Friday, October 10, 2008
Wednesday, September 3, 2008
Saturday, August 23, 2008
Friday, August 1, 2008
Tortorella got his first major break in 1988-89 when he was hired as an assistant coach with the New Haven Nighthawks of the American Hockey League. He became an assistant coach with the Buffalo Sabres the following season, and remained with the Sabres organization through the 1996-97 season. The Sabres recognized Tortorella's teaching abilities and named him the head coach of their AHL affiliate, the Rochester Americans, prior to the 1995-96 season. His Rochester team won the Calder Cup in 1996 and followed that up with the best record in the AHL's Northern Conference during the 1996-97 regular season.
Tortorella returned to the NHL in 1997 as an assistant with the Phoenix Coyotes, where he spent two seasons before joining the New York Rangers for 1999-2000. He served as the Rangers' interim head coach for the final four games of the ?99-00 season before joining the Lightning staff.
Herein lies the reason why Tortorella is probably a better bet for the coaching position. Tortorella has experience coaching young and losing teams. The Coyotes and the 99-00 Rangers were both teams that were not so hot. It turned out to be great experience. After Tortorella took over the Lightning in 2001 he managed to turn the team around. When he was an assistant the team was second to last in the league, with 59 points. When Tortorella took over, the team finished with ten more points. The season after that, the Lightning finished with 95 points winning the South East Division. That season coincided with the maturation of Vinnie Lecavalier, Marty St. louis, and Brad Richards. Since 2003-2004 those three have been seen as legitimate stars in this league.
Tortorella's ability as a teacher has been overshadowed by his fiery personality. Many people believe that Tortorella would dominate the Islanders. They say that he would limit the play time of the young kids and ruin them with locker room tantrums and tirades. If that were the case Lecavalier, et al, would not be the players they are today. People tend to ignore the plain fact that those players were also young at one time as well. Many people though Lecavalier was not coachable. They though he was a prima-donna and that he would waste his talent. In short he was a project. Yet, two seasons after Tortorella took over Vinnie put up 78 points, way up from 37 the season before. Add to that Tortorella's success at the AHL level and it becomes apparent that he may actually know how to handle young kids. Many people also say that his personality is the type that would conflict with Garth Snow. That is Garth's decision alone, but that probably is not the case. During the seven or so years that Tortorella was with the Lightning I can't remember any of the conflicts that he had with Jay Feaster. That isn't to say they didn't happen I'm just saying that they were so not very memorable. I also do not remember any rumblings that his job was in trouble because of his personality. Winning, though, is the cure to all ills in professional sports so, perhaps when Tortorella was winning games for the Lightning his personality was a non-issue.
It must be said, though, that as much as Tortorella might criticize management, who really could believe that he would go to the lengths that Ted Nolan did? Like people said, the things Nolan was saying seemed like his attempts to get fired. Tortorella certainly is outspoken, but he is generally constructive with his comments. He also would not be above working with Snow or collaborating on a plan for the two to follow. Any coach would land right there, though. In the end Tortorella has come out unharmed from his team's collapse, whereas Hartley seems to be damaged goods.
In my time in hockey, about 15 years or so, I have learned that the best coaches are not one type of personality or another. They can deliver the soft touch when they need to tell a player what they need, and they know when to yell at or bench their players as way of teaching lessons. From what I've seen of the available coaches Tortorella has the best mix of these two traits and he knows how to deal with superstars who have strong personalities, i.e. Rick DiPietro. The last thing the team would need is a soft touch coach who is afraid to stand up to Rick, or who is afraid to stand up for himself when, as so many say, Rick calls up Charles Wang. Bob Hartley actually may have a leg up in that area. With his relationship with Garth Snow, Hartley might have the GM's vote over that of the start goalie.
You never know what can happen, though. The team may very well go with a relatively unknown coach. Going with the recentish Newsday article Scott Gordon and Mike Sullivan both seem to be at least decent coaching prospects. In a toss up between them I would go with Gordon. The only reason why is that I would be hoping for the Bruce Boudreau factor. Gordon has had success at the AHL with the Providence Bruins but has yet to coach at the NHL level. If the team really wants a coach to play the role of teacher then Gordon probably would be best. On the other hand, Sullivan, just like a good prospect, may be primed for a breakout season. He has had his initial head coaching job with minimal success. But he has had success at the AHL level. It stands to reason, that he could follow in his former boss's footsteps and develop a young team into his own success story.
So, really, while I come out greatly in favor of John Tortorella here, it is only because he is a known commodity. It may actually be very wise for the team to pick one of the AHL or other coaches that are available. That coach could develop as the team does and could stay a while.
In any case, the Islanders should continue with "the plan" and develop the team as it should be developed.