For the past few weeks, Tom Renney had tried every tactic in his coaching textbook to inspire the drifting Rangers: Switching lines, one-on-one conversations, even distributing stats on how other slumping teams had revived their sinking seasons.
Make way for a new sheriff in town: John Tortorella, the aggressive, blunt-speaking former coach of the Tampa Bay Lightning whose on- and off-ice personality is the polar opposite of Renney's, agreed to a multiyear contract and takes the reins today for what could be an explosive ride.
Tortorella, who guided the Lightning to the Stanley Cup in 2004, "has a lot more fiery approach to the game and to the players," said Rangers president and general manager Glen Sather, who pulled the chute on Renney and assistant coach Perry Pearn yesterday morning. "I think he's going to bring that fiery attitude. We seem to be missing it. That's certainly not a slight on Tom. They have two entirely different styles."
Widely acknowledged as a literate, thoughtful coach whose game preparation couldn't be questioned, Renney had a formidable task this season without Jaromir Jagr, Martin Straka, Brendan Shanahan and Sean Avery, as the front office transitioned to a younger team led by Chris Drury, Scott Gomez and Henrik Lundqvist. All three have struggled with the leadership roles.
Renney's defensive-oriented system, the failure to generate goals either on the power play or at even strength and the malaise that seemed to set in also cost him as the Rangers flat-lined, losing 10 of the last 12. The Rangers - who are owned by Cablevision, which also owns Newsday - are tied for fifth in the East with Montreal and are only two points clear of the ninth-place Carolina Hurricanes.
"You see the team starting to slide," said Sather, who conceded yesterday that he'd been thinking for weeks about replacing Renney, who had been behind the bench since 2004 and coached the Rangers to three straight playoff appearances, including two first-round victories. "After the start we had at the beginning [10-2-1], the way we were moving and controlling the puck, our game just started to erode. I wish it hadn't come to this but it did. The last two or three games it was pretty obvious something had to be done."
Sather and Renney broke the news to the players at the training complex in the morning.
"The way things have gone, we knew something was going to come down," defenseman Wade Redden said. "Tom was upset, and rightfully so. Everyone was upset, shocked a bit."
Drury, who was named captain when the Rangers began the season in Prague, said: "We clearly didn't play well enough for him, certainly in this last month. On the bright side, I guess, there are 21 games left and we're certainly in the thick of things - 40-plus points up for grabs, and we'll see if we can get this thing turned around."
Renney, 53, was named interim coach on Feb. 25, 2004, and the 33rd coach of the club on July 6, 2004. The British Columbia native, who coached Team Canada to a silver medal in 1993, ends his tenure fourth on the Rangers' all-time coaching list in wins. He declined to speak with Newsday last night: "Maybe tomorrow; it's been a long day."
Sather said Renney, who previously was vice president of player personnel, was planning to take some time off but "he's absolutely welcome to stay with the organization. He's a very classy, intelligent human being."
Indeed, Sather took some blame for the selection of players acquired in the offseason - Redden, Markus Naslund and Nikolai Zherdev, all of whom have underperformed. "We all have to take responsibility . . . some players are better than they've performed up to date, but I'm not going to finger them. We've gotten away from being a more skilled, faster team."
Tortorella, who changed the country-club atmosphere in Tampa, according to general manager Jay Feaster, may not have the horses he had there, but he certainly will use the whip more than his predecessor. And that's precisely what the impatient Sather has in mind.
NHL CAREER WINS
IF HE WERE MUSIC, HE'D BE
"The trolley came off the tracks with the silly passes and the turnovers in the neutral zone ... We're just trying to get some traction ... It's not what you take, it's what you leave."
NHL CAREER WINS
IF HE WERE MUSIC, HE'D BE
"My emotion is one of my biggest strengths and it's one of my biggest weaknesses. I know that, but that's who I am. I don't use coachspeak. I speak my mind, and when I think I need to, on certain subjects, sometimes it could be ugly and sometimes it's good."
It wasn't a bad run
Tom Renney ranks fourth in both wins and games coached in Rangers franchise history
1. Emile Francis 342
2. Lester Patrick 281
3. Frank Boucher 179
4. Tom Renney 164
5. Roger Neilson 141
6. Herb Brooks 131
Regular-season games coached
1. Emile Francis 654
2. Lester Patrick 604
3. Frank Boucher 525
4. Tom Renney 327
5. Phil Watson 294
6. Herb Brooks 285
in last 10 years
2/25/04 - 2/24/09
GLEN SATHER 1/30/03 - 2/25/04
6/6/02 - 1/26/03
7/12/00 - 4/15/02
JOHN TORTORELLA 3/28/00 - 4/9/00
JOHN MUCKLER 2/19/98 - 3/28/00 70-91-24