa Bay in November 2007. His best known forfeiture of fundage came after his Rangers won the 2012 Winter Classic in Philadelphia despite a penalty shot awarded to the Flyers in the closing minute with New York up by a goal. Said Tortorella after the game: “I’m not sure if NBC got together with the refs to turn this into an overtime game ... There are two good referees. I thought the game was reffed horribly. I’m not what happened there. Maybe they wanted to get it to overtime. I’m not sure if they had meetings about that ... In that third period, it was disgusting.” Torts’ wallet was promptly relieved of $30,000. Three months later, he scribbled a $20,000 check to the NHL after impugning the character of the Penguins following a 5–2 loss. Among his sentiments: Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin were “whining stars” who played for “one of the most arrogant organizations in the league.”
Giving the Devils their due
One of Tortorella’s most notorious tete-a-tetes was the time he yapped with Devils coach Peter DeBoer during a March 2012 line brawl that bears a strong resemblance to the one that broke out between the Canucks and Flames. When New York and New Jersey dispatched their goons to the ice and then dropped the gloves three seconds after the opening face-off, the two coaches engaged in a frank exchange of views while leaning over the ends of their benches. Surely more than a few fans were expecting Tortorella and DeBoer to go after each other.
A typically memorable appraisal of his Rangers after a March 2013 loss to Buffalo.
When asked on May 18, 2013, why Carl Hagelin, a talented forward, wasn’t on the Rangers’ power play more often, Tortorella replied that Hagelin’s play with the man advantage was malodorous. However, the coach did make some valid points about Hagelin’s speed being a bad fit for the unit’s structure, but he also used the word “stinks” several more times during his answer. Hagelin was an impressionable 24-year-old trying to make it in the league, so it came as no surprise that there were rumblings of dissension, if not mutiny, in the Rangers’ dressing room as it was obvious that the coach had clearly lost control of it.
Kiss kiss kiss ...
When Brad Richards, New York’s high-priced free-agent center, slumped during the 2013 season, Tortorella eventually demoted him to the fourth line before benching him for New York’s final two playoff games. The moves severely damaged a relationship that had been forged during their years together in Tampa, where they won the Stanley Cup. Tortorella’s blustery attempt to defend Richards did nothing to heal the rift. “Brad Richards is a helluva hockey player,” the coach said. “None of you’s, don’t put words in my mouth. It’s not blaming Brad Richards. I’ve already heard enough of that crap already. He’s a helluva hockey player that’s having a helluva time. I need to make decisions for what I feel is right for the team to win tonight’s game. That’s why I make that decision. This is a Conn Smythe winner, a guy that I’ve grown up, a guy that I love as a person and as a player. Kiss my ass if you want to write something different. It’s not about blaming that guy and I don’t want anybody to pile on him. This is my decision and I make it for the hockey club.”
And now a final word