When last season ended, New York Rangers’ coach John Tortorella knew he had to change things. The hot-tempered firebrand of a coach, who was used to yelling and having conniptions to get his way, realized that his way of coaching was falling on deaf ears. I once said that Tortorella makes a good team better and a bad team worse, and with the Rangers in the middle of the pack, how would he react? At the end of last season, I would not have minded the Rangers letting him go. He gave it a shot and failed, and although I love the passion he brings to the game, it was not suitable for the type of team the Rangers were going to field, a team loaded with rookies and inexperienced youngsters.
But this season, that all changed. Tortorella morphed into someone a little more coddling, and a little more calm. Though he still kept up his heated, look-of-death exchanges with the media, it seems he took his foot off the gas in the locker room, realizing that he had a hard-working team that bought into his system. Instead, he nurtured and instructed his players, rarely blaming their greenness as a reason for a loss. The result was taking this team that was supposed to finish near the bottom of the standings to a playoff berth, and giving a team they had no chance of defeating a run for their money.
Tortorella was rewarded for this effort, as we have learned this morning, with a three-year extension. The rumor is that the deal was actually signed months ago, and just not announced until today, but that is unconfirmed. All I can say is congratulations to Mr. Tortorella, because he deserves this contract. We are all upset after yesterday’s loss, but it is an important step in the road to building a real team. There was an old saying that a team cannot rebuild in New York, because the market demands a winning team, and rebuilding years rarely give results in the standings to smile about. But this year nixed all of that—I call it a success all the way. The rebuilding Rangers finished with a 44-33-5 record, their most wins since the Jagr/Renney-lead Blueshirts in the season after the lockout.
We got to see the emergence of Ryan McDonagh and Michael Sauer as legitimate rookie defenders, the confirmation that Dan Girardi and Marc Staal are one of the best shutdown pairs in the league, the advent of Ryan Callahan developing into this team’s next captain, and finally, a breakout rookie season for center Derek Stepan, who put up 21 goals and 24 assists. All this coming during a warlike campaign from October through April that saw injuries and disappointments left and right. One cannot help but think of what this team would have looked like if Chris Drury and Ryan Callahan did not get injured, Alex Frolov found a way to score 20 goals, and if Gaborik repeated what he did last season, with more than 40 goals and 40 assists—these are things that cannot be blamed on the coach.
There are going to be those out there that disagree with this extension, but I must ask you, who would you rather have? Who would be a better fit than Tortorella? The Rangers have a habit of bringing someone in, then after a cup of coffee, getting rid of them. The Rangers had success after the lockout because they believed in and stuck with Tom Renney and played his system. These players are young and wanting to impress, and we know they have already bought into Tortorella’s. It would be extraordinarily detrimental to disrupt that now, and for that, I tip my cap to Rangers’ brass for making the right call.
In three seasons with the New York Rangers, John Tortorella owns a 94-73-18 record, with two playoff appearances.