(UPDATE: If you've not read the letter from Rangers GM Glen Sather to the NHL asking for League sanctions against the Capitals and Verizon Center, it's worth it. Seems that fans using "graphic language, about whether Dan Girardi and Marc Staal have a sexual relationship" somehow led to an NHL head coach throwing a water bottle at paying customers, and it's the arena's fault that it happened.)
Contrasting the brief memos the NHL has sent out in previous postseason suspensions with its novel-length message about John Tortorella's suspension for Game 6 against the Washington Capitals on Sunday reveals just how momentous this decision was the League.
The New York Rangers coach was suspended Saturday for "squirting a fan with water and throwing a water bottle that struck a fan during Game 5," which you can see in a video clip we were one of the first to publish on Friday. It was the right decision, because it was the NHL's only decision. And for a coach that's preached mental toughness and discipline in words and deeds, it was a moment of hypocrisy.
From the NHL:
"While it is a difficult decision to suspend a coach at this point in a playoff series, it has been made clear to all of our players, coaches and other bench personnel that the National Hockey League cannot -- and will not -- tolerate any physical contact with fans," NHL Senior Executive Vice President and Director of Hockey Operations Colin Campbell said. "We do not take this action lightly. It is the result of an entire day of investigation and evaluation that included the retrieval and review of videotape of the incident and discussions with Mr. Tortorella, other Rangers' bench personnel and a number of other people, including the security personnel at the Verizon Center.
"That investigation revealed that Mr. Tortorella squirted a fan with water before Mr. Tortorella was doused with a beverage. While, in these circumstances, it always is easy to allege mitigating circumstances, the fact is we do not tolerate contact with our fans in this manner. That is communicated before each season in a memo that is issued by the League to all of the management, coaches and players of every team."
I've heard both Darren Pang and now Darren Dreger of TSN offer some words of pity for Tortorella:
He's crushed because he is not going to be on the bench and a part of trying to help his team close out their series with the Washington Capitals on Sunday. He's incensed because - again according to sources - the Rangers repeatedly put in a request for additional security and they feel that request wasn't materialized
Dreger writes that there's no excuse for Tortorella's actions; so why try and provide one?
Tortorella crossed an un-crossable line for a professional coach, athlete or official: potentially criminal interaction with a fan. Pierre Lebrun of ESPN figured Torts would only earn a steep fine because of where this playoff series sits after five games. But the League's decision was made for it the first time the world saw the water bottle leave Tortorella's hand. He had to be suspended for this, no matter the circumstances.
Symbolically, this should go down as one of Tortorella's lowest moments as a head coach. Here's a guy who made the ultimate statement about intolerance of undisciplined play and selfish egotism by benching Sean Avery for Game 5; his team promptly skated out and acted like they were getting paid by the boneheaded penalty, before Tortorella chucked a water bottle at a paying customer for a suspension.
What the hell kind of message is that?
From a hockey perspective, there's no telling what a change behind the bench for Game 6 will have. Does Avery play? Do the psychological games between coach and underperforming players -- shuffling lines, taking away power-play time -- continue with Jim Schoenfeld (no stranger to postseason suspensions) behind the bench?
And how much does this circus help the Capitals' chances for at least a Game 7?