John Tortorella dismissed as Rangers coach
In the end, it wasn't one particular failing that marked the somewhat surprising end of Rangers coach John Tortorella's tenure.
But undeniably, after 51 wins and a run to the Eastern Conference finals last season, not being able to bring the best out this year's edition of the Blueshirts, who struggled during the 48-game campaign, barely got past the Washington Capitals and didn't come close to defeating the Bruins in the playoffs, was a major factor.
"Did they play up to expectations? No," said president and general manager Glen Sather, who informed Tortorella Wednesday morning. "That's probably as far as I can go with that answer."
Tortorella, 54, the Concord, Mass., native who would be abrasive and bullying with the media one day and accommodating the next, coached the team for five seasons after being tabbed to replace Tom Renney on Feb. 23, 2009. His final record is very similar. He finished 171-115-29 in the regular season and won three of seven playoff series. Renney, now an assistant in Detroit, was 164-117-46 and won two of five postseason series.
"Every coach has a shelf life and I have told every coach I have hired that this will happen," Sather said. "I had to make a decision and I did. It wasn't one situation or one specific thing. It wasn't the power play . . . It was more of a decision on how to get better and challenge for the Stanley Cup."
The timing of the dismissal was intriguing. It came two days after Henrik Lundqvist's comments that the team took "a step back" and his noncommittal stance on a potential contract extension. "I have a great time in New York," he said. "I have to talk to my agent. We'll see."
Sather said the remarks did not play a role in Tortorella's ousting. Instead, Sather declared: "We plan on signing Henrik to a long-term contract."
Tortorella, who may have more than one year remaining on his contract, did not return a phone call and an email, and players were reluctant to speak on the record as well. But the coach's relentless and sometimes unforgiving style certainly made some players uncomfortable.
"It was tough to play sometimes because you're so nervous about making a [defensive] mistake," said one player who asked to not be identified.
It also seems clear that management and the coach didn't always see eye to eye. Sather said the benching of struggling center Brad Richards, who had played for Tortorella in Tampa when the Lightning won the Stanley Cup in 2004, for the final two playoff games, was "an organizational decision," although Tortorella had asserted that it was his call.
Tortorella, who preached a dump-and-chase, defense-first style to a team that was transforming into more of a finesse outfit, complained about the lack of grit and depth on the roster. And somehow he didn't find a way to connect with Marian Gaborik, who has scored 40 goals multiple times, and was shipped to Columbus, or get the most from players such as Rick Nash, an elite power forward who scored 21 goals but only one in 12 playoff games.
Lundqvist, a Vezina Trophy finalist again, expressed disappointment in the offense during parts of the season, and the numbers don't lie. The Rangers sported the league's 23rd-ranked power play and were 4-for-44 in the playoffs, where they averaged slightly more than two goals per game. Assistant coach Mike Sullivan, in charge of the power play, was not fired Wednesday, but Sather did not give him an endorsement.
Sather said the search for a replacement will begin soon, and hoped that it would conclude before the June 30 draft, but there was no firm deadline.
"There are a lot of good coaches out there," Sather said.