The head coach of the New York Rangers has reason to worry.
Day 59 of the NHL Lockout is here and due to the HRR (hockey-related ridiculousness) his team—a bonafide Stanley Cup contender—is not. Thanksgiving is only nine days away and the NHLPA, owners, Gary Bettman and Donald Fehr, locked in the ultimate labor faceoff, are looking more and more like turkeys.
So the season continues to slip away, as do the good feelings the Rangers should have had entering the 2012-2013 season.
And if the coach is incredibly concerned about it, the populous of Ranger Nation should be as well.
This is a team that came within six wins of the big prize last season and needed to get back to business on time in order to keep their ultra-competitive edge.
This is a team with a world-class franchise goaltender, Henrik Lundqvist, who thrives on tons of work. The King hasn't presided over a crease in close to six months. Some rust could be accumulating on his crown.
This is a team that relies on both the physical and mental aspects of the game to gain distinct advantages over their opponents—which is absolutely integral to playoff success. The longer the lockout goes, those advantages diminish.
All of this is certainly not lost on Tortorella. Via The New York Post:
“When our guys report to camp in September under normal circumstances, they have a physical and mental edge from preparing for our testing that’s extremely important to the way we go about our business as a hockey club."
Unfortunately, many Rangers are going about their business (or have already done so) in other parts of the world.
With these key team members far from home, plus the rest of the league's rank and file, and owners far from an agreement, there's not much Tortorella can do at this point. But he doesn't want to let a good thing slip away.
“There’s a mindset from this group, a mindset from the New York Rangers that defines us and factors into everything we do,” he noted. “And I know the guys are trying their best to stay at it, but it worries me that they’ve lost that mindset. We’re going to have to address that as a group because we’ve come too far and have too much in front of us to allow this situation to get in the way of where we want to go.”
Where they want to go is the summit of Mt. Stanley. This is not uncharted territory for Tortorella. In fact, the last time a lockout happened was after the 2004 season, when his Tampa Bay Lightning captured hockey's holy grail. But even though he desperately wants to get things going as soon as possible, he's not watching the lockout pot boil.
"The first two (work stoppages), I kept up to the minute on the happenings and negotiations, but I’m not doing that this time; it just doesn’t help,” stated the Blueshirts bench boss. “It’s frustrating, disappointing, and whatever term you can think of, but I’m staying focused on watching our farm team and being ready whenever they tell me to go.”
But will his charges be ready to go with all guns blazing when the lockout finally ends?
When a team goes as far in the playoffs last year as the Rangers did, it is critically important to heal up and get back to work as soon as possible. It's all part of keeping their battle levels as high as possible. This holds true especially for the Broadway veterans. “I worry about our older guys like Richie [Brad Richards] and Rupper [Mike Rupp] who aren’t playing," exclaimed Tortorella. He then added, "It’s tough and they need to stay on top of it, because when we get into this, the best 20 guys are going to play on opening night."
Opening night could be days, weeks or months away. The Rangers relentlessness and resourcefulness, two things that help define their identity, could be tarnished even more. But one thing is certain. The fiery Tortorella will not let that become an excuse. “The one thing we have to make sure of as a franchise is that we do not allow this interruption to hurt our momentum," he proclaimed.
Why? Because the coach knows it could hurt their quest for the Cup.
Please note: John Tortorella quotes courtesy of Larry Brooks of the New York Post.
What would you demand from the NHL when the lockout ends?
Closer to a deal, yet still so far away.
Neither side seems pressured by the calendar.
The deal will get done quickly, when "moment is right."
The league continues to fight for more concessions.