The calendar tells John Tortorella that the 2011-12 hockey season is in the dim, distant past.
Torts is with family at his Wisconsin retreat, where he hikes and does some fishing.
Relaxing is a luxury sprinkled around his Summer that somehow remains consumed with hockey thoughts
Still, I couldn’t resist asking John whether he was, in fact, relaxing. If nothing else, he sure sounded cool, calm and collected.
“Relaxing?” he said mulling the question. “Never completely — because this has been a busy Summer for the team and I was involved in a lot of stuff.”
Talk about “stuff,” you can start with the suspenseful Rick Nash negotiations that eventually culminated with the Blue Jackets trade.
If you want emotional moments, how about the departure of one of the coach’s favorites, Brandon Prust.
Nor was it easy bidding au revoir to Brandon Dubinsky, Artem Anisimov and Tim Erixon. That was just for starters, along with John Mitchell and Ruslan Fedotenko.
Relax? How can an emotional chap like the Rangers’ coach do that when he inevitably harks back to what-might-have-been in a 2011-12 season that started in Stockholm and ended in Newark.
“We went through a lot,” Torts recalled with a blend of relief and pride. “I was most encouraged by the way we played because there were so many distractions from start to finish.”
The Maven couldn’t argue with that.
Opening the campaign in Sweden merely was a prelude for a seemingly endless run of diversions that — in the end — fortified rather than weakened the Rangers.
“When we returned home from Europe,” Torts added, “there was the renovation (first-phase transformation) of The Garden and the long run of road games; not to mention the Outdoor Classic in Philadelphia on January 2nd.
“What I liked was the maturing of our guys. They grew as we went along and all these things fast-tracked us to the playoffs where they experienced winning, losing — and in the end it all made them better.”
Looking backward, the Blueshirts leader understands that his club was one mere Martin Brodeur miscue away from winning Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Final at Prudential Center. But with the score tied 2-2 in the third, Brodeur was challenged one-on-one by Brad Richards.
With 20-20 vision, the coach can examine the episode in his rear view mirror without blinking because — well — hockey is hockey and, in that moment, Brodeur was Brodeur.
“Richie had that chance, but Brodeur stacked his pads,” the coach remembered, “and made the save. We win that and we win the series.”
Then a pause: “Going into training camp, I want the players to realize how close they came. But sometimes you have to get kicked in the teeth before you make it to the top.”
The second after those words poured out of his mouth Tortorella instantly heaped praise on the victors from New Jersey, adding: “I don’t want to take anything away from the Devils nor (coach) Peter DeBoer. On the other hand, we learned all about the playoffs and how to handle the games.”
Another reason why Summer has not been a time for complete relaxation for Torts is a fact of hockey life; trades resulting in a changed roster. The coach made no bones about his dismay over Prust’s rejection of the Rangers for free agent riches delivered by Montreal.
Torts: “To a certain extent, I didn’t want to lose Pruster; he played hard for us. But what happens is that when a club is successful, other teams go after the guys who made that team a winner.”
John’s boss Glen Sather wasted no time replacing Prust’s physicality and penalty-killing ability by adding muscle in Arron Asham and Micheal Haley along with the PK prowess of Jeff Halpern. The coach also expects Michael Rupp to be improved if for no other reason than he’ll (hopefully) be healthy.
“Rupp will have a much better year. He needs to be on the ice for nine, 10, 11 minutes a game and I’ve got to find him that playing time.”
Not that he wanted to see either Dubinsky, Anisimov nor part-timer Erixon leave the Rangers fold, but in order to obtain a scoring machine such as Nash, well, something had to give.
Fortunately none of those “somethings” included artistic assets such as Derek Stepan, Chris Kreider, Carl Hagelin, Ryan McDonagh and Michael Del Zotto. Each of the quintet was sought as part of the Columbus-New York exchange, but Sather refused to budge when it came to capitulating.
“Glen did a terrific job keeping our youthful foundation intact,” Torts enthused. “We didn’t want to dismantle the good things we built and we didn’t.”
What’s more, the coach lucked out off the ice as well.
It was no secret that Tortorella’s faithful bench associate, Mike Sullivan, was the subject of several stories in which the Blueshirts assistant coach, “Sully,” was depicted as a head-coaching candidate for a few NHL teams. John knew that there was every possibility he might be seeking a new assistant coach for 2012-13.
If ever anyone suffered mixed emotions about a real pal — who also was a colleague in arms — it was Torts.
“On the one hand,” he explained, “I was worried about losing Mike. And on the other hand, I was excited for him getting those job opportunities. Quite frankly, Sully means everything to our team; he’s an important cog; a huge piece to our puzzle because when all’s said and done, we all do it together.
“So, on the one hand I was disappointed that he didn’t get an opportunity (to be an NHL head coach) but, selfishly, I’m excited that he’s back.”
It’s August and John Tortorella is relaxing; well, sort of because he’s already looking ahead to 2012-13, even so far as mulling over his opening training camp speech.
“I want my players to realize that we’re starting fresh and we’re going to do our day-to-day business to get on top.”
With Nash in the fold, the Blueshirts chances will be better than ever. But we’ll get to the Nash business next time I talk to Torts in a few weeks.