The fiery ex-bench boss of the Rangers and Canucks does have a Stanley Cup ring from his time in Tampa Bay, but is he the man who can helm the Americans to victory in a short, pressure-packed tournament?
Team USA has named former NHL coach John Tortorella as bench boss for the 2016 World Cup of Hockey in Toronto and if history is any indicator, we know he has a strategy for shutting down the Sedin Twins (rimshot).
But seriously, ‘Torts’ will be in charge of a very potent lineup and now the question is whether he’s the right man for the job.
There were plenty of options for Team USA – Peter Laviolette, Dan Bylsma and Todd Richards all run NHL benches, for example – so the Tortorella announcement definitely raised eyebrows.
On the positive side of the ledger, Tortorella has a Stanley Cup championship under his belt thanks to his work as bench boss of the 2003-04 Tampa Bay Lightning. He had slightly less success with the New York Rangers, going as far as the conference final with the Blueshirts. And in a case of diminishing returns, he missed the playoffs and occasionally lost his mind in one season with the Vancouver Canucks.
With the Lightning, Tortorella was known for his “safe is death” motto, which produced the third-best NHL offense in ’03-04. But his Rangers teams were a stifling defensive unit and his Canucks had the fewest goals-for in the Western Conference.
Team USA promises to have incredible offensive lights such as Tyler Johnson, Phil Kessel and Zach Parise up front, plus Kevin Shattenkirk and John Carlson have nice skills on the back end. If ‘old’ Tortorella shows up for the Americans, that would be a great situation. We know the man can motivate and also deflect pressure from his players by becoming the story himself – and yes, that can be a positive (think of Wayne Gretzky’s rant as Canada’s executive director at the 2002 Olympics).
But if grinding, defensive ‘Torts’ shows up, the Americans will be doomed. The Rangers had an incredible defense corps (McDonagh, Staal, Girardi, etc.) playing against regular NHL competition. Team USA will have to face a Canadian squad led by Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Toews and John Tavares in the round robin and, most likely, either the Russians (Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin and crew) or Swedes (Nicklas Backstrom, Erik Karlsson and friends) in the crossover semifinal. You can’t grind any of those teams. Sure, having Jonathan Quick in net will help, but hoping for a 2-1 result may not be the best strategy.
But perhaps Tortorella has been doing some soul-searching during his latest period of unemployment. The Americans play best when they believe they are underdogs and Tortorella can certainly get his troops fired up. If he stays out of his own way, Team USA will have a shot at the gold.