The New York Rangers and GM Glen Sather fired head coach, John Tortorella, today after a team slated for the Stanley Cup Finals came up short.
The Blueshirts, eliminated by the Boston Bruins in the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals after 5 games, were a flawed and inconsistent team all season. In a season where many are to blame, the hammer was dropped on Torts.
Tortorella led the Rangers to the Eastern Conference Finals last year, part of a long string of successful seasons for the Rangers. All in all, they made the playoffs in 4 of the 5 years he was here. Plain and simply, he won in a place that before him had not seen much of it prior – 171 regular season wins and 19 in the postseason.
His teams were clutch, winning three different Game 7s during his tenure (Ottawa Senators, Washington Capitals, and the Caps again), including the first road of the kind in New York’s history.
But what is most remembered of him was his brash, unapologetic side.
Long known was his polarizing relationship with sniper, Marian Gaborik, traded away earlier this season for a package that included Derrick Brassard. On a team that could not score goals this year, not being able to fix the relationship cost the Rangers one of the few on their team with a superstar skill level of putting pucks in the net.
He was tough on his players, most recently calling out Carl Hagelin, even though Hags had little to do with the power-play.
His spars with the media were legendary. Here is the memorable “Keep it in the room” press conference:
Then there was his never-ending feud with on-ice NBC Sports Network correspondent, Pierre McGuire:
You could say many things about him, but the man defending his team and took the hits when needed. Here he was going after the biggest fish in the biggest pond, Sidney Crosby and the Penguins after a cheap knee-on-knee hit that sidelined Derek Stepan:
When he went after Devils coach, Pete DeBoer, for starting fights:
And his last stand, defending his relationship and the body of work of the embattled, Brad Richards, with the “Kiss My Ass” speech:
But outside of the talking realm is more important to look at. He may have been confrontational, but he was a winner. Was the result of a lockout-shortened season really a good indicator of his work?
Lest we forget, one of the things John Tortorella is most famous for is his training camp conditioning program. In this trimmed year, he barely had a preseason at all.
It showed all season. The Rangers were inconsistent and even those known for getting off the hot starts, Vezina Award-winning Henrik Lundqvist included, struggled off the bat.
Two of his highest paid superstars, specifically brought together by Glen Sather to make each other better, Gaborik and Richards, both had dreadful seasons. One could not find his shot; the other looked old. Neither of these are coaching issues.
While boasting one of the strongest top-6s in the league, the Rangers also boasted one of the worst bottom-6s. As Dave Lozo wrote in an NHL.com chat, leaning on Brian Boyle, long past his strong season two years ago, and other unsure assets led to an unbalanced team.
Lastly, showing that the team still bought into his style, the Rangers were still 5th in the East in blocked shots, with 15.5 per game.
That said, Torts had his shortcomings.
The power-play could never quite come together, ranking 3rd to last in the Eastern Conference and 23rd overall. While goals per game against the Rangers were still consistently low all season, so was the scoring, ranking only 15th in the league.
Glaring were some of the regressions the team saw. Rookie Chris Kreider, coming off of a star-making playoffs, could not stick with the team after Tortorella crushed him and then benched him for his defensive mistakes. J.T. Miller, another in a long history of bad rookie-coach experiences with Tortorella, only scored in one game before being sent back to the Hartford Whale. Michael Del Zotto, fresh off a new contract, regressed back to the bad defense of his sophomore season. Finally, he could not figure out how to get new acquisition, Rick Nash, going in the playoffs.
So today he is gone.
During his press conference to announce the firing, Glen Sather said, “Every coach has a shelf life.” At some point, we have to wonder if every GM has a shelf life too.
Sather has long avoided his own downfall, many times leaving a bewildered fan base guessing how?
This was a man who spent and spent and spent money like there was no tomorrow, yielding little results, and no playoff appearances for a decade.
Finally, when the NHL lost a season and returned with a salary cap, Sather was forced to change and depend on organizational talent. That, combined with the leadership of Tom Renney, and most recently, Tortorella, has brought some of the most consistently successful Rangers teams of their history.
Sather felt he had to make a change, but this rings as a short-sighted decision; after all, according to various media sources, the Rangers just gave an extension to Tortorella mid-season. Change for the sake of change is never good.
And how many times is too many times to make changes?
“I’ve told every guy I’ve hired, that at some point in time this is going to change,” he said to the media.
Does Jim Dolan ever have an intention to say that to Sather?
It has been three decades since “Slats” has built a “winner”. How long can the leash be that he can continuously blame his shortcomings on his coaches? How many times does he get a chance to adjust the roster?
In the coming days, the Rangers will be looking at new coaches. According to ESPN.com’s Katie Strang, some of those names could be Dave Tippett, Lindy Ruff, Alain Vigneault, Paul Maurice, and even Stanley Cup hero Mark Messier.
Do any of these options seem like improvements over Tortorella? Not to me. We will break down the options over the coming days, but the question will remain: Did Tortorella get a fair shake? Despite some of his shortcomings, signs point to no.
Hopefully the unfair shake, and ensuing shakeup, will lead the Rangers down the path to better decisions. After many mistakes, can Sather strike gold twice with coaches – history may not be too kind to that answer. Tomorrow is Day 1 of the post-Torts era, there are no more excuses for Sather and company.