Should John Tortorella be fired? In my opinion yes. In my opinion he deserves it not only for the poor results that the team has delivered, but also for his own poor performance. I generally judge coaches in six areas: their system, team adjustments, motivation, team discipline, player development, and results, which I admit is unfair in some instances. I will briefly explain how I evaluate the performance in those areas later, and how I think he has performed in each area. But first I’d like to say why I am even more disappointed and concerned with these results then I otherwise would be.
The Rangers have been one of healthiest teams all year. Dubinsky’s broken wrist was the only injury to an important player lasting ten games or more. They have lost about 52 man games to injury all year, meanwhile even the teams directly above them have been decimated by injury. To name a few: Boston has missed the likes of Lucic, and Savard for very significant time, Montreal has had to go without Andrei Markov and Mike Cammalleri for months and weeks respectively (at different times), Philly has lost their starting goalie for the season, and is playing a guy (Leighton) who was cut earlier this year by the struggling hurricanes, and that is just to name a few. With all that being said, the door was wide open for any half decent team to walk right through, and with their constant failure to do so, how can anyone consider them even half decent?
In Johns defense I will say that I like many others thought little to nothing of the roster that had been assembled by Sather. Sather put a bunch of one dimensional players together and expected what exactly? There are many roster flaws which I could go into in great depth, but that focuses more on Sather and there is no fan debate on him so I will say only one brief thing on that then focus back on Tortorellas failures. The biggest concern that I have when looking at this roster isn’t necessarily the lack of scoring, it’s the lack of everything. There is not one strong point other then goalie on this team. There is no identity with this team, no fallback position to say, well we can’t score but we will: out work, or play great defense, clog the neutral zone, or win battles along the boards. They have such a deficiency in all categories that they are more than a couple of players away from being a potential contender. That being said, as other fans have mentioned, I also believe that certain moves had Tortorellas hands all over them. Such as: letting Betts go in favor of Boyle (who cannot compare with Betts and ironically Betts is even outscoring the oversized doormat), Orr for Brashear, and Kotalik.
At this point the roster is what it is, and it is not like Renney had an overflow of superstars under his command, but he managed to get the rangers to take advantage of their strength (Henrik) enough to make four straight playoff appearances and even come close to the eastern conf. finals once, thanks again Drury. If Renney can be canned after that, then why is Tortorella who hasn’t accomplished a thing in NY given so much leeway with some fans? I think the only reason is that his pseudo tough guy personality is more appealing to the frustrated fans that have given up hope of winning and just want the coach to call out the players every mistake.
I know this is a really long post and if you are still reading I will try to finish as quickly as possible, so you don’t nod off to my ramblings. So I will finish with how I feel Tortorella has performed in the areas I have chosen as my evaluation parameters, and why I think he should be fired.
The first area: system, I agree with his general philosophy, I prefer pressuring the other team and making them make a good play to beat you as opposed to sitting back and letting them dictate. That being said, I honestly don’t think he has the hockey intelligence to understand the subtleties of the game. I base this off of instances of seeing him praise or condemn a players mistake (or correct move) based solely on the outcome, I think that is a terrible thing for a coach to do because it will create a doubt in the players mind as to what is the right thing to do. If a player is out of position but somehow steals the puck anyway (for instance) he needs to be reminded to stay inside the system and not free lance, not be praise for a lucky play. I also think he lacks the communication skills to convey his system to the players, and I think because of these two issues I listed Mike Sullivan actually handles more of those responsibilities then he should.
Then next area to examine is team adjustments. This to me includes line adjustments, tempo or scheme changes, time out usage, and benchings and so forth. I think he poor at this as well. I have not agreed some of the line combinations he has put together nor have I agreed with the timing and reasoning for his changing of certain lines. I understand he doesn’t have a lot to work with but vainly reshuffling the lines every other game just to look like you’re trying something new isn’t going to help build chemistry either.
On to my favorite area of his failure: motivation. This one will be quick, what were the reporters saying when he was hired? You will definitely see a different Rangers team with him behind the bench. He won’t stand for their sluggish uninspired play. Is there anyone on the planet who thinks this team has heart or plays with passion and intensity? They play when they want to play, he hasn’t changed that and it is unacceptable from both Tortorella and the players.
Then there is team discipline. Penalty wise I think they are pretty average but I could be wrong about that. But they have no systematic discipline whatsoever. Players are constantly out of position in the defensive zone, and they have to be in the top three teams for odd man rushes against, which I also unacceptable.
The biggest reason I think he should be fired is the next category: player development. The Rags as I have also started calling them are obviously in the middle of a youth movement and have many promising young players in their organization. John Tortorella is not a developer, he is a guy you can bring in to motivate underachieving veterans and breathe new life into a stale situation, although apparently not here. We need someone who can teach these kids the right way to play the game. Recent examples are Joe Sacco (Col), Barry Trotz (Nas) Lindsey Ruff (Buf). I do not have any coach out there in mind that I think they should hire, just someone who fits the player developer mold. The lack of development in all of the rookies is blatantly obvious; in fact they have all regressed. Del Zotto who I think will be a perennial all star in a few years has become a complete liability and should actually be sent down for the remainder of the year for his own development if nothing else. It would be stupid and detrimental to the organization to keep Tortorella as the coach with the fact that more kids are expected to come up and contribute in the next two seasons.
As for the results, if you are still reading this I have taken enough of your time and they speak for themselves. Of course Sather and the players must share the blame but Tortorella hasn’t done anything to improve the team or prove that he deserves the job. The question isn’t: is Tortorella a good coach? It’s is he the right coach for the rangers, I think the rags would be better without him.