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Rangers final grades: Coaching staff

AP Photo/Ann Heisenfelt

AP Photo/Ann Heisenfelt

Before I get started with our post-season evaluations, I just want to give some insight about myself and a bit of my background before we go down the road of critiquing people’s jobs and livelihoods. I have been accused with these posts in the past of being a pom-pom waver for the Rangers organization, specifically regarding the coaching staff. It’s an awkward balance trying to bring you all unbiased analysis, while simultaneously trying to respect the people that we cover.

I know from my own experiences how hard it is to break into the sports business. And I know it is even harder to stay here. The politics in front offices are fierce. The travel can be relentless — I know some random airport bars and bathrooms in this country better than I know my own city sometimes. The hours? Ask Mrs. Suit. Some weeks I’m lucky to see her at all. Thanks for your patience hun ;)

You think Torts is tough on his players? You should have played for my father growing up. If I didn’t play well, my ass went right to the bench. I didn’t really understand it or realize what he was doing for me at the time, as I couldn’t have been older than 10-12 years old. Now I couldn’t be more grateful for learning a lesson in accountability. Though he never benched anybody else’s kid.

So when it comes time to share my perspective on the game at large, all of these things factor into the lens in which I write.

John Tortorella:   

It’s no secret; every single contributor to this blog has an enormous respect for the culture change John Tortorella brought to this organization. The Rangers inside and out were an organization that catered to its stars prior to his arrival. The systems of Tom Renney and his predecessors were never an issue in my opinion (though the passive 1-2-2 wasn’t the most exciting brand of hockey). It was the team identity I always had a problem with. Renney’s Rangers were soft.

Tortorella came in and minutes became something that were earned, not handed out because of salary. Gomez, Drury, Redden, Rozi, would all find the bench and eventually sent packing under Torts so kids like Cally, Dubinsky, Staal and Girardi could get the icetime and situations they deserved. That philosophy continues today and it’s a big reason why Derek Stepan is on the verge of being one of the game’s great young centermen.

The philosophical ways Torts has handled this team with their physical and mental approach to the game has always been grade A in my book. We saw Torts’ toughness on HBO and in his pressers, but he has no other choice. This is New York City. The line of folks who want to inflate these players’ egos is endless. A former professional coach I work with told me the worst thing you can tell a young, talented player is how good he is. Someone has to push them. Someone has to bring them back down to Earth and mentally prepare them for the pressure of playing in this town.

From an x’s and o’s standpoint, I have highlighted the little things Tortorella does to win hockey games many times on this site, so I won’t get too much into the details here.  If you’ve missed them, check out my hockey systems page. I’ve pointed out his ability to get the right matchups on the ice, detailed his aggressive forechecking system, his breakout plays, special teams tweaks, even got into the reasoning behind his line juggling.

More importantly, I have proven that much of what the media writes about Torts is often misleading. For example, according to leftwing lock.com, Mike Babcock (arguably the NHL’s greatest coach) kept his top line together only 8.15% of the time at even strength. By contrast, Torts kept his top line together 7.44% of the time. Not much difference.

Now, I will say, there are aspects of Rangers hockey I would like to see improved upon next season, namely the powerplay personnel and coaching responsibilities. Other than a few quotes, we don’t know how much responsibility falls on Sully. Still, John is in charge of hiring assistant coaches and he should look to bring someone aboard to help out. Some teams in this league have four coaches behind their bench. We have two. Adding headcount and spreading the responsibilities can’t hurt.

Grade: B+   

Mike Sullivan:   

The Rangers absolutely need to explore getting a powerplay quarterback this summer. It’s one of our biggest weaknesses and one of the main reasons why we weren’t converting. With that said, Sully should have gotten more out of these units. LA had a terrible powerplay when they won the Cup, as did the Bruins and even the Penguins during one of their runs. However, all of those teams clicked in the low double digits. We need to at least be in that range to have a chance.

Knowing we need some new personnel, I still wouldn’t give Sully a good grade for the powerplay, but he saves himself with his other main responsibility, the defense. Staal and Girardi have become bonafide stars under their watch. McDonagh wasn’t projected to be a first pairing defensemen and might be our best all around defensemen. Stralman and Eminger were other GM’s cast-offs and both played very important minutes this season without buckling. MDZ remains a work in progress.

Henrik earned his moniker with SV%’s between .912 – 9.17 because of the porous defenses that were in front of him and the sheer amount of breakaways and odd-man rushes he used to have to stop on a nightly basis. He is still the King and the best goalie on the planet, but you don’t get a .930+ SV% in this league without some help. Respect must be given to the men in front of him and to Torts and Sully for helping those men improve.

Grade: C+

At the end of the day, the Rangers were one of two teams out of 30 to win a playoff round two years in a row. When you’re one of two, with the roster limitations and depth issues we have, coaching must be doing something right.

57 Responses to “Rangers final grades: Coaching staff”

  1. Mikeyyy says:

    I graded on a curve.

    C- for torts
    D- for sully.

    And they both become F if hank decides not to resign.

    • Kevin says:

      What does Hank re-signing have to do with the coaching? Dollars and cents have zero to do with Torts

    • Dave says:

      How does that have any bearing on the coaching staff’s performance this year?

      • John Delfino says:

        I love how you guys are receiving thumbs-down for using common sense on your own blog’s comments.

        • Dave says:

          Comes with the territory I guess.

          • The Suit says:

            I checked the stats page. It is just one person deleting his cookies over and over and voting us down haha. It’s probably Ricky Rants. Dude must have a lot of time on his hands.

  2. supermaz says:

    You give Tortorella way too much credit.
    Staal would be an effective PPQB if given the opportunity.
    In fact so would either Stralman or McDonagh.
    I see much greater needs on this team than a PPQB.

    • Dave says:

      I’m not sold on Staal or Stralman at the point, but I agree with you on McDonagh. That kid has oodles of untapped offensive potential.

  3. Lauren Torre says:

    I’ve said–it can’t only be torts, it’s the team too–you work together. We didn’t get 100% from some players who were awesome in reg season They must start working now to better themselves for 13-14 And yes, torts should get another asst coach. Still love NYR

    • Dave says:

      In NY, we all like to pin the blame on one person. This year it appears to be Torts and Hamrlik.

      • Walt says:

        Hamrlik was just a band aid for a very short period of time. He shouldn’t be blamed for our failures, the entire lack of offense at times was more to do with our down fall. As for Torts, grade him C-D, Sully F, especially for the piss poor PP.

        Lets see what next season brings, I do believe that there are going to be some major moves made over the off season, and then it’s sh*t, or get off the pot for the entire coaching staff!

    • becky says:

      Well said

      • Dave says:

        How does this get 7 thumbs downs?

        • Seahorse says:

          because when a team loses in new york theres a mob mentality with no respect to reasoning whatsoever, which is why i cant ever comment on this site post playoff loss cause unless its fire the coach, can that guy or this team blows you get dislikes

        • becky says:

          Maybe my grammar was too good. Let me rephrase: YOU SAID THAT GOOD.

  4. Jeff says:

    I think Torts gets the best of match-ups and how to squeeze the most out of a roster with limited offensive upside. I’d give him an A+.

    I would have given a F for Sully for the power play, but I didn’t know that he also handles the defense. I guess he gets a pass, but C+ still seems a bit high.

  5. amy says:

    if anything a new coaching staff should be brought in like a power play coach and a coach to work with the defense but i am proud of this team.

    • Dave says:

      I’m with you here. The only thing they need to do is add a PP coach. The rest of the staff is fine.

  6. Sally says:

    Suit,

    What are your thoughts on Hank’s recent statements that the team took a step back this season. Is it the rawness of the lost or something deeper? If it is deeper, you do you think will come out ahead on a power struggle.

    I’m so sorry to hear that this is a dog eat dog business as this is the business my son is going into.

    • The Suit says:

      I don’t read too much into it. The coaches leave Hank alone and let him do his thing, so he’s probably just frustrated. But I’m not in the locker room so I can’t say for certain that his comment wasn’t directed at the staff.

  7. HARLEMBLUES says:

    You like him,i get that.How much longer do you give him?Hank said it himself we took a step back and i agree.What kind of team are the Rangers?Fast skating or tough grinding or both.Everything is so hard for this team.I think the coaches style has a short shelve life with players.

    • The Suit says:

      Depends if they miss the playoffs, get ousted early in the post season, get ousted late, or win it all.

  8. Erixon20 says:

    A PP QB is important, but player movement and getting guys in front of the net is more important, esp in the playoffs. You can do more with a bad QB and traffic in front than with wasting a good QB in a lousy system without movement and traffic. Hire Leetch to coach PP!

    • Dave says:

      I think getting a PP coach is an important step this offseason, and as much as I would want Leetch to be that guy, he has to want the job first.

  9. Hatrick Swayze says:

    Some of the readers here need to put things into perspective given all of the C-D ratings above me in the comment section.

    If Boston knocks out Pittsburgh, cementing how good the team is when they are engaged, would that help to justify us getting ousted in 5 games? Would taking a step back and seeing that our squad was arguably one of the 3 best suited teams to represent the Eastern Conference in the finals change your views? How about considering the fact that the Rangers were the least penalized team this year? Did Derek Stepan have an offensive outburst this year in spite of Torts? Did Tortarella’s system stifle the Rangers offense so bad that Derek Brassard scored 12 playoff points in 12 playoff games in his first ever NHL playoffs?

    Yes, power play was abysmal, defensive zone system can be frustrating at times and the team was too inconsistent throughout the year which prevented us from accomplishing anything worth bragging about, but the fact of the matter is this team ended up being one of the final 4 competitors in the East, for the second year in a row despite a roster which was about half turned over. The two most responsible people for that, in my mind (general manager aside), are Henrik Lundqvist and John Tortarella.

    Anybody who says he should get lower than a B needs to re-evaluate.

    • Walt says:

      I beg to differ on one fact alone, with the line up he had, Nash, Richards, Gabby, Callie, and the defense we have, this team should have gone deeper in the play offs. Torts admitted in an interview that he fell short in getting his team ready, especially after the Caps series!!

      The season is over, cooler heads will prevail, changes will be made, no lock out, there will be a camp. Then, and only then will there be no excuses, and Torts will be mesaured on the teams progress. If we win, then he earns a right to stay, if he fails, show him the door, and replace him!!!!!

      • JoeP199 says:

        Somehow, I can’t blame just the coach when every player that you named woefully underperformed during the playoffs (and, in Richards’ case, the entire season). Those guys have to score, and yet they all but disappeared during the playoffs. You have to put some of the onus on the players themselves. These are not rookies, they are established players who know what they have to do, and they didn’t do it.

    • Joe says:

      If there was another coach out there that could have taken this team to the cup finals and win, would you want him here. The question isn’t how well did they do this year because they made the semi finals and most teams did not. The question is, did this coach take them as far as they were capable of going? My opinion is, he did not, as expectations were much higher. Was it injuries, lack of depth, sh*t PP, or a system change that is needed?

  10. SalMerc says:

    Before I grade the coaches, let me ask why it seems that many other teams’ 3rd and 4th liners do well against us? Is that coaching? Is it matchups? I feel our top 6 defenders (not just defensemen) can hold their own with anyone, but I feel we fall off dramitically after that. On a team that focuses on a defensive style, we need to be better. I also think our 3rd & 4th liners scare no one. It may be personnel, but I think the coach needs to put the player in a position to succeed. I feel Torts & Sully have tunel vision when it comes to their players. He loves Callahan, but in reality, he needs to score more. I would give them bot C’s and they need to change their ways because Sathers cannot get 8 new “torts-like” players. Let the kids play and get some speed in the lineup. Bo open-minded on the PP. Something he is most certainly not.

    • Dave says:

      This year appeared to be a one-off, as the team had the depth, but everyone was injured. Any team that has a fourth line that features the likes of Newbury and Haley is going to have a tough time matching up.

      Last year they had 4th line issues all year, so that wasn’t all that surprising. This year the 4th line was great post-deadline, but the injuries really took its toll.

  11. Erixon20 says:

    Don’t forget organizational depth. We have Hammer and Gilroy, they have Krug and Bartowski. I thought if we had been running the Richards-less 4th line from Game 1, we would have had a chance to wear down their D and at least gone 6 or 7 games. Plus our 3rd line is physically huge and should have been doing the same. Torts realized this before Game 4….when NYR basically started the series… if he made that change earlier we could be looking forward to Game 7.

    • Dave says:

      The Hammer/Gilroy thing was more an issue of prospect growth than anything else. The Rangers had a void in the prospect pool this year because their kids developed much faster than they expected. The next round of kids hit CT next year, which is why they had all the veterans on one year deals there.

  12. Skinnydan says:

    A few thoughts:

    1) Sather likes Tortorella, and Sather liking someone means they often stay longer than they should. I’m OK with another year for Torts, and success next year will cure a lot, but that should be the end of his rope.

    2) The failure in the playoffs was some coaching, but most of it really has to lie with the players. Nash was largely invisible (and, BTW, did you notice how bad his puckhandling was?) and we all know Richards was useless. I don’t know if anyone else could’ve gotten more out of a squad badly outplayed by a bigger, faster and tougher team. That said, from the outside it seems like lines don’t get a lot of time to gel in a Tortorella system.

    3) The PP is beyond atrocious and Sully has to take blame for that. Somebody has to put the puck on net, period. The hellacious D they used to play was missing in the Boston series and injuries are only part of it.

    For my part I’m giving Torts a B+ in what was a weird, truncated & injury-plagued season. Sullivan gets a D based almost entirely on the PP.

  13. Ray says:

    Appreciated your original post, Suit.

    I think Torts made a big mistake not using Nash on the PK. It would have changed his relationship to the team and would have boosted his confidence in the playoffs.

    I don’t think he did a great job with the team he had this year, but we saw a few years back just how much he can adjust his coaching style to fit a situation.

  14. Dunc says:

    The Rangers have been moderatelt successful despite Torts coaching – not because of it.

    If it weren’t for Lundqvist, Rangers would be a lottery pick team.

    Giving Torts credit is like leaving a carton of milk out in hot summer sun and giving it credit for turning sour.

  15. Hatrick Swayze says:

    It also would have further worn him down, probably giving him even less in the tank for 5on5 play. And many of us would have had more to complain about. Not to mention the injury risk with the added emphasis on shot blocking.

    • Erixon20 says:

      Regarding shot blocking (not on PK) in general: Good teams don’t have to block as many shots because they have the puck. The Rangers do not have the puck a lot – is that because of the players they have or the system they use? I think it is mostly the system.

      • Hatrick Swayze says:

        Solid point. My post there was supposed to be a reply to what Ray said above about Nash being on the pk.

        I agree with you though, from an eye test the Rangers were in their defensive 3rd too often this season, especially in the playoffs. I think a big part of it is our D zone collapse (which I hope Torts ditches for next year). It gives the other team the ability to work the puck high where they have more time than they should to make a decision with the puck,

        You have to hold the players accountable also. At some point it’s up to them to win the board battles and outwork the other team to gain and maintain possession.

        • Erixon20 says:

          Agreed, winning battles would make the system work better…but that was last year’s team. NYR has upgraded its skill and needs a new system/coach…take your pick. While I’m at it, another problem is our D personnel. Don’t get me wrong, I love all those guys…but they are all the same player…really good overall Dmen. We need a guy that can rush the puck, a guy that can clear the crease, a shutdown specialist, etc. Not 6 guys with almost the exact same game IMO.

          • Walt says:

            Well said!! I love the clear the crease part, and I believe that will be solved with McIlrath.

  16. paulronty says:

    J have been a big Torts fan but this year he was less than stellar in a few things. Guys like Kreider & Miller are going to make mistakes but you have to let them play to progress. Ottawa played Silverberg & Zibinejad and they screwed up many times but out they went. The young guys have to know that a mistake doesn’t doom them and sitting them undermines their already fragile confidence. That being said I also understand that Torts had a short season where every game was critical. I don’t mind the line changing but the Step-Hags-Nash line was electric and should have stayed together. Bad there. Bringing in Hamrlik was a joke. Why sign Gilroy if you don’t play him?

    • Skinnydan says:

      Good points, and I think this underlines the Tortorella mindset. Once he’s made up his mind about who and what you are, it’s difficult if not impossible to get him to change what he thinks. Gilroy went in the bad or undependable column and that’s it; Krieder makes a couple of mistakes and he’s down on the 4th line or sitting out; Richards is the golden boy based on 10 years ago and keeps playing.

      I’m not sure he’s wrong about any of those players, but Krieder clearly needs more playing time and Richards should have been benched ages before he finally sat out. Too much flexibility isn’t ideal in a coach, but too little is also a problem.

  17. RocketRoy says:

    COACHING GRADES……I personally think this Roster needs a NEW voice in the locker room, as Torts & Sully I think are being Tuned Out big time, and the main reason for me, is our POWERPLAY, as it has not improved one bit under Torts & Sully, and may have regressed….I don’t know if he would accept a new challenge or not, but I would hire Jacques Lemaire…!!!!

    • Joe says:

      oh my God, i would rather give Torts a lifetime contract than watch the Rangers under Lemaire…..Talk about boring hockey!

    • Dave says:

      You think the Rangers are boring, and you want to hire Lemaire? Lemaire, he of the 1-4 trap? Come on now. You’ll be lulled to sleep on a nightly basis.

      • RocketRoy says:

        ROSTER DICTATES STYLE OF PLAY….!!!!
        All anyone had to see during the playoffs, is how often and how long we would get caught in our end, and could not get out due to players lack of playmaking ability….I do believe the Devils won (2) cups with Lemaire…JUST SAYING…!!!!

      • Joe says:

        I agree Dave that would really not be good for the team. At least Torts provides exciting hockey on most nights. Not much scoring but….

  18. Arisrules says:

    Like Lundqvist stated, this year was a huge step back by any definition. how anybody can think the coaching staff did a good job with improved talent is beyond me. The only reason we made the playoffs was because of Lundqvist. It had nothing to do with Tort’s tactics or lack there of.

    The offense and PP are so abysmal that I am actually shocked he was allowed to finish the season. We basically were swept by the Bruins, and were only saved from that disgrace by Rusk falling on his ass. The gap between the two teams last year was minimal, this season there is a chasm between the two.

    That is on Torts though. We got worked both physicaly (the rnagers looked tired, no doubt because Torts wore them out and can’t manage the team right), but also mentally and tactically.

    If he can’t figure out the offense and PP next season, then Lundqvist is gone, and so are our Cup-winning chances for the foreseeable future.

    Is anybody really confident Torts is going to figure that out?

    • Arisrules says:

      And what I cannot understand is how Sully only gets blamed for the PP. If Torts literally did not touch the PP because Sully was on it, then that is grounds to question Tort’s ability to manage the team.

      You know you can’t score 5 v 5 with any regularity, so you need that special teams boost. We were even worse than last year! How is that possible?

  19. Rmoe125 says:

    Dave I rate your blog a C+

  20. Allyson Gronowitz (@AllysonGrono) says:

    Great post, as usual. Just a quick response to the whole “pushing your young players” idea: How does Kreider fit in? I know he also went through a season with the Whale where not much (nothing?) clicked for him, but he’s the kind of player whose humility seemed to harm him rather than help him, so I don’t know if the Torts “tough love” approach works for everyone– and this is a key part of the organization we’re talking about.

    Thoughts?

    • Dave says:

      There’s a saying in the professional world that I live by: “If your boss is yelling at you, it’s a good thing. It’s when he stops yelling that you have a problem. It means he’s given up on you.”

      Kreider is a kid, but he needs to realize hockey is more than a 1 zone game. It didn’t click with him in CT under Ken Gernander, and it didn’t click in NY under Torts.

      I’m not looking too deep into this until next year. If the kid can’t play in all three zones, then he’s not going to survive in this league.

  21. bernmeister says:

    Torts’ system in TB not the same here.
    One here cannot work over full season, = too much injury/exhaustion factor. This is on top of every other failing it has.

    There is no doubt that what I am saying here is FACT not opinion. The results of this season and last prove it.

    On top of that, Kreider is one of our best assets, already had a whole first year of ELC status squandered in only participating in playoffs, which was ok in and of itself, but the follow up was to play the guy HERE, and let him learn HERE, nor force him to waste a whole year of ELC, making his guy think about things 10 times before doing them.

    Kreider previously use sheer athleticism to override any problems he had, now he needs to learn certain techniques required at NHL level, ok, but you don’t break him.

    It is not even close.
    Break Torts and his arrogant attitude.
    I am open about replacement.
    I would like to consider both Sullivan and Gernander as bench and assistant coaches, but the real coach should be our team leader, Ryan Callahan, with support as indicated to handle distractions/added responsibilities.

  22. Lou says:

    Anyone that is a true Rangers fan should consider this past season a bust. Frankly, the fact that Torts considered it a side step is offensive. There is only one goal – win the freakin cup….and anything short of that is a down season (and more so when you have a team predicted by the experts that can evaluate talent as the per-season favorite).

    Torts made a huge amount of mistakes:
    1. He didn’t develope a fourth / bruiser line. He had a 40 game regular season and a 7game playoff round before the bruins to come up with the line. Then in game 4 and 5 he finally acquiest to the inevitable – namely, that Asham didn’t hit enough and that he needed more size to match up against the Bruins. Really? He couldn’t determine that before?

    2. He didn’t realize that Richards was done and had no heart?
    Again it took him to get to the elim games against Bston to see something that was evident from the 4th game of the season?

    3. Torts didn’t develope a defensive 3rd line. Guys like Pyatt and Powe(maybe even Boyle) shouldn’t be asked to score – they should be matched up and praised as defensive players and put up against the other teams first line. You stop them…your top line scores…you win!

    4. Ice time and the overuse of key players. Throughout the season I carefully looked at playing time from our team and many other teams. Bottom line – Torts overused certain Dmen and players. Then when you are down a goal you simply don’t have the jump or legs to score.

    5. Lack of flexibility. Really, is there anyone that can say with a straight face that Torts coaches according to the circumstances or opponent. He does not. He believes his style with the right players will beat any other team or style. Well, that’s not coaching – that’s stupidity. Placing players in a position to succeed and not fail is coaching. And asking them to do what they are incapable or unwilling to do is Torts.
    Asking Nash to play on a penalty kill and fake blocking shots is gonna be as successful as asking MDZ to captain a power play.

    6. Defensive collapse in the zone leading to open point men, more shots, puck control by the opposition and attempted clearing the puck along the boards every time is a recipe for tired players, hurt shot blockers, worn out defensemen and losses. Just look at the red wing games against Chicago. The red wings let their Dmen play low but their forwards cover the points — result …an inferior team forcing the leagues top team to game 7. Now that’s coaching!

    7. Last but certainly not least is Tort’s crass style. I’m no fan of the stupid media questions he gets; nor the insipid remarks in the media by guys that have obviously never laced skates, but the fact remains that Torts does not know how to avoid insulting. His comments on Hagelin on the power play (as if one player alone was the answer) was hurtful, inaccurate, and insulting. Can you name another coach in any professional sport that would call out a player like that? He is lucky that Hagelin appears to be a great young guy, because the response should have been just as insulting back to the coach.
    And for those of us that went to game 3 of the bruins series and saw a lackluster / lifeless effort by the Rangers – does anyone other than me believe there was a connection between Torts comments on Hags and the player effort that game?

    Bottom line: Torts played a big role in our FAILED season!