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Tortorella: break for Olympics ill-timed
By TOM JONES
Published February 24, 2006
TAMPA - This Olympic business really has Lightning coach John Tortorella rankled. That's because, as far as Tortorella is concerned, the Winter Games are bad business for the NHL.
Shutting down the NHL season for more than two weeks. Risking injuries to star players. Pitting NHL teammates against one another. For Tortorella, none of it makes sense.
"I don't agree with the setup here as far as taking players from the National Hockey League season, in the middle of the year, and going over there," Tortorella said. "I don't care if it's once every four years or once every six years or once every 10 years. This is our job. This is our domain and it shouldn't be interrupted."
Tortorella freely admits it's the selfish opinion of an NHL coach paid to win NHL games. He respects the Olympics and understands how important the Games are for those participating. He said his remarks Wednesday about being happy Lightning players playing for Canada and the United States were coming home had nothing to do with the Olympics and everything to do with his team.
As the league tries to regain its footing after a yearlong labor dispute, however, Tortorella said the Olympics could not have come at a worse time.
"I'm not trying to be disrespectful, but this is important stuff," Tortorella said. "We spent a year away from this trying to make the game better and to send guys off in the middle of the year, well, I think it's crazy. It is a great unknown. I don't think anyone has the answer or can forecast what is going to happen with certain teams after all this. But after the stuff this league has gone through, all the problems it has had, it just doesn't make sense to me."
Tortorella's immediate concern is how fit returning players will be physically and emotionally. Several high-profile players, such as Ottawa goalie Dominik Hasek and Vancouver defensemen Sami Salo and Mattias Ohlund, were injured in Italy. Meantime, what will be the mental state of Lightning players Vinny Lecavalier, Brad Richards and Marty St. Louis after their heavily-favored Canadian team failed to medal?
"I don't want to disregard how athletes think about what they're doing over there," Tortorella said. "I'm a coach of the Tampa Bay Lightning of the National Hockey League, a professional league. That's all I'm worried about right now. ... How they all come back in losing, I don't know. But they have to come back to the mind-set of what is best for this team here."
When they will come back is another concern for Tortorella. Team Canada, assuming it would reach the final, made charter arrangements to return to North America on Sunday. It spent Thursday scrambling to make arrangements for an immediate return home. Tortorella said his plan is to rest the Canadian Olympians, but work them back into practice on Monday before Tuesday's game against Florida.
Goalie John Grahame of Team USA is expected back late tonight. Tortorella hopes he can practice Sunday. Meantime, the Czech Republic, with Pavel Kubina and Vinny Prospal, and Fredrik Modin's Swedish team remain alive in the Olympics and likely won't get back until Monday.
League supports Penguins
PITTSBURGH - The NHL remains committed to helping the Penguins find an arena and stay in Pittsburgh, the league's deputy commissioner said.
The league supports a plan for Isle of Capri Casinos to build a $290-million arena at no taxpayer cost as long as the company is awarded a state license to build a downtown slot machines parlor.
But the license might not be granted until late this year, and the Penguins are already 15 months away from the end of their lease at Mellon Arena.
The team is up for sale, and a move to another city is an option.
"We think the process could be accelerated and the long-term future of the Penguins in Pittsburgh would be far more certain if the local leaders would get behind the existing arena funding plan," deputy commissioner Bill Daly said.