It’s an interesting thing, really, and can be perceived a million different ways.
This particular word is now the nucleus of this New York Rangers’ front office rebuild that shocked RangersTown just a few days ago.
That thing the Rangers pride so much as an organization — at least in theory. The right players, the right staff, the right way to do things. Most of the time the Rangers get close enough that you can at least see where they’re going with it. Sometimes they miss the mark so wildly you wonder if they even thought about what they did for three seconds before doing it.
But still. Culture. It’s such an “important” part of every hockey team in some way, shape, and form. A winning team? They have great culture. A losing team? They had bad culture. Doesn’t matter so much if it’s true. Perception is reality, and rarely — if ever — do we see a team really buck the norm there. The Rangers were the rebuilding team who were almost good enough to make the playoffs this season despite a series of strange occurrences during this 56-game campaign.
And yet, James Dolan didn’t like the culture.
So out the door went Jeff Gorton who had been general manager since 2015. Out the door went John Davidson, the beloved former New York Rangers goaltender, broadcaster, and team president since 2019. It was a jaw-dropping event in the hockey world, Rangers fan or not. JD is one of the most beloved figures in the game regardless of what colors you fly, and the Rangers — his family — kicked his ass out the door without so much as a goodbye. It was bloody, messy, and yet, sort of refreshing.
I don’t mean that as an insult to JD, as classy as a person as you’ll find in this business, and I don’t think — from what I can see — he did anything to this team that would lead to him being fired less than two years after taking the job. Team presidents don’t get fired like that in general, but it’s even harder to swallow when it’s JD. But the thing is, how often have the Rangers just sat by idly while the “family” screwed the pooch? How often have the Rangers let the wrong man hang out too long because he was in the circle? How many years were wasted because the team couldn’t bear to admit a mistake.
I am not, for the record, saying Davidson was bad for this team. I am saying that it’s refreshing to see the organization willing to do what they believe is the right thing even though it’s the hard thing. I also happen to think Chris Drury is a progressive and intelligent mind the Rangers haven’t had at the helm in... well... maybe ever. At least not since the game has evolved into what it is today. I think he’ll do fantastic things, I really do.
Gorton was fine — not good or bad — but I wonder what the perception of him would have been without winning the lottery two years in a row. He had some grand slams like the Mika Zibanejad acquisition, along with some outright disasters like the Ryan McDonagh and J.T. Miller trade. Most general managers fall on the middle of the spectrum. There are a few outstanding general managers; Gorton wasn’t one of those. There are some truly horrific general managers, and Gorton wasn’t one of those, either.
So logically — emotions removed — what did Gorton or JD bring that Drury can’t or won’t? I can’t think of much. And it’s apparent that Dolan wants someone with Drury’s mindset in the drivers seat.
See, the culture is always the point of focus. When Tom Renney was fired the Rangers felt that there wasn’t enough accountability in the room, not enough leadership. The players had too much power. So what did they do? They hired a fire-breathing taskmaster in Tortorella who cracked down on the nonsense and smashed heads into the wall. It was what the team needed at the time, but the act grew stale. And when it did, the Rangers realized there was an issue with their culture. So they gave the reigns to Alain Vigneault, a player friendly coach who ironically (knowing what we do now) made the focus of his debut the player’s fresh starts. He let the room do whatever the hell it wanted, and it turned into a circus, a lack of respect, and another firing.
David Quinn was the first outside the box hire the Rangers have made in seemingly forever. He was supposed to be a prospect expert, a man who would hold players accountable, while also focusing on the kids and development. For the most part he did that — with some blind spots of course.
The thing is, Quinn isn’t fired yet. It’s strange, but I do feel like it’s a foregone conclusion. Maybe I’m wrong.
Enter Tortorella — winningest coach in Columbus Blue Jackets’ history, and a man who is not returning to the team when his contract expires this summer. His choice. First time in a long time he hasn’t worn out his welcome somewhere. That’s a green flag if I’ve ever seen one.
But has he learned enough? Or — more importantly — enough to take over this team that’s at the razors edge of being in a position to vault toward Cup contention over the next few years? It’s the million dollar question.
The Patrik Laine relationship is an enormous red flag for me. The Tortorella the Rangers would need is a man who is going to have a longer leash for this incredibly young team, someone who is going to prioritize offense in a way he never did in New York, who is going to have to let players make mistakes to do their thing. He’s going to have to be patient. He’s going to have to be nurturing. And he’s going to have to allow ageing veterans to be used like the replacement parts they should be so let the young kids shine. No more insane swings with ice time, no more running his goalie into the ground. No more defensive shelling for the final 20 minutes of a one-goal lead.
Can he do that? Is he that?
Coaches change if they want to. There wasn’t a person on this website — writer or commenter — who was furious the Rangers let Mike Sullivan, he of the worst power play offense of all time, go when Torts was fired. Today he’s got Stanley Cup rings for the Pittsburgh Penguins and is hailed as a coach almost any team would want to have.
Vigneault learned nothing — for how can a man who does nothing wrong need to learn anything??? — and is now destroying the Flyers. It’s a beautiful thing.
The point is, I guess, that the rumors about Tortorella reportedly being on the Rangers’ radar is scary at first. But this John Tortorella is not the John Tortorella of the Rangers. But whether or not he’s different enough from that man is the question.
He’d certainly change the culture. If Dolan was really upset that the team wasn’t fighting as hard, or weren’t as upset that they weren’t going to make the playoffs then Tortorella will fix that right up. But that’s not all that has to be fixed. That’s not all that has to be done.
Tortorella is one answer to changing the team’s culture.
But whoever Chris Drury chooses — even if that man is David Quinn — it has to be the right decision.