Archive for John Tortorella

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

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Reasonable Expectations: Marian Gaborik

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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.

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Rangers and Their Unique Opportunity

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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.



Tortorella Extended; Break-Up Day Notes

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In old news, John Tortorella will be back as coach of the Rangers for at least another three years, according to Larry Brooks.  Tortorella definitely earned his extension, as he led an injury-plagued Rangers team that lacked any significant talent (save for Marian Gaborik) to the playoffs.  The team exceeded all expectations this year, and although they were bounced from the playoffs in the first round, the Rangers showed fans that the best is yet to come.  It’s been a while since Ranger fans have been able to say the future is bright.  The players with the bright future have all bought into Tortorella’s system and coaching style, so keeping him around was a no-brainer.

The beat writers have been doing a great job at updating us on the break-up day notes, including who will be attending the World Championships, and who has been talkative abouut their contract status.  First, regarding the Worlds, Vinny Prospal (Czech Republic) and Brandon Dubinsky (USA) are definitely out.  Derek Stepan and Ryan McDonagh (USA) are likely in.  Artem Anisimov (Russia) is in.  Marian Gaborik (Slovakia) is also in.  Henrik Lundqvist (Sweden) is still deciding.

As for contracts, the only player that has been relatively candid about his status is Brian Boyle who “expects to re-sign quickly”.  Prospal wants to be back, but health will dictate if he will.  The other pending RFAs and UFAs have been relatively mum on the subject.


Guest Post: Tortorella’s Tenure

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Before you all read this guest post, I just wanted to thank every guest blogger we’ve had on behalf of Dave, Mike, myself and everyone at BSB. They’ve all been interesting reads and just show, whether you agree with the content or not, that the Rangers have some of the most hockey intelligent fans in the league.

Anyway, here’s another post – this time from Jeff Sullivan.

Tortorella’s Tenure

As my brother would like to describe it, the Rangers are in the mist of their classic “February slide” which has, once again, put the prospect of making the playoffs into jeopardy this season.  If the Rangers shaky and erratic play continues from here on out, then indeed they will potentially be out of the playoffs this year.  With that being said, how would a situation like this effect coach John Tortorella’s tenure with the team?  I have searched for the details of coach Tortorella’s contract and there seems to be no public record of this information.  So, how long is his contract?  Is it open-ended?  Without the answers to these questions, one could still reasonably surmise that any coach could be fired at any moment for any cause.

To recount Tortorella’s brief history with the Rangers, he took over for Tom Renney during the 2008-09 season when the team was in the middle of a losing streak (February slide?) although they were still in a playoff position at the time.  The Rangers finished 12-7-2 in their final 21 games and got eliminated from the first round of the playoffs by the Capitals in 7 games which was not as close a series on the ice largely due to Washington’s underachieving play.  Next, we move to last year’s 2009-10 disappointment when the Rangers did not even make the playoffs (we all remember how that happened, painfully).  So, that leaves Tortorella’s playoff attendance record at 1-1, kind of.

If Tortorella doesn’t get the Rangers back into this year, will he get fired?  The answer is no, but this result would create a serious strain on his standing in New York and definitely put him in the hot seat.  Tortorella has eased his manner with the media this year, somewhat, and has consistently talked using words like “we” and “us.”  This demeanor gives the appearance of a unified front between the management and coach.  Nevertheless, the pressure is mounting for coach Tortorella to deliver tangible results.

By Jeffrey Sullivan

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John Tortorella Coach of The Year?

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There is growing talk around the league that New York Rangers coach John Tortorella should be a top candidate if not the winner of the Jack Adams Trophy for coach of the year.  I had been thinking about this for a little while then when I heard Don LaGreca say it on Monday following the Mats Zuccarello interview on NHL Live I thought on it some more.  On Wednesday you had both Pierre LeBrun of ESPN and Kevin Allen of USA Today along with LaGreca giving Torts the nod in their respective mid-season awards reports.

The argument for Tortorella is a compelling one considering the expectations for the Rangers coming into the season, the massive number of injuries the team has suffered to key players and the number of young players either being mixed in as rookies or asked to take on key roles.  With all of those things considered to be 6th in the Eastern Conference speaks volumes to the job Tortorella has done.

If you had said before the season that the Rangers are without Prospal the whole season so far, Gaborik 14 games, Callahan 13, Drury 31 along with lesser injuries to Christensen, Boogaard and Rozsival (in his time here) while incorporating five players that made their NHL debuts the consensus would be the Rangers would be where the Islanders are and not sixth place.

Part of the reason Tortorella has had so much success this season is he appears to be more at peace with everything going on around him and more comfortable with his own club.  There are still the moments where he snaps, but he has become a somewhat softer version of himself and that has helped many of the young players with their transitions both to and within this level.

The biggest reason the Rangers are where they are right now is that Tortorella has installed and instilled a system for this team to always fall back on.  When you are a team that has less pure talent than your opponent’s you must be a difficult team to play against  To do that you must bring a physical style of play to help and negate the other team’s skill advantages.  Tortorella has done a beautiful job of that with this club in getting them to be a forecheck based offense while blocking shots defensively.  He knows the club will have to rely on its goaltending and he has stuck to the plan all year of getting Henrik Lundqvist his time off while watching Biron be a more than capable backup.

Possibly the best thing Tortorella has done for this team from the outset aside from the system itself is take away an excuses whether it be for poor play or the injuries.  Teams can fall back on those types of excuses and get buried under the crutch that they are using.  Torts has not allowed the team to do that and in return this team has done a tremendous job of not only fighting through it game to game, but within games as they lead the NHL in points when trailing heading into the third period.

The Rangers success in large measure is predicated on the adjustments the man behind the bench has made not only within the team but himself and he certainly deserves to be under consideration for coach of the year.  Personally I do not believe he is the winner at the moment, but more wins like last night against Vancouver will certainly help his case.  There are other candidates in the mix like Craig Ramsey, Marc Crawford, Guy Boucher, but for me the winner is the always under-appreciated Barry Trotz, as he has Nashville sitting in 4th in the West.  Who knows with 37 games left to go the Rangers can propel Torts to the top of the list before all is said and done.

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Tortorella and Sather At Odds?

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As per Jesse Spector, it looks like Rangers Head Coach John Tortorella is not agreeing with some of the decisions made by General Manager Glen Sather. Spector states that by reading between the lines of Tortorella’s diplomatic responses to the media, it gives the general impression that the coach and general manager are not really seeing eye-to-eye on many roster moves. These moves include the demotion of Tim Kennedy, and the decision not to call up any bodies from Hartford in the wake of the number of injuries sustained with the Rangers.

I have suggested that Tortorella has not fully agreed with many of Sather’s moves in the past, particularly those decisions regarding Wade Redden. This goes way back to the decisions to sign players like Donald Brashear, trade for players like Derek Morris, and decisions not to carry extra forwards or defensemen. While Tortorella has not been candid about his disagreements with Sather, it appears that he is started to grow frustrated with his lack of control over the team he puts on the ice.

As per Spector, when asked about the lack of reinforcements from Hartford after last Friday’s game against the Maple Leafs that saw Chris Drury and Marian Gaborik go down long term with injuries, Tortorella said simply “It’s not my call”. Tortorella had a very similar answer for the media when asked about Tim Kennedy’s demotion to the AHL. Tortorella had more words when it came to the decision to send both Ryan McDonagh and Pavel Valentenko to the minors as part of the final cuts:

“When Glen asked me, it’s just based on hockey,” Tortorella said when the final cuts were made. “They played very well at certain times, and at certain times, they struggled….We feel they have a chance to be part of the core – it’s just that they need to go down there and go through the process a bit. It’s a hard position, defense.”

Clearly there’s logic there that I agree with. When it became clear that Matt Gilroy and Steve Eminger were locks for the roster, it made logical sense to send both McDonagh and Valentenko to the minors, as neither had to clear waivers, whereas Michael Sauer did. But now the Rangers roster is flawed, and the third pairing is essentially useless without a left handed shot (of which both McDonagh and Valentenko are). This is a situation that no one is really sure how the Rangers are going to solve.

If Tortorella and Sather really are at odds, then it is something that is not unique to this season alone. Disagreements like this generally do not appear out of thin air, they grow over time. With Spector reporting about this issue this season, it is likely that these disagreements have been going on since Tortorella arrived. No coach/general manager relationship is perfect, but with Sather cemented in place with what seems to be a lifetime deal, this is a battle that Tortorella simply cannot win.


Tortorella On Thin Ice?

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With the Rangers off to a rough start, Rangers head coach John Tortorella could potentially be on thin ice. Lyle Richardson (Spector) lists the Rangers coach as one of five coaches in the league that could be looking for another job if the Rangers continue to have a rough start to the year:

Injuries to key players like Marian Gaborik have whacked the Rangers roster hard early in this season, and management’s overpayment of free agents in recent years has hampered their ability to bolster their depth. Tortorella cannot be blamed for those factors but the demanding coach could end up paying the price at some point should the Blueshirts fall behind in the playoff race. Emotional, outspoken coaches like Tortorella tend to have a limited shelf life, especially when the team is losing, and after losing three of their first four games the speculation over how long he’ll stay in his current job has begun.

Funny enough, this was probably the deepest the Rangers forwards have been in recent years. However, as Spector says, injuries have completely decimated the Rangers. When the line of Sean Avery-Derek Stepan-Ruslan Fedotenko was having so much success, they were facing bottom four defensemen. Now with Marian Gaborik out, that line faces the top pairing defensemen on a regular basis. Instead of facing the Andres Meszaros’, they face the Chris Prongers of the league. Injuries not only affect those injured, but the opposition the remaining players face.

Tortorella’s coaching decisions have been a subject of contention for Ranger fans during his tenure in New York. These decisions stem from the lack of legitimate minutes for the fourth line (no matter who is on it), to the concern about never carrying an extra forward or defenseman (although that may not have been his call), to the questionable benching of Sean Avery (which led to an off year last season). More recently, Tortorella has come under fire for his refusal to sit Steve Eminger, even though he has been arguably the worst Ranger defenseman this year.

It is tough to blame Tortorella for the lackluster start for the Rangers. The injuries have crippled the forwards, and the lack of a third lefty defenseman has rendered the bottom pairing useless. However, some of the decisions he has made has been the cause of debate amongst fans. Head coaches are always going to be second guessed by the media and fans alike, it’s the nature of the job. However, if the Rangers continue to slide once Gaborik, Chris Drury, and Vinny Prospal return, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see John Tortorella shown the door, especially with Glen Sather owning what seems to be a lifetime deal with the organization.

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Pressure to Play Redden?

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Surely by now you have all read coach John Tortorella’s comments on breakup day. For those of you that have not, I’m going to quote what I’m analyzing in this post, with the bolded sections being of more importance:

“I’ve talked to Glen about this. I’d like to see us get younger. I’d like to see us add to our core and grow together. And then we’re not adding 10 pieces this year. I think that’s important. I think Henrik’s at an important time of his career; I think we’ve got Gaborik who’s a legitimate star—I don’t like the way he has played in big games; I think he still needs to cross the line there and play better in big games. But we’ve got some pieces here. I think Rozsival has grown his game to be more competitive. So there’s some good things with the core. But I think we need to add to it with some youth, and grow it together.”

Said he would have liked to have been able to use Weise, and not sure about how Grachev’s year went, would like to see more of Potter. “Again, I’d love to get younger.”

Now, one can read this quote two ways. First, you have the obvious of what he is stating: he would like to get younger, but he feels he has a core of veterans that should be sticking around. He specifically mentions Michal Rozsival by name as a player in that core. He also mentions specific players that would help make the team younger, specifically Dale Weise and Corey Potter. I will analyze more of this a little more in a separate post.

Before I begin, I want to make it well known that this is not about Wade Redden the person. From what I understand, Redden is a very nice, very likable guy. This is about Redden the symbol, the symbol that ownership and management may have really “screwed the pooch” on this one. The symbol that there may be more to the coaching selections for defense than what meets the eye. Again, this is not about Wade Redden the person.

What I notice here is that Wade Redden was not mentioned. Clearly, through other quotes, Tortorella and Redden do not see eye to eye, and it it abundantly clear that Torts does not want Redden on the team next year. I am just speculating here, but reading in between the lines of what Tortorella has said; why would Tortorella continue to play Redden if he wants to see more of Corey Potter? Potter is NHL ready, and Redden was having a horrible year.

Now again, I am just speculating here, but it could be possible that upper management and ownership was pressuring the coaching staff into playing Redden. This scenario would certainly answer a lot of questions that Rangers fans have regarding Redden, his play, and the seventh defenseman. If ownership was indeed pressuring the coaches to play Redden, then the seventh defenseman would have been both unnecessary and a huge risk. Should the seventh defenseman, specifically Potter, play better than Redden, Rangers fans would absolutely mutiny when Redden is inserted back into the lineup.

The Rangers front office and coaching staff are reaching an important juncture in their relationship. If management wants John Tortorella to stick around, then his input on the roster decisions is going to have to be honored. It cannot be any clearer that Torts does not want Redden around. From my speculation, it seems clear that ownership is not ready to call the Wade Redden Experiment a failure just yet. With continued pressure to play the struggling defenseman, is it possible for this Rangers team to be better than mediocre? Can the Rangers improve their situation without dumping Redden’s contract? Unless you can predict the future, the answer to that question is simply unknown. What is know, however, is that ownership and the coaching staff are divided on this issue. The 2010 offseason could be the offseason that defines the Rangers organization for years to come, whichever way this situation is resolved.

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The Avery Effect

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“I know what’s been asked of me, so whenever I get my next opportunity that’s certainly the thing I’m going to have to do. I’m gonna keep that to myself.”

Ever since John Tortorella became head coach, Sean Avery hasn’t been himself. At his best, Avery is an agitator, who can chip in scoring. He can make plays, with his mouth and with his stick. For all his antics, he actually is a really good player.

But, we saw that good player under Tom Renney. Renney didn’t have a leash on Avery. He let him go. That’s part of the problem with Renney. Some said he was too soft. Not on Avery.

So, when Torts was brought in, we all thought he would bring accountability. And he has, to some degree. He benched Avery after his antics in Game 4 of the Washington series (I was at that game. It wasn’t that bad. And the Rangers won, so who cares? But I digress). He’s benching him after his recent bad play.

But, Avery hasn’t been himself. He’s not being as physical. He’s not chatting up the other players. And he’s not scoring. Watch this video:

While I still disagree with what Avery did, it serves a greater point. He was agitating the other team, and then he scored. That was a classic Avery shift (side note: I love when Drury sort of punches Avery, telling him to stop screen Brodeur like that. People say he’s an awful captain, but that’s what a captain does). When Avery was on that 5-on-3, he was in the front of the net, making things happen. He doesn’t do that anymore. And part of it is because of Torts.

I think Torts has been an okay coach for the Rangers. But, his odd way of reprimanding Avery for playing his game, has cost the Rangers points. Why do you think the Rangers have such a bad home record? When Avery is at his best, the crowd is fired up. The crowd hasn’t been fired up lately.

We’ll see what this Avery benching does, to the team and to Sean. If it’s just one game, how will Avery respond? Will he come back as his self? Or will he try to impress Torts, and play a conservative game? So much for Safe is Death.

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