When you have the nickname “The Torch” eventually you might get burned.
Yesterday, John Tortorella learned just that.
Two days after breakup in Greenburgh, Rangers general manager Glen Sather gave his coach the walking papers, even after some success on the ice.
“I won’t speculate or criticize what happened with Torts or give reasons on why,” Sather said on a conference call. “After the work we did after the year trying to improve the team, it’s a decision that I made, it was consulted with a few people, but removing anyone from the coaching role is a difficult decision. It was a tough decision but I feel like I made the right decision for us to move forward. After doing the analytical work we do after every season, I thought I needed to do something to move our team forward.”
You can speculate all you want and wonder why Sather isn’t taking a hit here, but one thing is for certain: Tortorella brought this on himself.
His curt and snarly attitude with the media obviously poured over into the locker room. To him, it was his way or the highway when it came to his system. If he had Sather’s job, Tortorella would have 20 Ryan Callahans in the room, rather than a pieced together team that could cobble out some nice wins.
That is where Tortorella’s downfall come in. Great coaches adjust to the players they have in front of them, not the other way around.
When Pat Reilly came to the Knicks, he abandoned the Showtime of the Forum to a brutal defensive system around Patrick Ewing.
And Tom Coughlin got the message when his players started to revolt. He dropped the Drill Sergeant act and softened his stance. He was rewarded with two Lombardi Trophies.
Tortorella spent the last couple of seasons trying to fit square pegs in round holes. And when you didn’t fit, Torts had no need for you, no matter who you were. Sean Avery learned that a few years ago. Marion Gaborik learned that this season. And even Brad Richards – Tortorella’s own guy – was benched the last two games of the Boston series.
Frankly the pegs had enough. According to reports, it was the players who grew weary of trying to conform to the coach and after Sather went through the exit interviews, he made the decision that Torts had to go.
“Every coach has a shelf life and I have told every coach I have hired that this will happen,” Sather said. “I had to make a decision and I did. Every team has a formal decision to make. It wasn’t one situation or one specific thing. It wasn’t the power play. There were a few things that went into this. It was more of a decision on how to get better and challenge for the Stanley Cup.”
After years of playing fantasy hockey with Jim Dolan’s money, Sather finally seems to have a handle on things at the Garden. He has drafted some good talent and even when he makes a mistake with a signing, he is able to clean up his mess.
That said, he now faces the most important hiring of his 12-year tenure. The new coach will come in with Henrik Lundqvist still in his prime. At 31 he still will have a few good years left. But since he is a free agent after next season, the Rangers need to get a coach agreeable to the all-world goaltender.
Of course there are plenty of good candidates out there and unlike nine years ago where Sather couldn’t find anyone of note who would take this job – and had to hire himself – the space behind the bench at the Garden seems like an appetizing position.
Former Ranger Lindy Ruff’s name comes up at the top along with former Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault. Mark Messier’s name has been bandied about, but his lack of coaching experience may hinder his chances.
Sather wants a new coach in by the draft so this should be a quick hire.
But be careful Slats, you don’t want to get burned. The Torch learned that the hard way.