Sorry, there are too many comments in the last 48 hours for me to sift through and find out which one of you guys said that — I think it may have been Doodie. And, before I go any further I want to add to what Jane said earlier today. You guys absolutely rocked yesterday. I never thought I could have so much fun working 14 hours on a day off. It was a blast.
But the point is, not only is this the first time the Rangers have actually hired the best coach available since Keenan, but there are tons of similarities in the personalities and the situations.
This, I believe, was a fabulous move. I said in my first days on the blog that if Renney had to go, Tortorella was my choice, the best available. I didn’t believe for a second that Glen Sather would hire him, but this is a great move by Slats … and I’m willing to go on the record with that so if it blows up on him, well, I can’t rip him for it.
I thought Sather, by and large, was really good on the conference call last night, too. He made a lot of sense about this decision, and he had the requisite respect for the men he fired, and it was one of the best moments of his tenure. Of course, we rarely get to talk to him, so you hav eto take that into account.
Now, back to this coaching thing. Here is the column I wrote for The Journal News and LoHud.com today.
The theme was: when you make a change, you need to change all the way. If you’re firing a chops-breaker, you bring in a players’ coach. If you’re firing a guy who was soft on players, you bring in a tail-kicker to replace him. Otherwise, why make the change?
So, I went back. Roger Neilson’s calm and systematic approach replaced Michel Bergeron’s/Phil Esposito’s fire and chaos. Keenan replaced Neilson and his interim successor Ron Smith. They worked.
The similarities don’t end there, either. Neilson was a defense-first, trap, sit-back, four-lines coach who had a lot of relative success doing it that way. Keenan came in, bold and brash, with a puck-pursuit, aggressive system, and won a Stanley Cup immediately. Don’t count on Tortorella winning any trophies in the near future.
Keenan and Tortorella have a lot in common, but they are not identical, just in case anybody’s drawing that comparison. Keenan came in and started talking about accountability (and winning a championship), and he had plenty of help along those lines having Mark Messier as a captain. Tortorella will hold players’ feet to the fire. He will let them (and us) know when he’s not happy. There won’t be much confusion in that area.
But Tortorella is not as nuts as Keenan could be, either. And not all the nutty things Keenan did were without reason. One of the players he had was a second-year phenom who smoked. Keenan put an end to that quickly, by sitting the player, then sending him to the minors. Worked better than Nicorette. He told one established player he was finished because he lets his teammates down. He made one of his guys fight one of the tough guys from Keenan’s former team, just for the heck of it. But he also almost completely alienated players who were important to him with his constant, unnecessary pushing and prodding. And he decided there were players he just didn’t like, for various personality reasons that no other coach apparently saw in those players.
Tortorella’s most well-known project was Vincent Lecavalier, whom he would call out in public and with whom he would spar in private. And Lecavalier went from a kid with all this upside to an outright star.
I know Tortorella from the last time he was here. I know he’s no Keenan in terms of tyranny, and indeed his fire and brimstone are exaggerated. He doesn’t take any guff from anybody, but he’s not spoiling for a fight, either, and I think he’s better than Keenan when it comes time to gently point a player in the right direction, or to encourage a player in need of encouragement. Or to patiently teach a young player.
Tortorella is probably a better X’s and O’s guy than Keenan, too.
And more capable of surviving in an environment where he works for a strong-headed boss, and that will be a test indeed for the new Rangers coach. He walked in and decided today that Mike Pelino is not an assistant coach. He will use Pelino to help pre-scout opponents, and Pelino may have some other input. But Tortorella made it clear that his assistant coach is Jim Schoenfeld, that Benoit Allaire is the goalie coach, and that is his coaching staff. Pelino will not be on skates at practices, despite Sather’s wishes.
So already it is more interesting than it was yesterday.