Does Tortorella deserve blame for opening brawl?

March 20, 2012, by

“You know when you get old in life things get taken from you. I mean that’s, that’s part of life. But, you only learn that when you start losing stuff. You find out life’s this game of inches. So is football.”

As some of our older readers might recall, this quote is an excerpt from one of the greatest cinematic coaching speeches of all time. Though, if Any Given Sunday had been about hockey and I were John Logan (the SAG member who likely fed Pacino that quote), I would have adjusted the quote to say…

“You find out life’s this game of adjustments. So is hockey.”

Last night’s opening brawl against the Devils is yet another example of how important it is for a hockey coach to make the right adjustments and get the right matchups out on the ice. If you missed this sequence, let me recap.

Peter Deboer, who is the away coach, must put his players out on the ice first. Deboer deployed Ryan Carter (who beat down Dubi earlier this month), Cam Janssen (goon), and Eric Boulton (goon) for the opening draw. Realizing the message Deboer was about to send our bench, Torts countered with Brandon Prust, Michael Rupp & strategically placed Stu Bickel at center. As expected, an all-out brawl ensued and the crowd feverishly got behind our boys.

Obviously my reaction to Torts inserting Bickel at center to face off against Carter was…effin brilliant!

A) Because you obviously don’t want Dubi, Stepan, Richards, or Boyle going against Carter

B) Bickel has fought Carter before

To my surprise and hopefully everyone else’s I was shocked when certain members of the media blamed Tortorella for the brawl and thought he should have countered with our skill players.

As Samuel L. Jackson famously said in Pulp Fiction,well allow me to retort.

In a perfect world, yes Torts could have deployed his first line in hopes to get some offense, but this isn’t a perfect world, nor was this even a moment of continuous play where such a tactic could conceivably work. No, this was a neutral zone faceoff to start the contest. The chance of even winning puck possession is 50/50.

On what planet would Torts take those odds and send his skilled players out on the ice to matchup against goons? Did we not learn anything from the Carcillo/Gaborik fight a few years ago? Did we not even learn from the incident where Deboer sent Boulton after Gaborik a few weeks ago?

To be honest, I’m glad what went down last night, so much so that I won’t even point fingers at Deboer for such questionable tactics. But if you are going to make a stink, don’t point a finger at Torts. Point one at yourself for not having a keen understanding of how this game is played.

***Update 2:30pm:

If my own analysis isn’t good enough for you, please read the below quote from Tortorella, which was taken from a series of excellent quotes provided this afternoon by Andrew Gross at Rangers Rants.

I get put in a position when he puts a lineup like that out – and I’m not sure what’s going to happen if I put my top players out – so I have to answer the way I need to answer. Really, just look at the two lineups and some of the things he’s done through the games here, again, I don’t want to coach his team, but just shut up.

– Torts

Gross covers the Rangers for The Record & the Herald News. You should follow him on twitter here.

Categories : Analysis, Hockey Tactics


  1. Dave says:

    I hate staged fights, I really do.

    • tmd39 says:

      I don’t think anything that happened last night was staged. DeBoer put out a line in an attempt to continue the statement the Devils sent last week. Torts sent out a line to send a new statement. It was all done in the context of the game. To me, a staged fight is a fight that makes no sense in the context of the game.

      I do think that Torts comes off small by going at DeBoer, as he has done the same thing as a visiting coach. But that doesn’t mean he didn’t do the right thing.

      • Dave says:

        Eh, fights 2 seconds in are generally staged. It’s unnecessary from a general sense, but I understand why it was done last night.

      • Jeff says:

        This was definitely planned by DeBoer and i am certain that his goons would have tried to pummel the Rangers skill players if Torts put them out there.

        Perfect ending to the De Boer debacle was that Salvador gets a 10 minute misconduct and Dubinsky scores a minute later against a Salvador’s replacement.

      • Dan says:

        Torts knew about the Devils starting lineup before he declared John Scott a healthy scratch.
        The fact of the matter is that the team that won the fight also won the game.
        The Rangers had one of the most dominant first periods in a long time. Maybe the fights were cause and effect.
        Also, it looks like Stu Bickel will finish his career as never losing a face off. Hall of Fame?

  2. KC says:

    What were Boulton, Carter and Janssen going to do if torts sent out the Richards line? Just start pummeling them? No, immediately after the puck drop they would have skated right to the bench. Funny how the guys that are amongst the league’s biggest bullies(Torts and Burke in Toronto) are also the biggest crybabies.

    • Dave says:

      What makes you think they were going to skate to the bench? Are you one of Deboer’s assistants?

      The fact is that no one knows what would have happened had Torts started his skill players. But it wasn’t a risk he was willing to take.

      • KC says:

        Common sense says they go to the bench, how many shifts does that line normally get against the opposing team’s first line? ZERO!
        I don’t blame torts for doing what he did, it’s his holier than thou BS complaining about Deboer.

        • Dave says:

          Again, you are assuming that Deboer calls them to the bench. As Suit pointed out, Boulton has already tried to go after Gaborik.

          • The Suit says:

            Thank you Dave for seeing the bigger picture…and for reading the entire post.

            • Bobby G says:

              But wouldn’t our skill players just chose not to fight them and play like they normally would? I read the post, but maybe I’m missing something here. Players aren’t forced to fight other players.

              • The Suit says:

                Bobby, why risk giving the opposition’s goons a chance to go after your skill players on the opening draw, be it a fight, a nasty hit, cheapshot, etc?

                Boulton & Janssen aren’t penalty killers. They don’t shutdown skill players. They serve one purpose.

        • becky says:

          Common sense also says you don’t start that line.

          Also, DeBoer was the one making a stink of it after the game, Torts chose not to comment.

      • mbarnett says:

        Then why put the devils goons out in the first place if they’re gonna skate off? What about the penalty possibility of the devils goons actually fighting the rangers #1 line. 5 minutes of no ranger top scorers. Brilliant on torts part.

    • Pat says:

      Come on. You can do better than that. Torts did what any leader should do when protecting his troops; the right thing. Fight back and ask questions later. DeBoer challened him and Torts didn’t want to play any thinking games. When DeBoer sent two (well known) goons like Cam Janssen and Eric Boulton out there to start the game, he made it crystal clear to Tortorella that he was calling him out. Torts didn’t want to toss his skilled players to the wolves, so he countered by putting the right guys out there. Why should Torts roll the dice and put himself in a situation where he might be second guessing himself later while losing the respect of his players. Maybe DeBoer’s guys would have skated right back to the bench like you said. Maybe not! Maybe they were told to get a few cheap shots in before they change lines. Maybe some one like Dubinsky would have let his frustrations get the better of him, subsequently allowing his face to be used as a punching bag for Carter one more time. Tortorella didn’t want to play a “game of maybe’s.” DeBoer certainly didn’t risk anything. He showed his cards and made a statement. Then it was Tortorella’s turn. He did a great job protecting his players and if you disagree, you don’t know the game of hockey at all. Like these media “bums” who are blaming the brawl on Torts; they probably never played the game before (even still, I think this was more an example of common sense). Apparently commmon sense isn’t so common either.

      • BobbyD says:

        Stated perfectly. This is written by someone who knows hockey and understands the how violent part of the game works.

    • Dave says:

      Whatever the result was after the puck was dropped we can never know. What we do know is the result. Crybaby? I don’t think so, far from that my friend. The Rangers are in a great position as a team and full of confidence as individual players. There should be a thanks to Torts!

  3. Chris F says:

    KC, putting our skilled players on the ice was a chance not worth taking. Sure, maybe the Devils immediately changed on the fly. But what if Boulton went after Gaborik, what if Carter went after Stepan? Torts had no choice but to protect the players and match up the Devils line with a group that could protect themselves.

  4. KC says:

    When you say ‘go after’, how exactly? This isn’t the Federal League.
    I’ll say again, don’t have a problem with what the coach did, it’s the drama of yelling at Deboer. Everything worked in the Rangers favor, it got the crowd in the game early, what is the coach whining about?

    • Dave says:

      This post doesn’t really blame Deboer. It’s aimed at those blaming Tortorella. Torts did what he had to do based on Deboer’s starting lineup.

      The post is about adjustments, not blame.

      • Blueshirt in Paris says:

        Torts did what he did to fire up his team.

        He could have put the BR line out and nothing would happen. In fact if he could get that match up during a game on the fly, I bet he would do it.

        Dont get me wrong, I like what he did. It sends a message to our team and theirs. But mainly I think it was a tactic to get our boys fired up and into the game.

      • Pete says:

        What Torts did was spot on, his verbal response to Deboer let his players know that he wasn’t going to take any crap. Being a coach is more than just knowing what line to put out. Psychology is ever present when coaching, he pumped his team up and seemed to have gotten into the Devils brains, they were outclassed the whole game.

    • The Suit says:

      Haha I don’t think I need to spoon feed our readership about why coaches yell at each other from the bench. You all can figure that out for yourself.

    • Grangers Fan says:

      Don’t worry K.C.(Kill Carter)Deboer didn’t get his little feelings hurt just his players faces.And by the way you sound like the only one who’s whining here.Wake up and smell Carter’s blood.Cry baby!

    • Pat says:

      Torts was crying? If I had to wager what he was feeling on an emotional level, imo he appeared to be much more angry rather than sad. Although DeBoer on the other hand looked as if he was going to wet himself. Torts looked pretty pissed off to me. Either way, it’s not relevent. The choice he made to counter DeBoer’s starting 5 is what’s up for debate (albeit I have no idea why).
      And if you’re a Rangers fan who goes back to the late 80’s, or early 90’s; remember the choice Al Arbour made at the very end of that playoff game between the Isles and the Rangers? It was the game that Pat Lafontaine caught an elbow from James Patrick which lead to his concussion. Roger Neilson didn’t think something was up when Vukota and Baumgartner was in the faceoff circle with about 1 second left in the game? Vukota went after Bloemberg (who couldn’t fight) and beat him up! As much as I didn’t like what Arbour did, when it comes down to it, Roger Neilson was at fault. He sent a player out there to catch a beat down for no reason.
      There’s probably a million examples like that, but the media still can’t figure out why Tortorella did what he did?

      • KC says:

        You’re comparing something that happened, at the end of game, 20 years ago, to what happened last night? Really?

      • thebigfist says:

        Its not that Bloemberg couldn`t fight,he WOULDN`T fight because of his Religious beliefs.I`m not sure Roger Neilson realized that.He should have put out Mark Jannszen,with Chris Nilan, Chris King,Randy Moeller and Michel Petite.

  5. becky says:

    Frankly, I don’t see what DeBoer was trying to accomplish here, or why anyone should be upset by this. He started a goon line, they fought like they’re paid to do, and got their asses beat. This is hockey, not flag football… give me a break people.

    Suit I love this post, keep up the good work.

    • Justin says:

      I agree becky. Deboer made an error in judgment. Road teams at the Garden should try and neutralize the crowd as much as possible, and all the Devil’s coach did was add fuel to the fire by giving the Garden faithful something to rally around before either team could assert any momentum. Torts did the right thing here. Great post Suit.

    • Jeff says:

      I think the best result was that Slvador got a 10 minute misconduct for trying to save Carter’s butt and Dubinsky scores a minute later.

    • wwpd says:

      “they fought like they’re paid to do, and got their asses beat”

      I love hockey

    • Pat says:

      I think people are more disapointed with the media putting the blame on Tortorella rather than DeBoer’s choice of starting the game with his goons on the ice. I have no problem with what DeBoer did. Just so long as Tortorella responds by putting his tough guys out there. What’s discouraging is the fact that Torts made the right decision and anyone who follows the game knows that. But apparently there are some beat writers out there who do not follow the game, yet they’re still getting paid to write a garbage column.

  6. The Suit says:

    Thanks guys

  7. Dave says:

    What I don’t get is why Deboer would do that. Obviously fights energize the home crowd, which energizes the team.

  8. A Pelliccio says:

    For years the Rangers were pushed around by the Devils, Flyers, Bruins, etc. Now we can not only fight back but put a hurtin’ on guys. I salute Torts and I only wish they had to carry one of the Devils out on a strtecher!!!!

    • Dave says:

      It’s been a few years since the Rangers have had enforcers that can actually play the game too. That has a lot to do with it.

  9. Mac Daddy says:

    I only have one question for the people who didn’t like or understand this.

    Have you ever played competitive hockey?

    Get a grip!!

    • Dave says:

      Comment of the day.

      • Steve says:

        Agreed if you never played you have no idea what happened. Devils messed up firing up the home crowd. I was laughing when I saw the line up. Dumbest choice to fire up the garden for no reason at all.

  10. Kenny says:

    DeBoer sent out his goons first and cried when they got drilled. carter bleeds well

  11. Mikeyyy says:

    They got what they deserved. Maybe Doboer had an old lineup sheet of the rangers back in 01 02. Where we had no goons. Or as I like to call them utility players. Can skate and fight.

    And if any of you don’t think the Debbie’s would have taken penalties to take a cheap shot. Well your smoking something. Those guys would have taken penalties to hurt our players. Bravo torts for fighting fire with fire. Can we change our nick name to the broadway bashers?

  12. g Merrill says:

    A goal against 3 goons is not worth the risk of a cheap shot and/ or having a skilled player hurt by a hit or drawn into a fight. I am not sure what the purpose of the goon squad is other than intimidation. So each club has to keep some knucklehead around just to fight-taking up positions that 3 skilled players could fill. Torts did the only thing and the right thing in watching out for the health of his stud players.

  13. Pete says:

    I agree with you Suit. Torts has NEVER been the type of coach to back down from anything or anyone and for anyone to expect anything different last night shows a huge lack of knowledge about the type of man Torts is. Deboer threw the gauntlet, Torts just picked it up and smacked him across the face with it. If Torts didn’t answer Deboer’s challenge the way he did, everyone would be saying he backed down. He put his own tough guys out, got 18,000+ into the game and the momentum. Mission accomplished. Well played sir, well played.

  14. Jess says:

    Honestly think those complaining do not understand matchup situations. Do you want your 1st line against their 4th?

    Yes if you want to see them abused.

    Geeze people wake up and realize Torts was not going to risk his top players against their goons.

    Only a fool does that.

    And honestly those complaining would be freaking out today had something happened to Gabby or Richards bitching about why Torts did not protect his players

  15. hockeyislife says:

    People who take the position that Torts should have put his skill players out have obviously never played this game at a high competetive level & just don’t understand the meaning behind what happened. The Devils issued a challenge as a team to the Rangers, if Torts doesn’t put his “gladiators” on the ice & accept the challenge, the Rangers then concede the physical battle & in all likelyhood they go on & lose the game, not to mention the players losing respect for the coach who backed down from a challenge. Torts had no choice but to do what he did with his lineup, or risk losing his team. It may not have been Torts who told Bickel to take the draw, it looked to me like Bickel told Dubinsky on the ice as they prepared to line up that he wanted to take the draw so he could take on Clark ( you would have only seen this if you were at the game, which I was ). Last night was the culmination of the entire season series between the 2 teams, and specific incidents from the last game between them. Torts was upset because the importance of the game should have superceded the Devil’s need to instigate a line brawl to start the game, he felt it was a poor tactical choice by DeBoer given the circumstances.

  16. Chuck A. says:

    Moral of the story?? Don’t bring a Gaborik to a Clark fight. Regardless of whether the goons skate a shift or swing to the bench, prudence demands a solid counter.

  17. fuzy_gsxr1000 says:

    The Rangers did what they had to do…beat the shit out of the irrelevant Devils and won the game!!

  18. viterh says:

    If the game was on tv at a local sports bar, and someone yelled “goal” many would turn to look,and then go back to whatever they were doing. If someone yelled “fight” most would look and stay watching for more..even non-hockey fans. How about NASCAR.. is it the continual movement of cars in a circle for hours that attracts fans, or is it the anticipation of multiple crashes. Let’s be honest..we sports fans love confrontation, fights, crashes..whatever adds a little spice to the game/event itself. Those who call it a disgrace or are dishing out blame should stick to the ballet where they belong!

  19. Mike says:

    I agree with most of you out there that Torts had to respond the way he did. Any sense of chickening out would have fueled the devils. The only change on my part would have been starting John Scott. Prust needs a break from fighting for we need him healthy for the playoffs.

  20. thebigfist says:

    Just who are these self-righteous media-dopes whom are blaming Torts for the opening line-brawl?

    • The Suit says:

      Prior to Torts talking to the media Tuesday afternoon everyone was dumping on him including beat writers, NHL’s XM radio folk, etc. Ultimately it inspired me to write this post.

      However, since he has come out to defend himself, the media seems to be changing their tune.

  21. Leatherneckinlv says:

    I had to think about this post, personally I believe there is a place for fighting and team toughness. A game that has skill and toughness is far more entertaining than a game of skating and scoring. I don’t want to see the game get soft. Years ago players got hit with high sticks kept on playing, today they try and sell it like soccer players do. I detest that, then again I am a former Marine and it would disgust me when we would go on forced marches and seeing a whole bunch of guys going to the sick bay to get out of the march. I do not want to see the game evolve to the point where fighting and hitting are no longer a big part of the game. Those fights were not staged last night, they were a message to one another. That is still part of the game and well done to Trots for answering the call and challenge. That was a tactic, not staging. Anyone want to tell me the Garden wasn’t jumping after that melee? I assure you everyone was on their feet watching those fights.