Glen Sather has put spotlight back on himself by firing John Tortorella
Arthur StapleArthur Staple
Staple, with Newsday since 1997, has covered high school
But perhaps the biggest thing Tortorella accomplished in his time behind the bench was to take the heat off Glen Sather, the Rangers president and general manager who hasn't been called out nearly as much since he hired the volatile Tortorella back in February 2009.
That cushion is gone now after Sather decided to fire Tortorella. The focus is on the GM and his players. One Ranger told Newsday's Steve Zipay that Tortorella was tough to play for. He certainly was not alone in that viewpoint and those views likely were communicated to Sather on Monday during the team's exit interviews, which may have tipped the scales against Tortorella just 48 hours later.
This move reinforces that Sather, who was out of commission for a spell after prostate cancer surgery in late March, is fully in charge of the Rangers, a fact that sometimes has been forgotten over recent seasons with his few public briefings and the fiery Tortorella being the face of the front office.
Despite his turning 70 in three months, Sather is still president and general manager, a dual role he reiterated will continue into next season.
Of course, there is work to be done with this Rangers team this offseason. Sather wasn't thrilled with Tortorella's honest but impolitic assessment that the Rick Nash trade and the loss of Brandon Prust in free agency changed the depth Tortorella relied upon last season, and not for the better. Removing Tortorella doesn't remove the truth of what the former coach said.
Even a new coach with an up-tempo style of play still will need a solid fourth line and better defensive depth to keep up in the new division next season, with the Penguins still around, the Flyers ready to make themselves over and the Islanders on everybody's watch list. And the Red Wings are joining the Eastern Conference, too.
That is on Sather now. It's now also on the players who talked Tortorella out of the job to show they can win with a gentler touch from whomever comes in next.
This move doesn't solve the Brad Richards problem, with seven years left on his contract and a diminishing salary cap. Richards' comment on Monday that "relationships come and go" reflected a drastic change in his feelings about Tortorella, but Richards' $6.67-million cap hit through 2019-20 is not about emotion. The Rangers need to make changes, and that was without making a coaching change.
There are, to Sather's credit, several good candidates from which to choose. Longtime Sabres coach Lindy Ruff tops the available coaches list; so does Dave Tippett, who has not signed an extension in Phoenix and was a candidate for Sather in 2002, when the GM chose Bryan Trottier over a host of more experienced coaches.
Mark Messier, Sather's special assistant, also could be in the mix. Sather may be wary of hiring a first-time coach to run this team, but he has long been partial to his loyal players and coaches -- Trottier and Tortorella were the only two coaches he hired that he didn't already know well.
A source indicated this will be a quick process, so Sather already may have a new coach in mind.
Tortorella put a lot of the focus on himself, with his rigorous training camps, his demanding style and his media dealings. Sather has put the spotlight back on himself with this move, and though it hasn't been mentioned much with the team's modest success the past few seasons, Sather will be starting his 14th season as Rangers president. He just fired the only coach who got his team beyond the second round of the playoffs.
It was Tortorella's way or the highway, as players such as Marian Gaborik found out. Tortorella's gone now. Those who remain may not enjoy the scrutiny that comes with the big, bad coach getting fired.