With Henrik Lundqvist telling the New York Post's Larry Brooks that he had no involvement in the firing of John Tortorella the fire was once again stoked. If Lundqvist did not request the change, then who did? Did anyone? Glen Sather sought to clarify that when he spoke to NYDN beat writer Pat Leonard. Sather said that no player specifically asked for the move but that he and management could feel that the attitude in the locker room changed.
But it was the offense and puck possession – or lack thereof – that Sather chose to focus on. From the article:
"He also knew that the Rangers' style of play needed to evolve to contend with other top NHL teams, or in his words, 'the game has changed.'
'If you look at these playoff games (like the Stanley Cup Finals matchup) you're gonna see tonight, the style that they play, I mean there's not a hell of a lot of dump-ins,' Sather said.' (I) mean, (if) you have to dump the puck in, you have to dump it. But there's a lot of puck control and hanging onto the puck and moving the puck out, and there's not stopping behind the net to gain control. There's a lot of things that are done differently than what we were doing. So you have to look at the style of play. That had a lot to do with (the decision to fire Tortorella), too.'"
It's a fair point at face value from Sather. The Bruins and Blackhawks and Penguins and Kings have had successful seasons and deep playoff runs in part because of offense, obviously, but also puck possession. And in both areas the Rangers struggled heavily.
But here is where things start to unravel for the 69-year-old GM. Coaching has something to do with it for sure, but perhaps the biggest reason that some of these teams have such success offensively and in holding the puck lies in player personnel and not necessarily a tactical philosophy. The Penguins have Crosby, Malkin, and Letang. The Blackhawks have Kane, Toews, Hossa, Seabrook, and so on. The Bruins don't really match that, but then again the Bruins don't play too different from how John Tortorella's Rangers did. The difference being that their personnel play the system better than ours did.
And this is not to absolve Tortorella and Sullivan of any blame. There is no doubting that their philosophies were more rigid compared to some how some other teams play. Certainly we had enough talent to not have an embarrasingly ineffective powerplay. But it's awfully difficult to pinpoint the outgoing coaching staff as the main source of inefficiency when the team hardly faired any better under the Renney regime. Sure, the Rangers had a top-10 powerplay in Renney's first two years on the job; Renney's first two seasons also held the Straka-Nylander-Jagr line at a time where it was arguably the best line in hockey. The three had the right combination of instinct, skill, and chemistry that allowed them to possess the puck in the offensive zone for long shifts and ultimately make the other team pay. Then Jagr and Straka started to show their age and break down, and Nylander was sent packing. And thus started (another) long list of failed signings. Ever since their departures the Rangers have completely failed to put together three players capable of gaining the offensive zone with the puck, then holding onto it, then stringing together a few passes before putting it on frame the way that those three could.
A coach like Joel Quenneville or Claude Julien deserves plenty of credit for the offensive powehouse he has turned the Blackhawks or Bruins into. But he is not doing that without an ample supply of players capable of that type of play. Joel Quenneville was given Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa. Renney and Torterella were given Scott Gomez and Markus Naslund/Vinny Prospal. Claude Julien was given Zdeno Chara. Renney and Tortorella were given Wade Redden.
The reality is that John Tortorella and Mike Sullivan, while perhaps underwhelming in their own right, could only work with what they were given. It's not in spite of Tortorella and Sullivan that the Lightning had the top powerplay and second-ranked offense in 2003-2004 when Tampa Bay management gave them a primed Lecavalier, Richards, St. Louis, and Boyle with which to work. In New York they were handed much less, and the results showed it. Now, Glen Sather is handing the keys to Alain Vigneault, who, along with assistant coach Newell Brown, has received all sorts of praise for his offensive intuition. Bringing these guys to New York certainly is a step in the right direction. But again, it's a lot easier to look good when you have the Sedin Brothers working their magic and a whole slew of defensemen capable of making plays on the powerplay. Do the Rangers have some attractive pieces? Absolutely. But if Glen Sather fails to address the glaring issues and Dan Girardi, Mats Zuccarello, and Anton Stralman continue to be the best we have to offer in terms of a powerplay quarterback then we're never going to mirror the output of these puck possessing, offensive juggernauts that Glen Sather is so admiring of. And Alain Vigneault will become the sixth coach to take the fall for the team's failures under a GM who manages to stay unscathed himself each and every time.
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