Here’s my column from The Journal News and LoHud.com:
By Rick Carpiniello
NEW YORK—Glen Sather made it abundantly clear Friday that the decision to fire coach John Tortorella was his.
It wasn’t a mutiny or a player revolt, he insisted. It wasn’t a reaction to the Rangers’ five-game playoff loss to what has surely shown itself to be a terrific and strong Boston team.
So, in introducing Alain Vigneault as the newest Rangers coach — the 35th in team history, and the sixth under his watch, — Sather showed that he still has his old fastball, that he still has the guts to make the big move.
And good for him. Sather’s surely had some follies since taking over James Dolan’s team in June of 2000. The best coach he hired was the one he just showed the door. The new one?
“I’d be in a lot of trouble if I felt we made a mistake,” he said when asked how he could be sure this was is the right hire. “No, I think we’ve got the right guy. Picking any coach, it has to be a gut feeling, whether you and he can get along and whether your ideas mesh with everybody in the organization. … I think we have the right guy.”
Sather deserves credit on a number of levels here. First, for being bold and secure enough to fire a guy who had one of the best coaching seasons in team history just a year earlier. Second, for hiring the experienced and relatively successful Vigneault when his right-hand special assistant, and a New York icon with whom Sather has had an extremely close relationship since the late 1970s, a the completely inexperienced Mark Messier, wanted the job.
And third, for putting it all right squarely on his own shoulders. Right exactly where it belongs.
It’s still Sather’s team. He has a bunch of good people around him, advising him, doing a lot of the personnel work for him, and even readying for the day he ultimately hangs it up — a day it seemed was getting closer, but now, after Friday’s press conference, seems still very far into the future. He’s still “Slats.” He still does it his way. With input, yes, but he makes the final call, and he lives with the consequences.
Since Sather told Messier he chosed Vigneault, and Messier told Sather that he wanted to think it over, they haven’t spoken. Messier told him they’d talk in the coming week or so.
“It was a difficult decision, there’s no question about it,” Sather said. “We’ve had a long relationship. We’ve both grown up with each other. Maybe I was a little more grown up than him at the beginning. But it was a difficult decision to make. But running this hockey club is not easy all the time, and tough decisions are sometimes made for tough reasons. I just think at this stage, AV is the man.”
There had been all this belief — including right here — that Tortorella was safe in this shortened, injury-and-slump-wrecked season. Then two days after breakup day, May 29, he was fired. Then came the reports that Henrik Lundqvist was the strongest dissenting voice in Sather’s ear. Lundqvist denied that this week. People inside the organization say there’s nothing to that. Friday, Sather said it.
“Someplace this story got started,” he said. “There hasn’t been a player that’s complained to me about Torts. So let’s get that on the table, get that cleared up for once and for all.”
Sather said he had spoken to Tortorella — who was reportedly closing in on the odd situation in which he would replace Vigneault as Vancouver’s coach — about changing the style of play. And that Tortorella was “beyond stubborn,” adding that was a trait he really liked in his former coach. But he added that he had thought about replacing Tortorella at times during the season and playoffs, and then commended himself for keeping “the secret” well. So, no, it didn’t happen in those 48 hours after the exit meetings.
“I think we needed a change in styles,” Sather said. “You look at the injuries we had over the years, and a number of guys who were really getting the (heck) kicked out of them in our end because we constantly had to defend our own end.
“I mean, that style was perfect for our team for a couple of years. But it started to wear our team out. There’s nothing wrong with that style, but with the injuries we had this year, it started to take a toll on our club, and it was time to do something to change the style so that we can go farther and maybe compete longer.”
Sather said the goal is to win the Cup, and that Dolan’s sole goal was is the same, though it’s been 19 years without for the Rangers now, 13 under Sather, who last won in 1990 as Edmonton’s GM.
It’s on him now, again, and he has no problem with that at all.
Reach Rick Carpiniello at firstname.lastname@example.org
Photo by Getty Images.