After the first seed New York Rangers lost in the Eastern Conference Finals against the six seed New Jersey Devils, for many, it is considered an early departure for a talented team. When left to reflect on the Rangers defeat, only one person should be considered for their loss; John Tortorella. Sure, I will not deny that I dislike Tortorella, but hopefully my reasons are a little more rationale than personal opinions.
Tortorella began his coaching career like many coaches today, moving up through the ranks of the ECHL and the AHL, and eventually landing an assistant head coaching job in the NHL. Tortorella eventually landed an interim head coaching job for the New York Rangers for a measly 4 games. Still, his ability did not go unnoticed as he was offered a head coaching position the following season with the Tampa Bay Lightning as a mid-season replacement. Liking what the Tampa Bay Lightning saw, Tortorella became the full-time head coach and did so for six seasons. During his time, Tortorella lead the Lighting to one Stanley Cup Championship in the 2003-2004 season. The other five seasons saw a second round knockout, two first round departures, and two missed playoff entirely. Much like the beginning of his career, Tortorella was once again interim head coach, this time of the New York Rangers in the 2008-2009 season. In the three years previous, the Rangers lost twice in the first round and once did not make the playoffs. As his history shows, if Tortorella’s team makes the playoff, they are most likely to be knocked out in the first round. Even considering this year’s playoffs, the Rangers nearly lost in the first round to the eight seed Ottawa Senators as it took save games to decide. Simply put, he can win in the regular season, but come playoffs, the first round is a pitfall.
The Rangers went to the Eastern Conference Finals this year, bypassing Tortorella’s jinx which you may think negates my claim. OK, fair enough. But what about Tortorella as a coach? He is widely known for his “tough love”, or as others may see it, “throw-your-players-under-the-bus love”. Tortorella can often be seen harshly criticizing his players, like Marian Gaborik, one of the top point getters in the playoffs for the Rangers, benched for the majority of the third period after making a mistake. The Rangers lost that game by a score of 2 – 3. The lack of tolerance adds unneeded pressure on players to be perfect, that of which can never be.
Tortorella’s antics do not stop with his players or on the ice, come press conference time, Tortorella is short of a circus act mixed with a 3-year old tantrum. Sure, coaches are not hired for their ability to speak to the press, but come on, how hard could it be? Defenders might claim Tortorella is merely deflecting attention from his players on to himself, allowing the players to play and not get bogged down by the media. You can respect that, but as we all have been told, there is more than one way to skin a cat. Tortorella can simply redirect the focus on himself, placing the blame and answering any questions he sees fit that does not attack his players without the antics. Furthermore, going back to Gaborik’s benching, I think the fans deserve some understanding of why their head coach benched one of his top players for a mistake instead of a reply about keeping things in the locker-room. If you hold you players accountable for mistakes, why not himself? Still, take a page out of Dale Hunter’s book on coaching, let Gaborik get back in there and make it up. If it worked for Joel Ward it can surely work for Gaborik. When someone causes a turnover or resulted in a goal, more times than not they become hungry to get it back.
You may not agree entirely if at all with my claim that John Tortorella needs to be fired. His poor attitude and his child like antics take away from the focus; winning hockey games. One thing you can hopefully agree on is the New York Rangers, with top-notch goaltending from Henrik Lundqvist, scoring from Brad Richards and Marian Gaborik, all enhanced with young depth, should not have lost to the New Jersey Devils. Not taking away form the Devils by any means, they are a talented team, but the Rangers by far have more talent. The only thing the Rangers did not have, was a leader as a coach.