The ideal hockey system for the New York Rangers

June 4, 2013, by
If he wants it, there are certain things he will need to do (Phillip MacCallum/Getty Images).

If he wants it, there are certain things he will need to do (Phillip MacCallum/Getty Images).

Since Tortorella’s firing last week, there’s been a lot of different coaches with different systems/philosophies linked to the Rangers head coaching position. As I said last week in my Tortorella obituary post, Sather left it open as far as what he’s looking for in his next coach. Since Glen gave fans the mushroom treatment again, I figured I would at least tell you all what I’m looking for in the next Rangers coach.

To be clear, this post is not about forecasting. I’m not reading into any beat writer rumors or any of the supposed “scoop” that apparently every Canadian insider has on the position. Sather only reveals nuggets to the press when he wants to. In this instance, he isn’t revealing squat. So please spare me the sourced articles. Glen’s table is smaller than Dolan’s moles would like to believe.


I’m going to be very upfront with you when it comes to the x’s and o’s side of hockey. Despite the success trap variations have had, I do not want to see a coach who employs those tactics take over as the Rangers bench boss. Whether it’s Alain’s 1-2-2, Guy’s 1-3-1, or Dave Tippett’s 1-4, I am not interested in watching Rangers players stand around in the neutral zone once they have the lead. 

Rangers hockey should always be about getting the puck moving North. You can make an argument for changing other aspects of Tortorella’s hockey system, but not forechecking. The 2-1-2 is always about skating hard, hits for takeaways and all out efforting. Those themes resonate with me and I think resonate with the Garden faithful.  Being passive does not entertain me. 

Defensive Zone:

Much has been written about the Rangers ability to collapse around the slot and block shots. While I disagree the strategy limits offensive potential, I don’t think the Rangers played the system at the right times. With the evolution the game is making post-lockout, hybrid tactics are the way to go. This means the strategy changes based on puck location.

The low zone collapse should ALWAYS be used when the puck is behind the net, as you can’t score when you’re behind the goal line. However, when the puck is at the points, I prefer the box expanding and pressuring the enemy point players. When the puck is along the wall, the defense should be overloading, meaning we are trying to out-number the enemies between the dots and the boards. Again, the collapse works and has won championships, but aggressiveness in certain situations is my preference.

Playing a hybrid approach increases the likelihood of d-zone break downs. It will also decrease Hank’s save percentage. However, once the team gets it, we should become a better transition team or at least have the puck more.

Special Teams:

This section is going to be short as most head coaches leave special team responsibilities to assistant coaches. Right now Sully is still that guy until we hire a new HC. Whoever is hired will evaluate Sully and decide his fate.

Penalty killing is always about switching your tactics around to defend against whatever powerplay you are up against, so changing it up on the PK is a wash for me. As for powerplay strategies, the best teams rotate multiple formations. You shouldn’t just setup in an umbrella and stay stagnant. You shouldn’t setup in an overload and cycle just for the sake of cycling. Rotating strategies makes PK’s switch. Switching leads to mistakes. Mistakes lead to offense.

Of course, having a real powerplay quarterback at your disposal helps too.


I have said it many times on this site, but minutes should always be earned, not distributed because of salary or because you’re a rook with potential. This was a philosophy Torts changed when he took over, as Renney, Sather, Trottier, and Lowe all leaned on veterans way too much. I hope whoever Sather hires will continue to play guys who go hard because that’s what I believe it takes to win in this town.

As f0r how a coach is in the locker room, I just can’t speak to it. No one can. I can’t tell you how Alain, Guy, Messier, or Jeff Beukeboom will be in the locker room. I can’t tell you if Torts was different this season from last season or if players really were “gripping their sticks tight.” This is where my analysis goes dark. All I can say is, I’d rather have a coach who commands respect and holds every player accountable rather than someone who is thoughtful and willing to fill reporters pads.

Categories : Coaching, Hockey Tactics


  1. jackelau says:

    As I said at the begining of the year, I thought the shortened season would help Tort”s x’s and o’s style of coaching. His 2-1-2 forecheck and going down to block every shot is EXHAUSTING. last year this team ran out of gas, playing way to many games than everybody else. your never and did not ever blow anybody out . we had no legs left last year. as to this year,well enough being said, he lost the team. He should have noticed it and took a Tom Coughlin style of ” I know I was being a dick and I’ll ease off. Lets have fun and go play”. all it did was win him a super bowl. I hope whoever Slats brings in sees that. We have a great young team here. Let’s go win.

  2. Mikeyyy says:

    Suit have you called Sather to let him know your interested in the job?

    • The Suit says:

      I had the job, but we didn’t agree on who the assistant coaches would be, so I was fired. Weird.

  3. Bloomer says:

    The Rangers lost to a very good Bruins team. Now for whatever reason, they are in rebuild mode. After canning Torts, now everyone is talking about getting rid of this player and getting that player. Hockey is a team sport and winning is all about team chemistry. Sather messed with it and I am not optimistic he will get it back. And please no Mark Messier as coach, the Rangers need a real coach not a big name.

  4. Erixon20 says:

    Another thing to look for in a new coach: knowing how to distribute icetime. You cannot play one guy 5 mins and another 28 in today’s NHL. To me, that was Torts’ worst attribute. And add that to the style of play he demanded, it is no wonder our guys were gassed. Look at boxscores from successful teams and see how it should be done. If Torts had the Bs roster, I think he would coach the same way.

    • The Suit says:

      In a perfect world Chara isn’t playing a half hour a game either, but he’s able to handle it.

      Look, ice time distribution often comes down to depth and injuries. When you don’t have depth you end up shortening your bench. Shorten the season and that problem becomes exasperated.

      We need more depth to avoid that happening again.

      • Erixon20 says:

        Chara is different. Please, look at the other teams and their rosters. Does anyone think Shawn Thornton is a better hockey player than Asham? But he gets more minutes (not only in a 6-1 blowout either). Or look at Detroit Game 7 vs the Hawks. Guys that are hardly household names getting 10-12 minutes. If you start doing this in game 1 of the regular season, by the time the playoffs roll around your stars have more in the tank, and the bottom 6 have actually played some hockey. NYR has enough depth, they need a coach who lets his players play.

        • The Suit says:

          Thornton is playing under 8 mins a game in the post season. Ditto Bollig, Carcillo on Chicago. Fraser, Nolan on LA. The list goes on.

          I agree rolling 4 lines is ideal, but that has to do with how guys are playing, injuries, depth, etc. No coach wants to shorten his bench. It’s just the result of what happens when you are lacking the aforementioned variables.

    • Ray says:

      I think it’s more complicated than this. If your better players get more ice time, all else equal, the team is better. The question is “how much time can they handle?” Callahan and Stepan basically led all forwards in ice time in the playoffs. Callahan went top speed all the way. Stepan was not the gamebreaker he was toward the end of the season. So my hunch is that Torts would have gotten more from Stepan if he had played fewer minutes, but his use of Callahan was fine.

      Tortorella did win a Cup in Tampa riding two lines.

  5. Walt says:

    Hockey should always be about moving the puck north and south, and no trap!! Sorry, if I have a lead, and can sit on it with our defense, then if we incorporate a trap at that time, I’m OK with it. How many games did we loose this season when we took a lead, and didn’t trap? Last year, if we had a lead after 2 periods, it was a given, we would win, not so this year.

    Look at the Pens playing against the Bruins. I hate to quote Milbury, but he once described both Cindy, and Igor as playing as if they were using crack, only interested in scoring. I love wide open games, we don’t have the players who can play that style, and win on a regular basis. If we get a lead, shut down the other team with a trapping system, a win is a win, I’m cool with it!

    On the coaching issue, please don’t look at Mess as your answer. You have no idea what he can, or can’t do in that capacity. He is a legend, great person, an idol, not a coach. Read Jesse Rubinstein’s piece on the Prospect Park site, very well written article. He said it best, people who want Mess, Leetch, Graves, and Beuke as their coaching staff, along with Gretz, are living in the past. I said it on many occasions, please think with your heads, not your hearts, Mess isn’t the answer.

  6. neal says:

    Suit, your breakdown on the ” defensive zone” was spot on and is what killed the Rangers this year. When you have some of the fastest guys in the NHL, on your team, you need to adapt and attack the points. When the other teams defensemen see hagelin, Kreider, Nash, etc attacking them at the points, mistakes will be made and that will lead to break outs and breakaways. Not sure we did not do this.

  7. SalMerc says:

    Suit – Nica analysis. I feel that while coaches have philossophies and preferences, the nw coach needs to modify his preferences to the team make-up. We are a slow defensive minded team with few individuals who can control a game on their own. This may be a strength or a weakness. The next coach needs to look at his 20 and decide what will work best with what he has. If Sather gives him speed, he should adapt. If we get a PP pointman, the PP needs to morph. I would prefer an open-minded coach who can handle the change-on-the-fly adaptations to a coach who lives and dies by knowing only one way. A bench coach needs to run special teams and X’s and O’s. In the end, the 20 guys with uniforms on make or break the coach.

    • The Suit says:

      Agreed. The question is, how come people are expecting Alain Vignealt to come in here and make us play like the Canucks when our roster is built to play under the Torts identity?

      A transition of that nature would take a lot of time to adjust. Maybe even an entire season. How do you do that when the window to win is now? Food for thought.

      • SalMerc says:

        Yup. NY wants a winner and we need to win while Hank is still in his prime. Not sure if there is a coach out there that can make enough impact to push us to the finals (with current roster). I fear that Sather may put a marquee guy behind the bench (Gretzky, Messier) for all the wrong reasons. I do not believe we need a coach until after the draft and we talk to Tippett.

      • Erixon20 says:

        Our 2011-12 roster was built for Torts. Our current roster has less grit, but more skill. The Canucks team that lost in 7 to Boston wasn’t anything special personnel wise after the Sedins and Kessler. If Luongo didn’t choke they would have won the Cup.

  8. Ray says:

    For the Rangers in the defensive zone, it was more than just positioning. They were truly awful at clearing the zone once they got their stick on the puck. They nearly always tried to clear as quickly as they could and cleared the puck along the ice along the boards – it was just so easy to stop. Other teams frequently use a lifting clear that doesn’t go far enough to be icing. I noticed that Zuccarello (who doesn’t win the puck enough unfortunately) figures out how much time he has and uses it to find a successful clearing path. But no one else does anything like this.

    Is there something about the low zone collapse that forces them to play this way, or is just bad coaching?

  9. HARLEMBLUES says:

    You can hit in hockey.Man has puck first things first put man on his ass, then get puck turn up ice away we go.Stop the reaching,stick checking,slashing put your body into the man get leverage and put him on his ass.Stop watching guys on the half boards stick handling,stop watching point men dangling at the blue line,put them on their ass.You can hit in hockey anywhere.When anybody touches the puck he should fear being put on his ass.Think young,skilled,fast,

    • HARLEMBLUES says:

      Think,young,skilled,fast,tough and nasty.Big also would be a plus.

      • Walt says:

        You my friend are on the same page as me! Slats has to stay away from the old farts who come here to collect a big pay check, and then check out of the games!

        • HARLEMBLUES says:


          • Walt says:

            Who the hell are these people?? Ha Ha Ha!!

            • HARLEMBLUES says:

              A Movie,TV show and a star.I love the Rangers 2 be young and restless,play fast and furious and show the skill and nastiness of Belledonna.

  10. Randy says:


    I tried looking this up but couldn’t find anything, so I was wondering if you had any idea…

    Has any coach ever won the Stanley Cup in his first season with a team? I’d be interested to hear who.

    For all the pro-Vigneault and Mess-haters on the blog…my only opinion is this:

    While Mess obviously lacks coaching experience, what other coach would be a better leader/motivator? While coaching has a lot to do with player management and style of play, you can’t undervalue the importance of having a guy who the team will go to war with and leave it all out there. For me, that guy is Mark Messier. The rangers have gone a century with experienced coaches and have just 3 cups to show for it, so why does everything think that is the necessary recipe to win a cup? You win a cup when you get a coach who gets his players to bust their ass for the team, and if there is anyone who can do that for the blueshirts, its Mess, not a french canadien who has spent his career coaching only in Canada and has no Stanley Cups to show for it.

    • Ray says:

      There have been lots of relatively inexperienced Stanley Cup winners. Al MacNeil spent one season in the AHL, half a season as assistant coach of Montreal and the other half as head coach. Still, he was more experienced than his playoff goaltender (Ken Dryden), who only had six games under his belt before the playoffs. Scotty Bowman didn’t win the Cup his first year as coach but got to the finals with an expansion team. Bylsma won the Cup his first year as head coach.

      A problem with Messier is that there is a difference between motivating payers as a teammate and motivating as a coach. Can Mess do the latter? I don’t know, but I hope Sather can answer the question.

    • The Suit says:

      Jean Perron was a rookie coach when he won the Cup in ’86 with MTL.

  11. Joe says:

    Suit, excellent post I agree with everything except one thing:

    You said, “I’d rather have a coach who commands respect and holds every player accountable rather than someone who is thoughtful and willing to fill reporters pads.”

    These two ideas are not mutually exclusive.

    Nice job though! Walt says he will accept the trap with the lead. I agree with you. No trap coach! I want to be entertained by the Rangers as well as get a win. After all sports is just entertainment!