John Tortorella was fired from his position as New York Rangers head coach on Wednesday after five seasons at the helm. The Blueshirts secured a playoff spot and made it to the Conference semi-finals but were beaten badly by the Boston Bruins by a margin of four games to one.
Tortorella leaves town as the fourth most successful coach in Rangers history after amassing 171 wins in his tenure. While Torts was not the easiest man to play for nor was he the most media friendly coach, he still always seemed to get the best out of his players.
These strengths were shaken in this lockout-shortened season, as the Rangers seemed slow and defeated at times during the regular season and the playoffs. Their power play suffered mightily this year, which drew the ire of many of the Rangers faithful.
But was this John Tortorella’s fault? I would argue not all of it. While his players didn’t seem to want to play for him towards the end, this was the result of greater issues that caused frustration and strife due to a lack of success.
While the trade for star winger Rick Nash brought in another top scorer, it also depleted much of the Rangers depth that they had used so effectively last season. Players like Brandon Dubinsky and Artem Anisimov were no longer available in Tortorella’s rotation.
This lack of depth led to fatigue as well as a general lack of toughness due to the loss of enforcers like Brandon Prust. This was detrimental to the speed game that Tortorella likes to play at both even strength and on the power play.
The simple fact is that the front office did not help Tortorella shape the team he needed to succeed. But Tortorella’s breakdowns with key players doomed any chance this team had at a cup.
The Rangers had to deal perennial 40 goal scorer Marian Gaborik to the Columbus Blue Jackets to due a disconnect with Tortorella. This was followed by the benching of star center Brad Richards in the playoffs due to poor play. Where the blame actually falls on these issues is hard to tell at this point.
In the end, the Rangers front office jumped the gun on firing Torts. After a long lockout, he led this team to a playoff spot (perhaps not as high as they originally hoped) and moderate playoff success. With the proper pieces, he may have been able to muster up enough in order to advance further but this was prevented by a chronic lack of depth, physical play and injuries.
Now, the task of rebuilding this team for next season and finding a new head coach to lead them falls on embattled general manager Glen Sather. Much of the Rangers future success will depend on what moves he makes over the next few weeks and months.