John Tortorella Takes it on the Arches

Jan. 29, 2013; New York, NY, USA; New York Rangers head coach John Tortorella reacts behind the bench against the Philadelphia Flyers during the third period at Madison Square Garden. Rangers win 2-1. Mandatory Credit: Debby Wong-USA TODAY Sports

SoHo, NY– John Tortorella was fired yesterday and it got me thinking (as it did  Michael Kay over at ESPN): why isn’t New York General Manager Glen Sather on the chopping block?

Granted, Torts is my least favorite human being in the NHL–second only to Mike Milburybut suffice to say that Tortorella won in New York City, where everything is magnified ten-fold. And unlike Milbury, Tortorella had a vision, however muddled and/or skewed said vision is to the general public. With the trades that brought Ryan Clowe and Derek Dorsett to New York, it seemed as if Sather was not only on board, but cheering on his coach’s belief that this year the Rangers could very well see themselves center stage come June.

You can blame the shortened season, although I wouldn’t. You can blame Torts’s ability to tick off everyone within a 1 mile radius. Blame the lack of chemistry. Blame Torts’s refusal to take on another coach to help with his non-existent power play. Blame all that on him. But what about Sather?

Michael Kay and Don La Greca spent the vast majority of their Wednesday show investigating the history of GMs in sports, and came up with this little gem that I’m paraphrasing here: Since when does a GM run through six coaches and not himself get fired in the end?

Sather coached the Edmonton Oilers and won his share of rings. He did so during an era in which hockey was a much slower sport than it is today; two-line passes are no longer prohibited, interference is called on the slightest of bumps, and hitting opposing players in the manner we who are over the age of 30 were used to seeing is no longer legal.

Sather has been with the Rangers organization for 13 years and he hasn’t so much as made it to the Stanley Cup Finals. Today, Sather went on to say that he’s out to win a cup and sometimes that calls for decisions that may be otherwise unpopular or controversial (paraphrasing here again). But I say, if you’re going to use a notion or some sort of unifying principle that paves the way for decision-making–in Law they call that a ‘precedent’–then it should apply to the person who implemented it. Especially the person implementing it, really.

Feb 19, 2013; Buffalo, NY, USA; Buffalo Sabres head coach Lindy Ruff on the bench during the game against the Winnipeg Jets at the First Niagara Center. Jets beat the Sabres 2-1. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

Regarding the Rangers’s divsional rivals, the New York Islanders, Sather firing John Tortorella just made the Isles that much stronger for one simple reason: next year, when either Lindy Ruff, Claude Julien, or –perish the thought Rangers fans, Mark Messieris doing everything possible to realign game plans and players attempting to learn the playbook all over again, the Islanders will roll out their young and burgeoning system.

And when the Rangers are hovering over 7th or 8th place and teams like the Pittsburgh Penguins, Washington Capitals, Columbus Blue Jackets (oh yes, lest we forget Marian Gaborik will make you pay, Sather) the Detroit Red Wings, and Islanders have zipped by you, the Rangers GM cannot fault Torts or a truncated season.

(And one brief comment on Messier becoming coach: Hey Mark, if you like your status as a God in NYC, don’t coach here. Just ask Butch Goring and Bryan Trottier how that worked out for them both. In fact, ask Michael Jordan how being a GM worked out for him, as well.)

The only viable option the Rangers have in replacing Tortorella is Lindy Ruff simply because he’s as defensive-minded as his predecessor, and the players on the Rangers roster were brought together to play that uninspired “rope-a-dope” system that worked great about 20 years ago. Nowadays it has shown itself as antiquated as wooden hockey sticks come the postseason.

You have to play hockey going “up and down” these days, and guess what: of the three teams comprising the Tri-State area, the Islanders are the only ones who can pull it off. That’s exactly why they were able to give the Penguins a run for their money and why the Ottawa Senators could not.

From a purely objective standpoint, unless you’re a reporter and/or an Islander-Devil-Sabre-Capital-Panthers-Bolts fan, firing Tortorella is a terrible move. Torts cannot be blamed for everything: for Rick Nash not producing anything substantial (something he also did when the Jackets were swept by the Red Wings not too long ago), or for Brad Richards sleepwalking through the entire postseason.

You can line up the X’s and O’s in the locker room, but these very wealthy players have to produce; but since you cannot fire the roster, you fire the coach. In most instances, and Jack Capuano is no stranger to criticism either, a coach has to sell himself and his system. He also has to have people around him buy into it rather quickly in this world of instant gratification. Bearing the aforementioned in mind, Torts’s approach wasn’t as sweet an experience as most would like.

Did I think Capuano should’ve been fired earlier in the year? Yes. Why? Because the Islanders and Capuano had no identity of which to speak by the end of February. But by the end of April they did, and it showed in the Penguins series. And now that said identity is established, Capuano earned his right to stay on and see his system through. He’s fortunate in that most people had zero confidence and faith in the team and organization, so it almost allowed Capuano the room to fail miserably and learn as he went.

But with Tortorella you have a man who’s won a Stanley Cup in a market that scrutinizes with reckless impatience. It was that characteristic impatience that ultimately did him in.

The problem is that he, Torts, shut out the media–and even some of his players–from his overall scheme, and left everyone wondering more than analyzing what was in front of them. And what was eventually played out for the world to see was a team that didn’t quite understand itself–a team lacking identity. That can mostly be traced to not having a second or third coach from which to bounce off ideas.

So, berate Tortorella for not adding on a Power Play expert to his staff, but not doing so wasn’t the deal breaker for the Rangers. Not in the least.

Feb. 27, 2012; New York, NY, USA; New York Rangers President and General Manager Glen Sather at a press conference before the game against the New Jersey Devils at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Debby Wong-USA TODAY Sports

The problem is Glen Sather.

Could it be that Sather, angered that Torts refused to let youth play considerable ice time, then saw to his firing? I don’t know.

J. T. Miller played some games, but in this truncated season, you cannot wait for a young guy to find his way, not when teams like the Islanders and Devils showing signs of life. Torts had to shake things up and sitting down a Miller and trading away Gaborik were moves made to win.

As much as I dislike the guy, he didn’t NOT want to win. Right?

So, it’s time you Ranger fans start looking at your GM and focus your ire there. Because that’s where the problem is. 13 years and no cups? He’s the guy who released Adam Graves, gave up on Brian Leetch. Yes, he gave you Ryan Callahan, who for me is the greatest Ranger since Messier and for my money, the single toughest player in hockey, but so what? Where are the cups? He said it. We’re here to win cups. So, where are they? 13 years and yet you still have your job.

Meanwhile, Torts is out after four-and-a-half-years.

In MLB, New York Mets general manager Omar Minaya put together what seemed to be good teams and look where the Mets are at present. (Oh and look where Minaya is at present.)

If James Dolan doesn’t want to end up like the Mets he best have a strong talk with Sather, something like: “Listen here, Glen. If the next coach doesn’t bring me a cup within two years, you’re both fired. Because, after all, we’re here to win championships.”

–RD

 

NOTES

Here’s an article written earlier this month, almost prophetic in nature, by our Editor Andy Graziano, regarding John Tortorella.  Can’t say I agree but it’s still uncanny how Andy got it right in the end.

 

(Glad I’m an Islanders fan.)

Topics: New York Islanders, New York Rangers

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