First, I think youse all saw that Chara, Lidstrom (does he ever stop?) and Weber were named finalists for the Norris Trophy.
More John Tortorella:
I asked him about the “identity” he’s so often spoken about, and if that’s something that is now in place, and if the team starts next season at a different level because that’s in place, or if you have to start all over again:
“No, I don’t think so, because we’ll have, I think our core will be back, I think we know how to play within a style. But you also, as you find out in the playoffs, you grind, and I know we’ll grind, but you also need a big play at a key time, to where maybe you score one or two of those goals that maybe isn’t underneath the hashmarks and jamming the net and (it takes) just everything you possibly can just to score that goal (Ed. Note: Guessing the Ovechkin goal in Game 4 might be an example of that). Like our power play. There’s no question … and Caber (McCabe), we bring him in, he’s a shooter. He kind of gets caught in a tough spot because we really don’t have a quarterback, and Caber was kind of the quarterback/shooter. It doesn’t work. So those are the type of things that you look to add to to this core.
“But you know as well as I do, a lot of people look for those pieces, too. I guess what I’m saying is that you have your team and you need to play a style in what your team is. I think that’s part of coaching. But if other pieces are added, then there are some different situations and you find different ways to score those goals or play defense, or whatever it may be. I’m sure that’s what we’re looking to add.”
Tortorella loves to give Jesse Spector (a rookie on the beat) a tough time. So when he started to ask one, Tortorella cut him off:
“Is it a dumb question? Because you had some dumb questions in the playoffs. Yes, you have.”
On the lessons that come out of the experience of playoffs:
“Well, how different it is from regular-season to playoffs. I’m not going to name names, but I’ve had two or three guys say, ‘I don’t know why I struggled in the playoffs.’ There’s no answer. Because I can tell they’re beating themselves up. There’s not an answer until you get into another playoff series and you’re successful and you’ve gone through some experiences and then you play another round, maybe two, and you find your way. That’s when you realize how different it is, as far as whether it be uptight or just overwhelming, because I think a couple of guys were overwhelmed with it. But they wouldn’t understand being overwhelmed and how to learn from it until they get the opportunity. So that’s what I … they’re looking to me for an answer, but I … there is no answer until you play another round or two and find some success. That’s how you develop a team, that’s how you gain experience. That’s where you get better as a player.”
“You know, I’m disappointed. I’m disappointed in, I thought we could have played more games. I think that, like I said after the game, the strength of our team was being able to handle … I think we were third in the regular season in goals-for in the third period, third or fifth, and we were right at the top of the league, 29-0 (entering the third with a lead), second in the league as far as gaining points even going into the third period losing—a lot of good things. But we have three games out of the first four where we’re leading (in the third period) and we only win one. That’s a recipe for disaster when you’re playing against a team like Washington. We can talk about the power play; that adds to it in not succeeding there. But bottom line is we had the games in the third period and we didn’t get the jobs done. That’s crucial in the Washington series because it’s a 4-1 series. It could have been different. But shoulda, coulda, woulda, but it wasn’t, and that falls on us.
“So I want you to understand, I still think this team has to go through a process, but I think we could have done better in the playoffs. And I’m disappointed in some players that we were counting on. There’s disappointment there. I’m worried about some of those; that disappointment worries me as far as playoff hockey. I am really excited about how some other guys played, that I didn’t expect to play so well. So there’s a whole litany of feelings that I have as far as when we played five games. But we were a better team. We were a better team. We shouldn’t have been playing just five games. That falls on us.”
Did lack of experience hurt in terms of Game 4 into Game 5?:
“Some, but we can’t use lack of experience as the overall factor here, because as I said, we were counting on some people to step up and it didn’t happen. It didn’t happen, especially when you lose a guy—and I can say it now: The Callahan injury, it’s not an excuse because it also put more pressure on the guys to step up and I didn’t see it happen. But the Callahan injury, for any team—I know other teams … For L.A. Kopitar was out, wasn’t he? And he’s a star in the league. But for the New York Rangers to lose a Ryan Callahan, it was a huge blow. A huge blow. But it also gave other guys an opportunity to make up for that, and that was disappointing to me. I’m not going to name names, but it was just disappointing. So, for me, as I get through the feelings of it all, really excited as far as some things as far as what happened in five games, disappointed and worrisome in some other situations.”
On Sean Avery thinking that the way he played in the playoffs, after being a healthy scratch, showing he can be a valuable member of the team and having a role:
“Well, it’s a matter of consistency with Sean. Did I think Sean play a … he played good in the playoffs. It wasn’t anything spectacular. But it’s a situation where I have to make decisions each and every game for what’s best for the hockey club and I think I’ve been very fair with all players on that. And so with Sean, I don’t know where it sits. We go to camp and we find out, along with a number of other players.”
Asked if he thought this core has championship potential:
“I’m not talking championship. We just got eliminated in five games in the first round, and you’re talking championship? It’d be crazy for a coach to be talking that way. I think I know what you’re asking.”
It was clarified, he meant, to get to the next level:
“Yes, as I said, I like hockey club. I like where the growth went. I think they’ll continue to grow. Things need to be added. But I think they’re ready to take the next step. I think that’s what you asked me. Absolutely. And that falls on us as we continue to grow. And guys that had career years, or had really good years, gotta make sure that they come back ready to go again and we keep improving. I think that’s the thing, as a coach, when you’re building a hockey club, is, did the guy improve? I look at (Matt Gilroy). Three or four months ago, I wasn’t sure with Gilly. But I watched him go through the process. He was sent down last year, he was in and out of the lineup this year, struggled, I thought, terribly at certain times. But I think he shows improvement. I thought he was one guy in the playoffs, although it didn’t amount to a lot of points offensively, which we’re hoping will come to him eventually, but I thought he tried to make a difference in the playoffs. So I see him improving. I’m just using him as an example. That’s what you want to see as you try to build your hockey club, is improvement. And I thought a number of guys improved, and we’re hoping they continue to improve, and that’s how you become a winner. Or at least more competitive as you get in these situations in the playoffs.”
On whether he’d have sounded as optimistic if the Rangers hadn’t made the playoffs on that final night:
“No, because, we shouldn’t have had to wait. We shouldn’t have had to sit and watch the other hockey game. Rules are rules. It’s a stupid rule, or a stupid … is it called a rule? I would have been, yes, and I did jump the gun on you guys (between the Devils game and the Carolina-Tampa game) because I was pissed off because I watched our team play as hard as we did, and we have to wait for another team that has three less wins than us. It doesn’t make sense to me. They use that damn shootout thing, they want a win, they want to determine a win, there’s no ties, they want to do it quickly because of TV, and then they discount them when it comes down to what your record it. And they use it 10 different ways as far as I’m concerned. So, it’s stupid.”
On how critical it was to be able to evaluate the young players in a playoff setting:
“Yeah, we’re not just evaluating young kids. We’re evaluating everybody. Yeah. So it’s hard sometimes, because you want to get in. I think as a coach, you want to win every game. It makes me sick that we’re not there now, that we have to watch it. But when you get to being an evaluator and you start making decisions for next year and building a team, you’ve got to make sure that you’re honest about where you are as a club, you know what I’m saying? You need to be sure, and you need to be honest about what positions you put players in before you get mad at them, or the other way around, that you expected them to handle that and they didn’t.
“So it’s a constant evaluation when you’re in the situation we’re at right now. But you have to stay with your organizational philosophy, (which) is that we’re going to keep adding to the core, and I’m not saying it’s a rookie, I’m not saying it’s a young kid coming out … that doesn’t have to be added to the core. It may be a guy that you feel is the right guy for right now, for where your team is. And you keep on trying to put those pieces together. It’s not about going out and trying to sign a bunch of free agents. It has to be that right guy. But make sure before you are upset and not interested in the guy you have right now, that was he put in the legitimate position that he really should be in if you’re building a winning team?”
So, some people were not in the right positions?
“There’s no question. There’s no question when you’re building a hockey club that some guys were put in spots that they’re not ready to do right now. But there were some guys put in spots that they should be able to do it, and that’s where I have disappointment. That’s where I have all those different feelings as you look at your club. So it’s a constant evaluation that you go through, because you make mistakes when you get really upset with a guy when, really, is that what that guy is? Is that the spot that he really needs to be in if you’re going to be a winning team? And then what you do is you get rid of that guy and then you’re spinning your wheels again, because that’s a foundation guy. He might not be the top-end guy, but he’s a good foundation player. So it’s about slotting people in the right spot. You’ve got to make sure in your evaluation when you’re slotting people.”
On two of the older players, Chris Drury and Vinny Prospal, and what he envisions or assesses their futures:
“Well, you start with Vinny. I never thought Vinny would come back from the injury. He did. Very inconsistent and he readily admits that. His leg, I think his knee, at least talkng to him—and they’re going to do the MRI and all that stuff—but I think it’s structurally sound inside but he wasn’t able to develop the muscles around (it). And he struggled. He played really well at times and really struggled. He was very inconsistent. You have to think, you’ve got to make sure—Vinny’s getting older. He adds a tremendous quality to our team in just the way he is as a pro. These are things we have to talk about, and you don’t want to get into a situation where it’s a mistake and it takes the spot of another (player). He’s a skilled guy, but that’s something that we really have to talk about and assess and listen to what the doctors say about him and all.
“Same thing with Dru. Dru’s a guy that has a knee, and high marks for him, because I didn’t even expect him back. I was so happy for him when he scored the goal (vs. the Devils) and who knows? Because of that stupid rule we may not have even gotten in if Dru didn’t score a goal. Who knows what would have happened?
“But then as I watch him in playoffs, it was a bit of a struggle for Dru, honestly. He tried like hell, but he slowed down as it went on. I thought he did a great job in the role that he did as a killer and a faceoff guy. But again, this is something, honestly, that we have to look at, as far as, where does he fit now? Because we are going young. And we’re trying to build it up again. And with older guys, those are conversations that we have to have, as we continue here for the next few months.”
Same for Fedotenko?
“Sure. Again, Brian Boyle and him were probably our two best forwards, our two most consistent forwards in the playoffs. (He) served a tremendous role for us, especially with Cally being out, in where he’s so versatile. That’s someone we have to talk about in a way where, I think he’s 31 (32 actually), but I thought played very well for us, and that’s someone we have to talk about as far as, yeah, he is getting older, but he added a lot to our club, also. So these are all conversations we have to have. I have my thoughts, but we have to pool our thoughts and then Glen has to make a decision on where we go with some of these athletes.”
On the next step in Marc Staal’s game:
“Get to the next level. I think there’s another level there. Marc knows that. Marc was pretty banged up as we went through here. In that way I was hoping that … I thought he played really good in the playoffs. I thought he had a really good year. I think there’s more there. I think there’s more there. Hopefully some of the bite in his game will improve as we go along here. But he is a big part of our club here. But there’s always more, and it’s our job as coaches to make sure that they understand it. He’s still just a young man. He’s played a lot, but he’s still just a young man. But we’ll, as far as the push right now, he was banged up at the end of the year here and I thought fought through it pretty well. But he has an A on his shirt now. He needs to assume more responsibility and this isn’t negative, this is part of the process for him, too. He is going to be better and the most important thing is that he knows that there’s more there and that’s how we’re going to approach this.”
Back to Drury, the fact that he’s the captain here, does that figure into the decision based on the respect Tortorella and the players have for him?:
“Intangibles always come into evaluating. You just can’t let the intangibles override other things, too. Dru and I have a great relationship. We’ve been very honest with one another. Dru is getting older. That’s why he has this chronic knee, and it’s amazing that he was able to come back when he did. But we have to make decisions based on what’s best for the organization moving on, and I’m not saying—don’t get me wrong—but we have to be careful with all this stuff here. And it’s certainly not my total decision, but I have my thoughts, so these are all conversations we have to have.”
Asked to evaluate his own coaching:
“No, I’m not … you guys evaluate it enough for me. Is that it?”
So I asked him what he thinks of the shootout, since it was my turn to be the closer.
He laughed, thanked everybody, shook everyone’s hand and wished them a good summer. Totally different guy from last year. Very similar to the one who was interim coach for four games in 1999- 2000.