BUFFALO, NY - MARCH 30: John Tortorella, head coach of the New York Rangers stands on the bench against the Buffalo Sabres at HSBC Arena on March 30, 2011 in Buffalo, New York. (Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images)
Since the day John Tortorella was brought in as head coach of the New York Rangers, management has done its best to build the team to the coach's liking. They've added skill and they've added grit, all while slowly but surely bringing some of the prospects along and developing them at the National Hockey League level. This is how Tortorella wanted it done - this is how he wanted his team structured - and now, going into his fourth season behind the bench in New York (third full season), Tortorella has finally received a lineup that fits into his comfort zone thanks to the work of GM Glen Sather and staff.
The acquisition of Brad Richards this past weekend was obviously the icing on the cake. Tortorella coached Brad in his first seven years being in the NHL, and something I only learned during Saturday's press conference was that Tortorella came into the league at the same time as Richards, and pointed out that they learned together. Never before have I heard Torts speak of a player like that until now, so I think it was very special to the coach to have Brad on the team here in the Big Apple.
Torts also has a pre-existing relationship with winger Ruslan Fedotenko, who was also a member of the 2004 Stanley Cup winning squad in Tampa Bay. I believe it was Torts who pushed hard to have Ruslan re-signed for the upcoming season, because he was always quick to compliment the veteran role player when talking to the media. Feds is someone who Tortorella has a lot of trust in, as he should.
John has also developed these strong relationships with players like Ryan Callahan, Brandon Dubinsky, Marc Staal and Dan Girardi over the years. I think at one point or another he's had his ups and downs with each of them (well, maybe not Cally), but they've all become his "go-to" players as he terms them, especially in big-game situations.
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Tortorella prefers for his teams to have a balanced mix of skill and grit. Right now, even after the Richards signing, I think the Blueshirts still need to add another scorer in order to get that perfect balance, but they are close.
He has the Prusts, Boyles and Rupps when he needs a checking line, he has the Fedotenkos, Callahans and Dubinskys when he needs a spark or a penalty-kill, and now he has the Gaboriks and Richards when he needs a goal. Coming up in the wing Torts also has the Stepans, Zuccarellos, Hagelins and Kreiders who all have the potential to be molded into one of the previously mentioned classifications.
Then on defense Tortorella obviously has Staal and Girardi as his shutdown pairing. Beyond that the blue-line is relatively young and I think it would be unfair to classify any of them into a defensive type just yet. However, Del Zotto and Erixon both have the ability to become offensive-minded defenseman, and then McIlrath is just a straight up bruiser.
So again, the Rangers aren't there yet, but they are getting close. John Tortorella now almost has all of the pieces here in New York that he had in Tampa Bay, and whatever he doesn't, it could be coming up through the system in the near future. He has his role players, his checkers and his scorers, so now it is time to blend them together to form a well-rounded club that can play his style of hockey.
Sather has done a lot to get Tortorella the team he wanted, and is probably still looking around for other pieces he could add to make it even better. But there is only so much a GM can do, which means it's now Tortorella who has to come through and do what he was brought here to do; coach the New York Rangers to their fifth Stanley Cup.