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Posts tagged: John Tortorella

Tortorella To Coach At All Star Game

Per Dan Rosen of NHL.com, Rangers coach John Tortorella has clinched his spot to coach in the All Star Game. Tortorella clinched his spot with last night’s win over the Panthers, ensuring that the Rangers will have at least the second best record in the Eastern Conference. The best record may wind up belonging to the Boston Bruins, but Claude Julien is already pre-selected to coach because his Bruins won the Stanley Cup last year.

Essentially, the coaching staff is comprised of last year’s Cup winner (Julien and his staff), and the coach of the team with the best record in both conferences(either Julien or Tortorella from the East, and the coach from the West). Julien and his staff will have one team, Tortorella and the soon-to-be-determined Western Conference coach will lead the other team.

Tortorella is the first Ranger to be certain of an All Star Game appearance. It is likely that Henrik Lundqvist and Marian Gaborik will join him. Dan Girardi and Michael Del Zotto have a chance as well.

Tortorella Takes Shot At Wolski; Status Uncertain

In the preseason, Wojtek Wolski was slated to be the top line left winger on a line with Brad Richards and Marian Gaborik. After having a decent preseason, Wolski played in the first game of the regular season with the Rangers before missing the next four games with a groin injury. The Rangers eventually found a great replacement for him on the top line in Derek Stepan, which leaves Wolski’s status with the Rangers a little bit cloudy. Although he is now likely to slide into Erik Christensen’s spot on the fourth line, coach John Tortorella did not have very nice things to say about Wolski:

We can’t get him out of the tub,” the coach said, despite the fact Wolski  practiced yesterday after taking part in the morning skate on Tuesday.  Asked whether that meant Wolski was getting hot-tub treatment for the groin,  Tortorella said: “I guess.”

This is clearly a shot at Wolski, as it appears that Torts is very frustrated with the winger, and his inability to get back on the ice. Wolski, who did not hear about the coach’s comments, decided to remain silent:

“I’d didn’t hear and I’d rather not know,” Wolski, who has been sidelined  with a groin issue since the Oct. 7 opener in Stockholm, said after he remained  on the ice doing sprints and extra work following the morning skate preceding  last night’s 3-2 overtime victory over the Flames…I hope I get to play the next game,” said Wolski, who played 10:34 in the  opener against the Kings while on a line with  Derek Stepan and Mats Zuccarello. “If I can go full out without pain  [today], I want to play in Edmonton.”

Wolski appears to be itching to get back into the lineup, but the coach seems to think otherwise. Regardless of what either’s opinion may be, the fact remains that Wolski, although skilled, may not have a spot among the top nine forwards when he comes back. The top three lines have either looked good this year or looked good last year (Pack line), so it is unlikely that Tortorella will break them up. If that’s the case, then the fourth line is where Wolski will wind up. It’s either that or the press box.

Tortorella, Avery Involved In He Said/He Said

The drama with Sean Avery and John Tortorella continues. Avery was candid in his comments to Katie Strang of ESPN when asked about his shot at making the Rangers and if the Rangers will ever recall him. On being recalled:

Probably not. I doubt it.

On him being given a fair shot:

I’d say it’s pretty obvious. I’ll let everyone else decide for themselves.

Tortorella, upon being made aware of these comments after the Rangers skate in Vancouver, had this to say:

I’m so busy worrying about this team. This is the first time I’ve heard about it,” Tortorella said. “We go about our business here, and I know that’s a story I’m sure that’s going to be talked about a lot, because Sean was here and very well-liked, but again I’m coaching this hockey club here. Talk to Kenny (Whale coach Ken Gernander). I don’t know what’s going on down there. So I can’t comment on it.

It’s very clear that neither like each other. We’ve covered why keeping Erik Christensen over Avery for the 13th forward spot was the right move, even if unpopular among the fanbase. It’s not something we are going to continue to dive into, but these comments are interesting nonetheless.

Torts Needs To Act Now

I’m not one for panicking, but with three games gone (which is nothing over such a long grind of a season) John Tortorella needs to step up. First of all, let’s get this out of the way: Tortorella is a great coach; he has instigated a new youthful culture on this club and is the right guy to lead them. He’s softened his old ways much like Tom Coughlin of the New York Giants did. That led to success, maybe it will here too.

Here’s the but. I want to see Torts make an example out of someone. This club has its share of issues to begin the year (the travel, the injuries), but the lazy penalty parade, which is becoming a growing concern, needs to stop. If it takes a benching, if it takes a press conference rant like the old Tortorella days or if it takes a high priced star to take a seat for a game then it needs to be done.

The lucky thing is this; it’s early in the year. This is a trend and it is a developing one, but it hasn’t yet become a habit. You don’t establish habits in three games. I was disappointed with the way the Rangers seemed to be magnetized to the penalty box in Stockholm and it only got worse against the Islanders. The lack of physical presence from Marc Staal and Mike Sauer being out of the line up can explain a lot, but it isn’t an excuse (in my opinion) for the host of penalties.

The Rangers acquired Brad Richards to re-energise Marian Gaborik and they have both started the season in promising fashion, but if they’re stuck to the bench for large parts of games because the penalty kill is constantly on the ice what use are they? The penalties need to stop and its on the coach to stop them.

A Quick Look Ahead

The Rangers defense did not look good against Zug – an understatement. It hasn’t looked particularly good throughout the European tour in all honesty. So much of that has to do with the absence of Marc Staal which will now stretch in to the regular season. It also has to do with Mike Sauer of course. The Rangers’ defense is patched up and will be for a little while longer and it’s at this stage a few things need to be preached.

  • First of all, the team needs to be allowed some patience. Patience above all for the injured players to get back to full health; the fact the Rangers have a decent stretch without a game after getting back to the US helps Marc Staal in particular. Thanks to this gap between fixtures, it is the right thing to not rush the one critical defenseman on this team.
  • Secondly, another form of patience is required. This is not the easiest of starts for the Rangers. They are entering the season on the back of a gruelling trip, starting in Stockholm against two very good teams and likely with a patchwork defense. Thanks to the MSG renovations they start with a lot of road games. If you offered me, as a fan, a .500 start to the season in the first 8 games I’d take it. This team will get healthy, it will gel and looking at the schedule this team will get some nice home stands to (hopefully) take advantage of later in the year. No panic please, if this team doesn’t have a great record to begin with.
  • Thirdly, let the kids play. If a Stu Bickel or a Brendan Bell or a Tim Erixon or a Michael Del Zotto play significant minutes and the results are mixed don’t worry, they are learning. OK, so Bell is a veteran but the point here is that they have to learn at some point. When you have the likes of Staal and Mike Sauer returning you can afford to hand out some ice time knowing core players are on the way back. Long term, the team will know a lot more about a few of these defensemen thanks to the start of this season. Going forward that is obviously a good thing.
  • Finally with the Rangers defense being banged up, maybe the emphasis will be more on the forwards and given some of their recent performances that is a good thing. Until the Rangers get their main guys on the blueline back it may be a chance for John Tortorella to play a different kind of game. A more offensively inclined one.
  • Looking at the pre-seasons of Artem Anisimov, Mats Zuccarello and Mike Rupp; of the developing chemistry between Brad Richards and Marian Gaborik and the relatively promising start by Wojtek Wolski on their left there is a chance here for Tortorella to perhaps let the shackles off, even if it’s just for the first few games. The coach can take advantage of the great form of some of the kids like Anisimov. Let them play.

The Kings and Ducks fixtures in Stockholm are clearly important, but they aren’t critical. After all they are games one and two of a long season. Let’s enjoy them for what they are; a unique start to the year and a chance for the team to develop some chemistry. Don’t worry; Lundqvist will make sure this team gets some points in his home country.

Training Camp Full of Questions

Training Camp Is Here.  Training camp starts today and day 1 is the day that all the players fear the most. As some of the beat writers have already discussed, day one is basically ‘The Test’. It’s where Coach Tortorella runs his players in to the ground. Torts’ camps are legendary and it all begins with the first day. That said, training camp is about so much more for the team than just fitness. Here are a few things that are worth monitoring going through camp.

How many rookies will force their way on to the roster?

The Rangers camp will be different this year because of the European trip.  It affects how many players the Rangers take to Europe with them and could influence how many rookies/prospects have a legitimate chance to make the team from the outset. Tim Erixon seems to have a spot to lose; he’d have to be seriously outplayed by at least 2 players or show that he isn’t physically ready for a Torts camp.

Carl Hagelin has a legitimate chance to make his Rangers debut in his homeland too. He showed skill and great speed in Traverse but his immediate future may be tied to the upcoming camp performances of Christensen and Avery.

The dark horse, which I have maintained all along, is Ryan Bourque. Bourque remained relatively healthy last season and followed up that with a good, if not great Traverse City tourney. He displayed speed and a lot of skill to go with his undoubted team first attitude and terrific work ethic. He seems an ideal option if the Rangers insist on going younger in the bottom 6.

Beyond the Swedes and the Hall of Famer’s son, it would take a remarkable training camp for another rookie to force his way on to the plane to Sweden. The Rangers have a ton of depth but not a lot of vacancies (despite a lot of talent developing in the system) so aren’t likely to rush any prospects unless their play demands promotion.

Join us after the jump for plenty more camp questions.

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Building the right way, in more than one way

It is clear that over the last few seasons Glen Sather, John Tortorella, and the organisation have stuck to a plan for the future. They have built from within, they have built from the back end out, and they have stuck with youth (for the most part) even in difficult times.

What may be overseen in the impressive and promising rebuild, is the fact that the Rangers have not only drafted well, but have also built to suit a game plan that highlights the physical nature of the Rangers’ squad for the present and the future.

Dare I say it, while Ryan Callahan plays the right way; he is not actually built the ‘right way’. However, looking at the potential roster, you may be surprised to see the Rangers are a very big and physically imposing side, at least on paper.

Tortorella likes to dump and chase, likes his side to play a game that requires a relentless forecheck, high levels of effort, and good play along the boards and in the corners. The Rangers physically, are well designed for this.

Looking purely at the five defenseman on the current roster, not a single one is listed at less than 6’1 or 203 lbs. Looking at the forwards, only Callahan and Sean Avery are listed under 6 feet tall, while only five forwards are listed under 200 lbs – this includes Avery, Callahan, and Brandon Prust. None of that trio will ever be considered ‘soft’ players.

Even looking among the prospects, there are many that boast a good physical presence. Whether it be Fogarty at 6’2, Kreider at 6’3 217lbs, or Yogan and Wilson at 6’3 and 6’2 respectively. There is plenty more size on the way through the system at forward. Indeed, guys like Hagelin and Zuccarello are rarities coming in at under 6 ft.

It gets even more pronounced on the defensive side. Tim Erixon is a big body, Dylan Mcilrath is physically a beast at 6’5, and Pavel Valentenko at 6’2 225lbs, has the physical side to go with his aggressive demeanour. In fact the defense is going to be big for a long time to come. Not a single defensive prospect under 26 (and there are 15 listed ‘in the system’) comes in under 6’ft.

The Rangers – at least on paper – are built the right way, in more than one way. They have had a concept in place and drafted to a plan. This is yet more evidence that the Rangers are doing things efficiently these days.

Thoughts & Musings – Inside the biz, Torts’ System, & More

It’s Thursdays folks and you know what that means…Thoughts & Musings time!  Chris usually does these, so my apologies to his loyal admirers.

As always (more like every now and then), I try to put my sports insider/biznass spin on this blog of ours, so bare with me for a few before we get back to talking about the latest Rangers buzz.

Coming To A Hockey Arena Near You 

For those of you who vacationed from the site this summer, I’ve been sporadically posting bits of information about what industry insiders are discussing in front offices and locker rooms around the country. We’ve talked about everything from dynamic ticket pricing to off season conditioning. Today I want to briefly discuss another topic that has caught my attention that I thought was interesting enough to share with all of you.

So what’s on the stove?

There is little bit of technology being tested at the NFL, NCAA, and the WWE and it may be making its way into hockey arenas. It’s called “Live Sports Radio.” Essentially it is an earpiece (think of a Bluetooth) that is distributed at sporting events and broadcasts the audio signal from your local sports TV telecast.

So if you’re at a Rangers game at MSG, you would be able to listen to Sam Rosen and Joe Micheletti’s analysis while you are sitting in the stands. The rumored cost for these things is suppose to be around $10-$20. Not a bad price if you’re looking to find out if the puck crossed the goal line before everybody else in your section or if you want to follow the action when you’re on line at a concession stand…

Back to the Rangers…

John Tortorella Is Not Ron Low, John Muckler, Bryan Trottier, or even Tom Renney

I keep reading these silly comments that Fedotenko, Wolski, etc. are somehow taking away roster spots from our young players. Look, those anti-veteran arguments worked in the 90’s and early 2000s when the aforementioned coaches opted to stick with their washed-up, overpaid veterans instead of up-and-coming players. Those days are long gone people. Torts is here.

If any young player, be it Christian Thomas, or Carl Hagelin, etc. outplays any veteran on this roster, that young player is going to get the job. That has been Torts philosophy his entire coaching career.

He pushed Redden, Drury, and Rozi down the depth chart and out the door because he believed in guys like Staal, Girardi, Dubinsky, Callahan, Stepan, etc. Don’t think for a minute he won’t do the same with this new crop of young players. When they are ready for it, they will get their chance.

Gaborik Can Play In Any System

Some people think that because we got Richards, Torts should just throw out his playbook, allow Gaborik to play however he wants, and not worry about sticking to the system. Their thinking is, that if he’s worrying about backchecking, then he won’t be scoring goals.

Gaborik scored 42 goals for a Minny team that played an ultra-conservative trap. He also scored over 40 goals playing in Torts’s 2-1-2 dump and chase. Gaborik can succeed in any system because he is an elite player.

Asking him to play a team game will not hurt his production, it will enhance it. In order to score a goal, you need to have the puck. Teams usually obtain the puck when they outnumber the opposition in the neutral or defensive zone. Gaborik needs to be apart of that equation.

Michael Del Zotto’s Future Has Yet To Be Written

I also don’t understand why people think Del Zotto should automatically go to Hartford or that he should automatically be placed on the roster. His spot, whether in Hartford, or on Broadway has to be earned.

Just because he had a bad year last season doesn’t mean he will have a bad camp or preseason. And just because the kid can hit or block shots, doesn’t mean he doesn’t need to work on his stickwork, gap control, or three zone coverage at the NHL level. His role can’t be decided in August, and his future is as incomplete as this sentence

Reasonable Expectations: Marian Gaborik

For his opening act on Broadway Marian Gaborik wowed audiences by scoring a career high-tying 42 goals as a first year Ranger. Not bad whatsoever. Unfortunately for the slick skating Slovak (say that drunk) his second year was a complete contrast to his first season’s performance as he consistently failed to penetrate defences playing on the perimeter, picked on the weak (Isles, Leafs, Oilers…) and almost no one else and came well short of matching his impressive first year.

Luckily for the Rangers the winger has a history of consistency when it comes to goals so a bounce back season can be reasonably expected. With a new elite center (enter stage right, Mr Brad Richards) Gaborik has the chance to not only replicate but even eclipse his first year in New York. All of a sudden with a platform to succeed, and no excuses it all comes back to one thing with Gaborik; health. So let’s do something very dangerous and assume Gaborik is healthy this coming season. What are reasonable expectations for the winger? Besting last year’s 22 goals and 48 points goes without saying.

Never before has Gaborik benefited from playing with a playmaker like Brad Richards. Richards does three things that should benefit Gaborik directly. First of all Richards gives Gaborik that truly elite line mate he’s never had, secondly the mere presence of Richards should boost the power play but perhaps most importantly Richards arrival should allow coach Tortorella the opportunity (if he wants it…) to play a more puck possession type game, at least with his top line. Less dump and chase – thanks to more skill and ability on the puck throughout the line up – should benefit Gaborik. After all, if he hasn’t got the puck, he can’t use his lethal shot.

Scoring 30 goals, if healthy, should be a minimum for Gaborik this term. The Rangers should be a better, deeper team this coming season – starting with the top line. It’s not unreasonable to expect a much improved team’s top winger to meet that mark, especially when he has done it so often on more defensively inclined teams. What won’t help Gaborik though are the irrational fans (and media) that cry foul when he has the audacity to fail to score for 3 or 4 games. Believe it or not he actually played well occasionally last year even when the goals didn’t go in. Some fans though, won’t believe it.

In my opinion 40 goals, 80 points and a healthy return on the power play are reasonable expectations this season for Gaborik. With a large salary, large expectations and finally having the running mate he requires the season should be a successful one for Gaborik. If he fails for a second year in a row he may find his act sent packing to a lesser town for the rest of his contract. That’s not in anyone’s interest.

Rangers and Their Unique Opportunity

The best teams in the NHL, or any sport for that matter, are the teams that live for the now but also constantly have one eye on the future. In the NHL this usually means scouting, drafting and player development. There is however, another way for the Rangers to continue to build a perennial contender. They may have an opportunity that not many clubs will have.

The Rangers have an opportunity but it depends what you think of the current roster. In my opinion the Rangers are in great shape heading into next season. They have acquired top end skill (Mr Richards), solidified their top 6 defense (with Erixon) and have a great tandem in net – an understatement. The Rangers have cap space, a ton of depth up front (mostly young) and entering camp there are plenty of prospects ready to compete for NHL roster spots that, thanks to the aforementioned depth, may start their seasons developing in the AHL. So, what is this unique opportunity now that we’ve identified that the Rangers are in a good state entering next year?

The example is the San Jose Sharks. The Rangers should, barring an unexpected opportunity, resist making additional moves and take advantage of rare cap space. A few seasons ago the hard pressed New Jersey Devils had a roster problem by the name of Vladimir Malahkov (remember him?). The only way the Devils could solve this was by giving away a quality draft pick to the Sharks to ‘persuade’ them to take on the contract of Malahkov. He never played for the Sharks and eventually that draft pick became David Perron, a very good young NHL’er who has already had a 50 point season in his young career.

With potentially 3-4m in cap space entering the season, the Rangers should look to make the same kind of move. Indeed, with the Parise situation the Devils may once again be a team eventually looking to shed a bad contract but there could be several teams in this situation. With some patience and the cap space allowing for bigger (prorated) contracts in-season, the Rangers could offer to help a desperate team during next season. All they would want back is a quality draft pick. The Rangers are fortunate that with their deep pockets and big market presence they can bury a bad contract in the minors if it isn’t the same scenario like the Sharks had with the retiring Malahkov.

We recently saw wily operator Brian Burke make a lopsided trade with Nashville as the Predators needed to clear space in preparation for a new Shea Weber deal. Toronto took advantage of their own cap space by taking on Matt Lombardi’s deal. Glen Sather is also a wily, veteran general manager. Hopefully Sather and Tortorella think the team is ready based on what is already in the organisation and can then use this cap space to grab some picks/assets to help in the future. The Rangers have drafted very well in recent years so using their (at present) good situation to their advantage should be a serious consideration.