OK, I admitted, I was wrong about this. I’ve been wrong plenty of times, and will be again, but I was as wrong on this as I’ve ever been on anything. That said, it wasn’t just me. Pretty much everybody in and around the team thought John Tortorella was going to get the start of next year at the very least.
Thus I am convinced, and speaking with some who know convinces me even more, that something changed between the end of the exit meetings early Monday afternoon and the announcement of the firing early Wednesday afternoon.
Also, though I probably had a better relationship with Tortorella than others in the media because I knew him when he was a human being/assistant coach/interim coach in 1999-2000, I’m not close to him. I don’t know him well at all. And unlike other firings—Herb Brooks, Roger Neilson, Colin Campbell among them—I don’t feel saddened at all. I feel my job has to be easier, my relationship with the next coach has to be better, than it’s been these last four-plus seasons.
Here’s my column from The Journal News and LoHud.com (unedited version, so please excuse typos or errors):
By Rick Carpiniello
John Tortorella is many things, and many of them are bad.
Stubborn, short-tempered, rude and at times disrespectful among them.
The exact reasons he was fired may have had nothing to do with those, nothing, even to do with his abysmal power play, or his teams’ lack of creativity or offensive play. Maybe we’ll never really know why, in the 48 hours after he conducted exit meetings with his players, something apparently changed.
Or maybe nothing changed. Maybe GM Glen Sather was going to fire him all along for a season of mediocrity, and a second-round pounding by the Boston Bruins, the start for which Tortorella admitted – taking the blame as he did – his players weren’t emotionally prepared.
Maybe it was as simple as Sather put it, that the Rangers’ goal is to win the Stanley Cup (they’ve won once in 73 years) and they fell short, and that coaches have shelf lives and his was up.
“Our goal is to win the Stanley Cup and we didn’t achieve that goal this year,” Sather said. “I had to make that decision, so I did.”
If Tortorella was fired simply because he didn’t win the Cup, then Sather is delusional. The Rangers aren’t terribly far off from contending, but if you stack their talent against the teams in the final four, the difference it pretty obvious. And if that’s the bottom line, how does Sather rate his own job performance?
Because Tortorella built an identity here in 2011-12, as hard-working and likeable and overachieving team as the Rangers have had in 30 or 40 years – one of the best coaching jobs over that span—that got Sather closer to the Cup than he’s been since 1990.
So maybe something else happened, because all signs said Tortorella was coming back.
Maybe Henrik Lundqvist, who hates being screened or having sliding defensemen deflecting shots past him, and who has grown frustrated of being in 2-1 games under Tortorella’s system, and who, by the way, was friendly with Marian Gaborik and Sean Avery, and who was non-committal in discussing his desire to sign a new contract (his expires in 2014) and whose view of this season being a backward step differed from Tortorella’s view, was a factor.
Maybe Brad Richards, who was scratched for Games 4 and 5 against Boston after what Sather said was an organizational decision, but was given more rope that any player Tortorella has ever coached here, was a factor. The organization will almost certainly buy out his contract. Maybe Tortorella didn’t buy into that buy out.
That said, you can find a lot of arguments against Tortorella, that his system smothered offensive skill, though, really how much skill was there? Or that he didn’t handle Chris Kreider particularly well – though he did inject youth into the roster in each of the previous three seasons; or that players like Michael Del Zotto regressed. You could also argue that players such as Ryan McDonagh, Derek Stepan and Dan Girardi thrived under his system. And you could never say the players quit on him.
That doesn’t mean they all loved him, and they sure didn’t all despise him. Tortorella had more enemies among the fanbase and among the media, starting from the day he walked into the room and limited access and started barking and snarling.
Yet in many ways he was the best coach the Rangers have had in a long time, and again, his 2011-12 performance was remarkable. His 2013, not so much, most notably that power play and sticking with Richards.
That said, now it will be up to Sather to find somebody different and somebody better. Sather is the guy who, in his Rangers tenure, has hired Ron Low, Bryan Trottier, himself and Tom Renney to coach. And John Tortorella.
If the Stanley Cup is the only acceptable outcome, Sather will now have to outperform his own resume by a lot.