Say this for John Tortorella: He was one of a kind.
Brutally honest. Outspoken. Controversial. Emotional.
He said what he thought when he thought it. Everything he said went from his gut to his brain to his mouth in less than a second. If it ruffled feathers, so be it. If you didn't like it, tough.
He could be gruff, insensitive and disrespectful to players, media, NHL officials and even his own bosses. His focus was one thing: the team. He wanted it to be better today than it was yesterday, and better tomorrow than it is today. That was his sole focus every day, all day.
Yet, he had a soft side, too. Believe it or not, he could be a players' coach, giving them more days off than most NHL coaches and once taking them for a four-day, in-season vacation to Atlantic City. He often sought their advice on how to best handle a certain situation or dilemma. He praised more than he criticized. You might not think it, but most players loved playing for him. (Well, the non-goalies, that is.) And his charity work, helping children who had cancer, was a passion and went unnoticed, mostly because he never wanted it publicized.
When looking back at Tortorella's 61/2 seasons in Tampa Bay, you remember the stories. The time he yelled about this, the time he exploded about that. This wasn't all that Torts should be known for, but, right or wrong, these are the stories we remember today.
You can't even think about Tortorella without thinking of "Shut your yap!'' It's like Pavlov's dog. Someone says "Tortorella'' and someone else says, "Shut your yap!''
With the 2004 Eastern Conference final at one game apiece, Tortorella looked to deflect criticism from his team, and went after Flyers coach Ken Hitchcock because Captain Kangaroo mouthed off to one of the Lightning players during a game. Torts cut loose with his most famous tirade:
"The last time I looked, he's wearing a suit back there, the same type of suit that I'm wearing. He's not in the battle. You have two quality teams here. He should shut his yap. When it comes to a coach (and) an opposing player, it's disrespectful and it's wrong. It's gutless. That's got to stop. Park your ego and shove it in your pocket. It's about the two teams.
"It's chicken (expletive). And it's not for the series. I don't care about all the garbage that goes on, and Philly does it all the time. They like to listen (to) hear themselves talk about this, that, the other thing. That's not going to affect us. But when it comes to a coach to a player, that's just so disrespectful.''
The Lightning went on to beat the Flyers and then the Flames for the Stanley Cup.
How about a save?
Tortorella's wrath at times seemed exclusively reserved for goalies. Mister Rogers, he was not. Dozens of times over his tenure, Tortorella laid into his netminders. But his best was probably on the night of Dec. 28, 2005, after John Grahame — one of Tortorella's favorite chew toys — played poorly in a 4-3 loss to the Canadiens at the St. Pete Times Forum. Asked if the goaltending could've been better, Tortorella exploded:
"Think that has a little thing to do with it tonight? Yeah. We can't have four goals go in our net on 10 (scoring) chances. Especially the fourth goal. It can't happen!"
By that point, he was pounding the podium with his fist.
Asked if it was time to think about trading for a goalie, Torts said, "Absolutely, but in today's game, where are we going to go with the (salary) cap? I am (upset) at what is happening there because I thought our team played very well tonight. … Is there other options out there? We can't do (anything)!"
Get the … outta here
During the 2007 playoffs against New Jersey, an irritated Tortorella met with reporters after a tough loss. When pressed by New York Post hockey writer Larry Brooks on an argument he had with a Devils assistant, Tortorella made it clear he didn't want to talk about it. Brooks responded by saying the interview was "a waste of time.''
Tortorella, on live TV in Canada, responded by saying, "Well then get the (expletive) out of here then.''
Brooks was heard yelling an expletive back as Tortorella said, "Okay, see ya.'' He turned to the rest of the media and barked, "Next question.''
Not that we promote profanity, but there's a YouTube.com clip of it if you're interested. But you've been warned about the, shall we say, colorful language.
Tortorella detested making excuses, but occasionally, his anger and need to defend his team got the best of him. Such was the case Nov. 19, 2007, when the Lightning lost in OT at Atlanta with Brad Richards in the penalty box for an iffy penalty.
"The frustrating part for me is these organizations pay the players millions upon millions of dollars," Tortorella said. "They're the ones who need to decide outcomes of games. Listen, I'm trying to stay away from criticizing as far as the calls, but (expletive) that. I just don't get it. And it makes the coaching job that much harder, how you coach your players in playing when you get that (expletive) out there."
Two days later, Tortorella was fined $10,000 by the NHL for his comments.
Torts vs. Andre
Tortorella often butted heads with players, especially the goalies and, often, Vinny Lecavalier and Marty St. Louis. But no one drove Tortorella crazy more than enforcer Andre Roy. Twice, Roy was booted off the team for a short spell — once last season and once during the 2003 playoffs.
Sorry 'bout that
In a game early in the 2005-06 season, Lightning defenseman Paul Ranger was injured after a dirty hit by Atlanta tough guy Eric Boulton, right. Tortorella was incensed. "That guy should be playing the East Coast Hockey League and he takes out a National Hockey League player. He'll get suspended, but who cares? Nobody wants him on the ice anyway."
The next day, Tortorella apologized, saying, "I don't think a coach from another team should be criticizing another player."
The disease of the mores
Few things infuriated Tortorella more than players he felt were disloyal. That was how he viewed who left for free agency after the Stanley Cup victory, players such as Nikolai Khabibulin and Jassen Cullimore. Here's what he said after Cullimore left:
"We won the Stanley Cup as a team. …But when it comes to negotiating in the summer, all the garbage coming out of the agents' mouths and the players' mouths make it seem like they were the most important part of the Stanley Cup. …(It's) the disease of the mores. I want more.
"When is it a little giveback to the organization and their teammates? I know we don't live in a perfect world. It's not just Jassen, but the whole scenario of the people coming to (GM Jay Feaster). What they're throwing at him is a joke."
Ultimately, Tortorella will and should be remembered for one thing. Yes, we will think of "shut your yap'' and all the times he bashed the goalies or used his catchphrases such as, "We're just going about our business'' and, "this, that and the other thing'' or the ever-favorite, "None of your business.'' But this is what fans should think of first: he coached a team that won Tampa Bay the Stanley Cup.
Just after that, Tortorella was named the league's coach of the year, and he summed it all up in one short sentiment: "The reason we had success is we believe it's about a team. You give them an opportunity to go down the right road. If they veer off you've got to bring them back."
He said it
"The circumstances stink. The famous line is that it's all part of the game, but it still stinks."
— John Tortorella, on Jan. 6, 2001, when he was named to replace the fired Steve Ludzik as Lightning coach
He said this, too.
"In this day and age, it's not the adversarial coach and players. The players and coaches are partners. The Lightning has been (bad) for a number of years. The only way we have to go is up."
— Tortorella, after his first team meeting as coach