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.
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.
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.
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.