Pat Leonard of the Daily News sat down with Glen Sather yesterday, and the Rangers GM was very candid about the decision to relieve former coach John Tortorella of his duties. Slats said that the “style of play had a lot to do with it” in reference to the dismissal of the coach. Leonard was able to get more details from the GM as well:
“If you look at these playoff games (like the Stanley Cup Finals matchup) you’re gonna see, the style that they play, I mean there’s not a hell of a lot of dump-ins,” Sather said. “I mean, (if) you have to dump the puck in, you have to dump it. But there’s a lot of puck control and hanging onto the puck and moving the puck out, and there’s not stopping behind the net to gain control. There’s a lot of things that are done differently than what we were doing. So you have to look at the style of play. That had a lot to do with (the decision to fire Tortorella), too.”
It’s a very interesting quote, and there are a few things that –if you read between the lines– certainly changed Slats’ opinion of the direction of the team. For the sake of the post, we are focusing on the on-ice product on not on Torts’ personality. From this quote alone, you can see that the organization shifted direction on Torts in a very short amount of time, and it all had to do with on-ice performance.
Slats specifically calls out the playoff games, when the Rangers were just atrocious at maintaining puck possession and generating offensive chances –especially against the Bruins. The interesting aspect of that is that this was actually one of the best seasons in a while for puck possession for this club. They posted their best CF% in the Torts era, and were a top-ten team in CF% and FF% (more details on those metrics here).
There’s one specific quote that is likely to get overlooked, and that is “There’s a lot of things that are done differently than what we were doing.” Simply put, the Rangers got away from zone entries and instead decided to play dump-and-chase. That’s two-fold: First, Torts game-planned for the Bruins in a way to avoid the 1-2-2/1-4 that Claude Julien uses by focusing on a dump-and-chase, and the Rangers simply not executing by gaining possession after dumping. This is something the Rangers did not do during the regular season.
Focusing on another bit of that quote: “and there’s not stopping behind the net to gain control,” is just a lack of execution on the dump-and-chase. That could be the fact that the Bruins were just better, but it doesn’t take away from the fact that the Rangers couldn’t execute.
When a team gets away from the style that wins –like the Rangers did in the playoffs this year– and they fail to execute on the new style of play, then the coach will find himself on the hot seat. If you think the fact that Torts was mean got him fired, then read this little nugget:
But they don’t say, ‘I don’t like the assistant coach, I don’t like (for example, goaltending coach) Benoit Allaire. I’d tell them to get the f— out of the room if they did that.”
That quote, directly from Slats himself, should dispel and rumors that Torts’ relationship with the media got him fired. It should also quell the “player revolt” discussion. Now in a situation where the coach may have lost the room, a GM will rely on the veterans and captains of the team to get a gauge of the locker room. That’s the level of impact the players will have on a coaching decision.
There doesn’t appear to have been any player revolt, and old-school GM’s like Slats won’t even listen to player complaints. Considering the make-up of the team, you have to wonder if these players even complained. Hockey players are better than that. In the end, it was the style of play in this year’s playoffs that cost Torts his job. Whether or not you agree with the decision, it’s tough to argue with the GM when he gives legitimate on-ice reasoning for the dismissal.