Some movie lines become famous because of how catchy they are, or how they coincide with a memorable moment. "I'll be back" is one. "Say hello to my little friend" is another. But others, such as The Joker's, have their true impact in how applicable they are outside of the context of the movie. If/when the Mets win somewhere between 70-75 games this season and finish well out of the playoff picture, not much beyond the usual cynicism will emerge. But here are the Rangers – a team that is supposed to be a Stanley Cup contender – struggling. And suddenly some have, indeed, lost their minds.
"All human errors are impatience; the premature breaking off of a methodical procedure, an apparent fencing-in of what is apparently at issue." -Franz Kafka
A quote that beautifully paints the picture for how Glen Sather acted as GM for the first part of his tenure. Complete impatience. An inability to look at long-term growth. Total disregard for a methodical procedure geared towards building a strong franchise built to sustain. Instead, attempting to address flaws with radical trades intended to immediately salvage a sinking ship. Instead of the typical five-year plan, Slats insisted on a "now" plan which lacked any foresight for long-term goals and building in favor of them. He never seemed to learn, and Rangers fans wanted him banished for it.
Slats did learn eventually. A large part of that was simply a much improved scouting department. But John Tortorella was also a significant influence. Hellbent on building the team through free agency and depending on Lundqvist to single handedly will the team into the playoffs, Tortorella came in late during the 08-09 season and insisted on establishing a base internally. While Renney relied on Malik, Rozsival, and Redden for top minutes, Tortorella soon exclaimed after being hired that Staal and Girardi were no longer going to be treated like children and were going to be featured players. Callahan and Dubinsky saw their roles increase. When the Rangers exited the playoffs in the first round in the Capitals with a roster officially constructed by Sather though obviously heavily influenced by Renney, a total of five homegrown players could be found in the locker room.
Fast-forward to last season; a season in which the Rangers finished first overall in the Eastern Conference and was two games away from their first Stanley Cup Finals appearance since 1994. The number of homegrown players was now a majority; 12. And that's withholding Zuccarello and Sauer. For the first time since Brian Leetch, the Rangers had a homegrown captain in Ryan Callahan. A complete culture shift, one that reaped the reward of pretty significant success, and one that was built to last long-term.
Of course, the scouting staff, coaches in Hartford, and Sather himself deserve immeasurable credit for the turnover. But John Tortorella is far from irrelevant to the change. The Rangers have clearly begun drafting towards the philosophy he has. The Lightning won their cup with homegrown players as their backbone, and it's clear the Rangers, under Tortorella want to do the same.
Which leads us back to Franz Kafka and the irony of how some Rangers fans are thinking. Nobody is pretending that the Rangers have been playing well this season. Nobody is pretending that Tortorella does not deserve blame for the results. But when we are talking about something drastic like firing John Tortorella, we're talking about a move intended for the sake of an instant gratification which might not even come – a move in which the intended result is to save this current season – without taking into consideration the long-term ramifications. Without considering how, as Kafka says, we're "breaking off a methodical procedure" in order to rectify what we view as an all-encompassing present. The Rangers have slowly gone from a team built on misfits, free agents, and whatever Sather could scrap together at the deadline to a young, homegrown team that is viewed as a serious long-term contender and has the resumé of last season to prove it. We can talk about failures of this current team, how Tortorella is to blame for much of that. But that is a discussion about what is current. To suggest a coaching change is not a discussion about what is current at all, but about long-term change. And that is exactly where the irony kicks in. For all the years we spent bashing Sather for refusing to stick to a long-term, carefully mapped plan, now that he is we insist he do the opposite.
The reality is that, to an extent, we got spoiled by last season. While disappointing and perhaps even somewhat unacceptable, this is the nature and reality of building a contender. Rarely is it a smooth ride to success. After an awful first-half of the season for the Bruins in 2009-2010 and barely squeeking into the playoffs, Boston fans and media alike were calling for the dismissal of Bruins' head coach Claude Julien. Out were the claims that he was "holding the team back" and that the system wasn't working. Of course, in spite of three underachieving seasons on top of the underwhleming, lifeless one the Bruins were experiencing, and all the media and fan pressure, the Bruins stuck with Julien. Guess which head coach lifted the Stanley Cup at the end of that season?
By no means should you infer that I'm claiming Tortorella will do the same this year. Or even any year. It may very well be the case that Tortorella has taken this team as far as he could. But to think about how Julien was afforded the time to fix this situation himself and eventually got it done while Tortorella is on the hotseat, as far as the fans are concerned, thanks to a couple dozen bad games despite the best season the franchise has had since 1994 only a year prior?
I'm not pretending everything is rosy. Because it's far from that. Changes need to be made, but those are changes that need to be made internally. The team has an incredibly talented, homegrown backbone that many teams around the league would be grateful to have. Regardless of what happens this season, the Rangers have an enormous pool of young talent who could theoretically make the Rangers potential contenders for the next five-to-eight years. And Tortorella has played his part in that. Of course he has not earned himself a lifetime pass by any measure, but surely he has earned himself more time than half of what essentially amounts to a 40-yard dash season. As Kafka would say, surely disposing of a main component of a long-term plan because of a blip in the radar would be an irrational "fencing in" of what the problems might actually be; to make a change that would dramatically change the direction of this team's "methodical procedure" with the idealistic hopes the grass is greener on the other side of the immediate future.
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