BY CHAYIM TAUBER
Tortorella’s four and a half year reign as head coach of the Rangers ended abruptly Wednesday, a mere four days after their Stanley Cup hopes were ended by the Boston Bruins.
The Rangers were thoroughly outplayed throughout the series, narrowly managing to avoid a sweep. In that series, their years-long inefficiency on offense (the power play in particular) was on full display. The poor offense/strong defense identity that Tortorella brought with him to New York yielded what Captain Ryan Callahan called “a disappointing season.”
Despite scorers the caliber of Marian Gaborik, Rick Nash, and Brad Richards, Tortorella’s Rangers ranked 10th in the Eastern Conference in goals per game during his regime and 13th in power play percentage over that same period.
When asked about a contract extension, Henrik Lundqvist, the chief victim of the Offense-less Rangers gave a frighteningly non-committal “we’ll see.” Lundqvist mirrored Callahan’s views of this past season, calling it “a step back.” In the seven playoff games Lundqvist conceded this postseason, the Rangers managed to score a measly eight goals of support. Tortorella also rode Lundqvist mercilessly, playing him in the last 26 games consecutively and in 35 of their last 36.
Perhaps the biggest strike against Tortorella in most people’s books is his treatment of Rangers prodigy Chris Kreider.
Kreider burst onto the scene in last season’s playoffs by scoring five goals and ingratiating himself to Rangers fans. He figured to be a central offensive figure for the Rangers this season but he could never quite gain Tortorella’s trust. He was demoted to fourth line duties, often found himself nailed to the bench (a consequence of being in Tortorella’s dog-house) and eventually, demoted to the AHL. It is unclear if Tortorella’s relationship with Kreider at all played a role in his dismissal.
Center Brad Richards, the player most inextricably linked to Tortorella going back to their Cup-winning Lightning days, is perfectly positioned to be amnestied by the Rangers this summer. Despite scratching him from the last two games of the Boston series, Tortorella gave an emphatic endorsement of Richards’ character and hockey ability from behind the podium.
Tortorella leaves as the second winningest coach in Rangers history and the winningest American-born coach in NHL history.
The three-time Jack Adams award finalist will perhaps best be remembered for his abrasive attitude and exchanges with the NY media. His press conferences ranged from the comically short (“I’m not answering any questions – we sucked.”) to near fist-fights (with Larry Brooks).
Though it’s pure speculation as to why he was fired, GM Glen Sather referenced “the shelf life” of a coach.
The Rangers have not begun the search for a replacement as of yet according to the team and how this latest development affects their offseason plans remains to be seen.