The New York Rangers fired coach John Tortorella on Wednesday, ending over four years of inconsistent results, hilariously tense press conferences and a blue collar system that led to more broken bones than championships.
He led the Rangers to 171 victories after replacing Tom Renney in 2009 with 21 games left in the regular season. Under Tortorella’s guidance, the Rangers posted their second most wins all-time in a single season with 51, and tied for second in franchise history with 109 points, in 2011-12.
Under Tortorella, the Rangers lost in the conference final to New Jersey in 2012; lost twice in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs to Washington (2009, 2011); lost in the second round to the Boston Bruins this season; and missed the playoffs entirely in 2010.
The reason for his demise? Look no further than that Boston series, which the Rangers lost in five games.
They didn’t play for him, as tenaciously as they had in the past. The ferocity on the forecheck wasn't there. The sacrificial defense Tortorella asked them for -- blocked shots and deep bruises -- wasn't as consistent. Did they quit on him? Not necessarily. But their "level of compete," as Torts would call it, wasn't as high as it had been when they actually wanted to compete for him.
The move to bench and then scratch Brad Richards – a well-respected former playoff MVP that played like dog excrement in the postseason – was seen as a sign of disrespect by the locker room rather than a justifiable decision.
But the bell tolled for Torts when Henrik Lundqvist decided he had seen enough.
On the Rangers’ getaway day, the goaltender described his time with the team in the past tense. Via the Daily News:
“I’m gonna talk to my agent, and we’ll see,” Lundqvist said about potential contract talks. “You know, I had such a great time here in New York. From day one they treated me really well and have given me an opportunity to play a lot of hockey. It’s been a lot of fun. I have one more year on the contract. I’m just focused on — well, right now, I’m trying to get over this year — but we’ll see. I’ll talk to my agent and take it from there.”
If the player who most benefited from Tortorella’s system is going to hedge on his future like that, then the coach is done. That was a dagger in his stomach. There was no going back.
But did Lundqvist really benefit from the system?
Every postseason, it seemed like Tortorella teams were incapable of winning anything by more than one goal. That placed enormous pressure on Lundqvist; ultimately, it was the team’s lack of offense that would spell its demise.
This was a middling team every regular season because of that system, with the exception of its 109-point season in 2011-12. They were a perpetual sixth seed, despite having a much better team on paper. Eventually that falls to the coaching staff.
But mostly, it was time for Tortorella to go because it had become too much about Tortorella.
The sideshow press conferences, staged to provoke the media for his own amusement. Benching Richards. Preaching a system and style of hockey that was an extension of his own philosophy rather than a proper use of the roster he was handed by Glen Sather.
And by that we mean: a roster gutted of the "Tortorella" players like Brandon Prust and Brandon Dubinsky, and one that has Rick Nash on it.
The Rangers will find another personality now, under a coach that will undoubtedly work to better utilize the offensive talent on this team.
Tortorella will accept a large sum of money to work on a television panel as an analyst until another team decides they need his particular brand of whimsy – and immediate results – behind its bench.
And the New York media will, for the first time in four years, unclench its collective sphincter the next time a Rangers coach holds a press conference.
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