On the eve of his first training camp as head coach of the Rangers, John Tortorella sat down with a group of hockey writers this morning to discuss many various topics, the most surprising of which might have been his admission that he took part in media training during the summer.
Never known to be a fan of the media---or as Torts clarified today, he doesn't necessarily dislike the reporters, he just doesn't like how the media interferes with what he is trying to accomplish with his team---Tortorella, nonetheless, was engaging and thoughtful today.
But it did not take him long to break---and continue to repeatedly break---one of the things he was taught in media training: don't curse when speaking to reporters. He literally broke that rule within his first couple of sentences today!
While there were quite a few laughs during his near-60 minute media session this morning, Tortorella did not duck any difficult questions, and answered each and every one in his usual passionate way. I'll share some of his quotes on player-related topics here, and will follow with another blog entry detailing his take on other issues a bit later.
- Of a possible training camp holdout by restricted free agent center Brandon Dubinsky, Torts said, "This happens, and I'm not sure where this is going to go...it's not like we hold grudges....it's not going to affect our camp. We are going to go about our business as a team as we're supposed to."
- Tortorella explained that he has spoken twice already with goaltender Henrik Lundqvist about limiting the number of games he starts this season. And Torts emphasized that this decision was not based solely on the fact that Henrik will also be taking part in the Olympics, tending goal for Sweden come February. "Even if it was not an Olympic year, I think we need to manage (his minutes) better. I'm not sure if Hank likes that...." Torts also said, "You look at some of the goalies that ended up in the Top Four in the playoffs and look at how many games they played...Hank will not play the amount of games he played last year. How many he does play, I don't know....He loves to compete and I love him for that. But we need to manage that better."
- The Rangers bench boss also discussed how he reached out to team captain Chris Drury several times this summer in an attempt to forge a stronger bond between the two. He said that Drury was receptive, and that he believes they are on the right track. "I wanted to get to know him. I wanted him to get to know me because he is the captain of this hockey club. I think he is beginning to feel more comfortable with me, and I feel more comfortable with him." Tortorella also mentioned that he spoke to 3 or 4 other players this summer on a regular basis, though he refused to divulge any names.
- Torts spoke quite a bit about Vinny Prospal, whom he coached in Tampa Bay and who just signed with the Rangers as a free agent. He believes that Prospal will be quite motivated this season, playing for a contract next year and also looking for redemption after being bought out by the Lightning. "It's good to have a player in that situation." Torts also said that having someone who understands his coaching and motivational style as well as Prospal does will be a benefit in the dressing room this year. "Vinny Prospal definitely understands me and will carry the message for me" despite a much-chronicled combative relationship with Tortorella, which the coach also tried to dispell. "Don't misconstrue all of that stuff that goes on. That's heat of the battle stuff. We have a tremendous relationship."
- As for the decision to sign free agent enforcer Donald Brashear instead of resigning popular heavyweight Colton Orr this summer, Tortorella said that the decision came down to the fact that Brashear is a better skater and could possibly play in situations other than fourth-line duty, unlike Orr. "Colton did a lot of heavy lifting for this team, so I don't want to disrespect him at all. I just think Donald is a little bit better skater. Let's hope that's the case."
- On inking free agent Marian Gaborik this summer, Torts said, "As I told Glen (Sather) when I first got here, I think you need a gamebreaker, that guy who can make that huge offensive play." But Tortorella is mindful that Gaborik has been injury prone throughout his career, and he plans on monitoring Gabby's health all season long and provide him the proper rest along the way. "It's about the games, playing in the games. It's not about pushing him too much in practice," noted the head coach.