In a somewhat shocking move, made less shocking by the break-up day interviews, Rangers GM Glen Sather actually pulled the trigger and fired Coach John Tortorella. As things became tense in Rangerland over the last few days, the GM took action, sending shockwaves throughout the Ranger universe.
There are three critical things that happened this season to lead to this.
1) At the trade deadline, Tortorella convinced Sather to get him the right type of players to play in his “system.” Slats, who is known to like bright, shiny things, sacrificed bright, shiny thing Marian Gaborik for some depth and players who better fit the Torts mold. Tortorella hated Gaborik and couldn’t wait to run him out of town. Torts congratulated himself for “changing” Gabby during last season and this season had switched Gaboik’s career-long position, demoted him to the fourth line and questioned his commitment in the press before the trade. The players brought in gave the Rangers some depth, but the Gabby-less team that was two wins from playing for the Cup last year got knocked out a round earlier than last year, going 5-7 in the playoffs and getting manhandled by the Bruins.
2) The players tuned Torts out and their career developments stalled. On February 25th, we said this:
Every single player on the roster, Henrik Lundqvist included, appears to be regressing or at best treading water. At best. Young players are losing a critical year of development, from a coach who appears to be clueless.
While that should be revised a bit, the premise is still the same. Lundqvist bounced back and had a typical Henrik season and Derek Stepan clearly progressed, stepping up his game at the end of the campaign. But aside from those two, no other players excelled under Coach Tortorella. Carl Hagelin, Ryan Callahan, Marc Staal and Ryan McDonagh all fall into the “flat lining” category. Brian Boyle, Dan Girardi and Michael Del Zotto, all regressed. Brad Richard’s game died and Chris Kreider’s never really was birtherd. Buried by the coach all season, CK was finally given a chance to succeed in the penultimate game of the playoffs and succeed he did. No young players were developed or given any serious chances except for JT Miller, who Torts heaped ice time on while Kreider was given scant minutes. Rick Nash never really got going and the of the players brought in at the deadline, Derick Brassard played very well, John Moore was solid and then fizzled and Derek Dorsett played with some “jam” but took some ill-advised penalties.
Torts also continued his customary hard-ass routine with the press, and Sam Rosen of all people, and on different occasions publicly called out Hagelin “stinks on PP,” McDonagh “should mind his own business,” and Kreider “not ready to be a pro.” When Sean Avery called for Torts firing, Captain Cally offered a half-hearted press release describing how the team was behind their coach. But Avery (besties with Hank) clearly has the ear of the team’s most important voice and was on point with the mood in the locker room.
3) Lundqvist gave a clear vote of non-confidence in the coach and his philosophy on break-up day. Hank’s dropped some more than subtle hints that he wasn’t happy with the way things have gone and that that might somehow play into his contract negotiations was the straw that (finally) broke the Coach’s back. There are two things that can’t be overlooked here, first Lundqvist had great friendships with both Avery and Gaborik, two players that the coach ran out of town. Second, Sather recognizes that Lundqvist has a precious few years of his prime left and goaltenders like Hank come around once in a generation, and (sorry Mike Richter and Eddie Giacomin) once in a franchise. Hank absolutely is the most important piece of the Rangers and must be satisfied with the team in front of him, which is why this move was made so swiftly and decisively. Sather will start talks to re-sign Hank right away (if he hasn’t already) and put any doubt to rest. This was a huge bone to throw the King and Slats has just proven himself to his franchise cornerstone. Collateral damage from the fallout of the Torts firing will be Brad Richards. With the cap coming down six million dollars next season to 64 million and Brad Richards making 6.7 million, there is no way Slats can give Hank a big long-term deal, and sign Ryan McDonagh, Derek Stepan, Carl Hagelin, and possibly Ryane Clowe and still keep an aging, non-productive, fourth line center eating up 10% of team’s salaray cap around. Adios Brad!
This is a great move for the Rangers. They have an excellent young core that needs to hear a new voice and find a new perspective. The team needs move away from their fear of making a mistake and move towards one geared towards creating chances. The defensive fundamentals are there (thanks Torts!) but they need an offense. Quite simply, the horses need to run. And if the new voices are creative on the power play, that would be a bonus.
It is time for a new voice.
It is a good day in Blueshirtland.
Let’s go Rangers!