Glen Sather shocked the New York Rangers fanbase (and the hockey world, for that matter) by firing John Tortorella not even a week after the Rangers bowed out of their second round series with the Boston Bruins in five games. There was media speculation that this would happen during the first round (especially when the Rangers struggled out of the gate) but it was expected the Rangers wouldn't make a decision on Tortorella (who has one year left on his contract) based off of a shortened season.
Obviously that didn't happen.
I was one of many who didn't think the Rangers would fire Tortorella. So I was wrong. But I'm not in the room during games or even with the media after them. Sometimes I do hear things, but you never really know what to believe (and I refuse to turn this into a rumors website) so most of what little I hear never goes live anyway.
But we can try to sift through everything here.
Here's what we know about the situation:
- Many of the players (Ryan Callahan and Henrik Lundqvist especially) looked at this year as a step back. Tortorella looked at it as a "sideways step" during breakup day, which was really the first moment where you could see the cracks forming in the foundation.
- Tortorella's defensive system clearly stifled the Rangers' offense. The system also wasn't adjusted from the year before despite there being a good amount of change within the lineup. If nothing else, I think the second point in this bullet is the most important. An inability (or unwillingness) to adjust. The entire Brad Richards situation fits here, too.
- Tortorella never took the power play role from Mike Sullivan, and failed to utilize the proper players or at least try to switch things up when it wasn't working.
- Sather said he made the decision himself "after consultations." Take that for what it's worth.
- Sather said not one particular thing lead to the move but "every coach has a shelf life."
- According to Pat Leonard (New York Daily News) many Rangers players believed Tortorella was going to be fired before Wednesday's announcement, which pretty much confirms that Tortorella lost the room.
Here's what isn't confirmed but people are saying:
- Lundqvist's breakup day comments reportedly "changed everything" when it came to this decision. Again, none of this is confirmed.
- Allegedly the exit interviews with Tortorella went very poorly including a few disagreements between some players and Tortorella.
- According to Mike Francesa, Tortorella and Sather had a disagreement 24 hours ago (from when he was fired, so not as of this post). Again, take that for what it's worth.
OK, here's my personal take: At some point, teams need to find their identity as an organization. Are the Rangers close enough to being true contenders? In my eyes the answer is yes. That means losing can't be OK within the organization. I don't care how many times you make the playoffs, I don't care how many playoff series you win. If you can't get to the Stanley Cup Finals with the best goaltender in the world then something has to change. Obviously Sather didn't think Tortorella could get the Rangers there. I agree.
I think Tortorella is a good coach, but I think his inability to make adjustments on the fly (and his stubborn behavior in certain situations) is what killed him. That and the fact that a coach like that eventually wears out his welcome. It's a matter of when not if with a guy like Tortorella is fired.
When asked what I thought about him as a coach during the first round I answered with this:
I can't look you in the eye and tell you he's the guy to bring the Rangers to their first Stanley Cup since 1994.
And maybe that's the answer. With Tortorella you simply didn't know, and with the great group of coaches currently available, Sather probably didn't want to risk keeping hold of Tortorella for one more year, letting those guys get picked up and then having the ship sink next year. To Sather it wasn't worth the risk, and I agree. When you're close to a Cup (and I do think the Rangers are close) you don't screw with the window your elite goaltender has left. Lundqvist might have three or four elite years left in him. Maybe more. Maybe less. You don't know. So you don't risk it.
Not that I'm saying it will happen (because I seriously doubt it), but if John Tortorella is fired if the Rangers lose (as speculated by TSN analyst Darren Dreger) it will be because of his inability to make adjustments and evolve his coaching strategy. You can't have a power play as bad as the Rangers do and be successful, you can't keep rolling your top guns and giving the bottom six minimal minutes (Game 3 doesn't count because of the injuries), you can't continue to leave the point open despite the opposing team getting almost all of their offense there and you can't score one or two goals a game and not give more time to the best prospect in the farm.
While Tortorella helped develop Stepan into what he is right now, he hampered Chris Kreider's development. Tortorella's refusal to allow Kreider to learn on the fly in the NHL, plus punishing the youth for their mistakes, hindered his development this year. Kreider was yo-yoed back and forth from the AHL to the NHL to see a ton of "three minutes a night" games with the Rangers rather than playing full minutes in the AHL or normal shifts in the NHL. Add that to his refusal to roll four lines, not adjusting his system to this new team and hampering his offense with his constricting defensive system and this isn't a complete shock.
But now comes the risk for Sather. The Rangers are close, and that window is closing. So there really isn't any more wiggle room for him to make a mistake here. The Rangers need to hire the right guy. The decision has to make sense. The organization can't afford to go through this whole "get closer but not close enough and then reset" thing. It worked with Tom Renney and Tortorella to get the team here, but they need to finish the job now.
Sather admitted that his reasons for firing Tortorella "probably seem a little vague to you (the media)" during his press conference. They are. But that tells me there were issues (and major issues at that) inside the Rangers' locker room and with the leaders on the team.
I didn't think so, but like I said before, I'm not in the room so I wouldn't really know.
But Sather (and the players) were in the room. And obviously something wasn't right.
Now it's Sather's turn to make it right.