John Tortorella said from the time he was hired as coach of the New York Rangers
last season through the first round of the playoffs, it was a sprint.
Now that he's had a full summer to learn about his players and formulate a way to install his entire game plan, he's not slowing down a bit. And he expects -- actually, demands -- his players keep up.
"I thought our conditioning level was awful," Tortorella told NHL.com when asked about the team he inherited last season. "It's a different style of game we want to play. Some guys struggled through a 40-minute tempo practice and that's unacceptable. We have two days of testing that is pretty grueling. I've talked to guys ... there's a long enough summer getting knocked out in the first round -- get your (tail) in there (the gym) because it's going to be tough. I think we need to be in that much better conditioning for how we want to play."
Tortorella began that work when he was hired Feb. 23, but because he only had 21 regular-season and seven playoff games, he only put in part of his plan. After a long summer, however, the players are about to get every bit of Tortorella's play book.
"It's not toughness in physical play, it's just how we approach it every day," he said. "I'm a big believer in doing your best every day. We need to teach them, we need to each day hold each and every person accountable for how they perform on and off the ice. I think (former coach) Tom Renney and his staff did a great job with that team and ... I have a different philosophy than Tom and his staff and the style of play and how we go about things. It's just how we conduct ourselves. I think we have our hand out asking for more rather than giving. That tone is going to be set through our opening-day meeting. We're going to teach that type of attitude.
"I worry about our mental toughness. And I don't want to insult anybody, but I think the whole dynamic there, I think we're a soft team as far as thinking. The organization treats the players very well, they have a great practice facility, it's New York City ... I think we need to stiffen up a little bit. That's the biggest thing -- we need to be a stiffer team in our thinking as we play games."
"I've talked to guys ... there's a long enough summer getting knocked out in the first round -- get your (tail) in there (the gym) because it's going to be tough. I think we need to be in that much better conditioning for how we want to play."
-- John Tortorella
Fired after seven years in Tampa Bay, Tortorella said working in television for most of last season was a good teaching experience for him, and he thinks it's made him a better coach.
"Absolutely in my mind (he's a better coach)," said Tortorella. "I'm not sure how other people feel, but in my mind, yes."
One thing that hasn't changed, however, is Tortorella's honest, take-no-prisoners style. Beyond calling his team soft thinkers, he also said that other than goaltender Henrik Lundqvist
, the organizational depth chart is a blank slate.
"Lundqvist will be our No. 1 goalie, but where everybody else falls, AHL or NHL, or where you play on the NHL roster, that's wide open," Tortorella said. "It's going to be on merit. Doesn't matter what your name is, where you were drafted or how much money you make -- you need to do the things on the ice to play."
That's the kind of honesty that has been a hallmark of Tortorella's coaching career, and something he doesn't plan on changing now.
"I think my style is I'm always going to be honest with you," he said. "It might be something good you've done, or we need something more out of you. ... I don't know any other way."
Contact Adam Kimelman at email@example.com