It’s Time To Apologize To John Tortorella

If there is anything that my readers have picked up over time in regards to my approach to hockey, then I would like to think that it is how I'm not one to get worked up over small sample sizes. Save for extreme cases, you're not going to learn too much from a few game sample size. Nor is a season going to be defined 30 games in. 

Still, as the Vancouver Canucks wrapped up a convincing 6-2 win against the Boston Bruins last night, it was a bit of allegorical justice for John Tortorella. The former Rangers head coach was unceremoniously sent packing after a five-game series against the Boston Bruins; a series which summed up the team's offensive woes and ended a season of unfulfilled expectations. 

Yes, the Bruins were missing a few players last night. And, of course, it was one game in an 82-game season and one game only. If our benchmark for evaluation is a single game then we could use the Rangers' 5-2 defeat of the Canucks earlier this month and end the discussion there. However, this win continues a Canucks' streak of earning two points which has now reached seven games in a row. After some early season turbulence, the Canucks are now somewhat comfortably in the top third of the league standings. The team also ranks 11th in the league in goals-per-game. Though hardly taking over the NHL in that respect, it's a decent climb from the screams of ineptitude coming from the New York fanbase last season.  

Those who asserted that Tortorella was stifling the Rangers' offense often wrote off the 2003-2004 Stanley Cup Lightning as an aberration. That year's team scored the third most goals in the NHL and had the second best goals-per-game ratio in the playoffs. But, hockey was a completely different game pre-lockout, and Tortorella's tactics were no longer relevant to today's NHL. At least, those were the claims of his detractors. But again, here he is doing just perfectly fine with the Canucks in a stacked conference.

Meanwhile, there's the mess that Alain Vigneault is trying to sort out here in New York. Everyone knows the situation but I'll outline it for the sake of review. The Rangers are below the .500 mark and out of playoff position; largely thanks to the second worst goals-per-game average in the entire league. The team has amassed a 1-15-0 record when giving up the game's first goal, which is, by a pretty healthy margin, the league's worst. The team's leading scorer, Brad Richards, is on pace for a whole 22 goals.

One could conclude, given this information, that maybe Vigneault is just the wrong man for the job. But then we can look at his track record. Under Vigneault, the Canucks had the league's fifth best offense during the 2011-2012 regular season. The season prior was even better. The Canucks led the entire NHL in goals and Vigneault chaperoned his team to Game Seven of the Stanley Cup Finals. And, just for good measure, the Canucks had the second best offense the season prior. 

The simple observation to make is that head coaches seem to have much more success, both in terms of offensive production and advancing in the playoffs, with teams other than the Rangers. There is no doubting that John Tortorella made his share of mistakes while in New York. There's no doubting that the powerplay was unacceptably incompetent. There's also no doubting that Vigneault has perhaps made a few errors himself this far into his tenure with the Blueshirts. But in these nine seasons since the 04-05 lockout the Rangers have had only two seasons in which the team had any sort of offensive success; 05-06 when Jaromir Jagr was invincible and and 11-12 when everything just clicked.

So, thus, it is time that the fanbase, media, and Glen Sather apologize to John Tortorella. Clearly it is not he who is stifling offense or holding the team back from anything. One could point out that his success in Tampa Bay and now (so far) in Vancouver can be largely attributed to the talent he was handed, but that is exactly the point. Any reputable, successful head coach succeeded with a repertory of talent at his disposal. Joel Quenneville, as good of a coach as he is, goes only so far without Kane, Toews, Keith, Hossa, etc. Phil Jackson had Jordan, Pippen, and Rodman among others in Chicago and then had Kobe and Shaq in Los Angeles. Hell, Glen Sather himself, who coached arguably the best dynasty in NHL history in Edmonton, should understand that he doesn't do so without the likes of Gretzky, Messier, Kurri, Coffey, etc. He better than anyone else should know that a head coach can only work with what is handed to him and that there is only so much that can be improved upon within the locker room and practice rink. With that experience himself, one has to wonder when Glen Sather will stop blaming the coaching and tactical approach – first from Renney, then Tortorella, and let's not even get into the pre-lockout years – and start to acknowlege that he hasn't even given his coaching staffs a chance. 

 

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