New York Rangers: 5 Reasons John Tortorella's Coaching Has Not Gone Stale
When John Tortorella took over the reins as head coach for the New York Rangers on February 23th, 2009, the Rangers lacked identity in the post-lockout world of hockey.
They had streaks of promise, and great leaders on the ice such as Jaromir Jagr, Brendan Shanahan and Markus Naslund. But the notoriously soft-spoken Tom Renney, former Rangers head coach, was ineffective by 2009, and Rangers General Manager Glen Sather looked outside of the organization for change.
The answer: John Tortorella, head coach of the Tampa Bay Lightning from 2001-2008, who took the Lightning from mediocrity to Stanley Cup Champions.
Now in his fourth season coaching the Rangers, Tortorella has become an extremely effective head coach for the team. And there's been no shortage of success with Tortorella at the helm, with the Rangers currently second in the NHL with 79 points as of February 14th.
Let's take a look at five reasons why Tortorella's coaching style has not gone stale.
1. Tortorella Has Won It All
John Tortorella led the Tampa Bay Lightning to a Stanley Cup championship for the 2003-2004 season, finishing first in the Southeast with a record of 46-22-8-6.
So how does this benefit the New York Rangers?
Tortorella has the veteran experience to coach players to not only be winners in the regular season, but lead them to a Stanley Cup championship. Not many active coaches in the NHL can say that.
With the Rangers playing their best hockey in decades, there is no better coach to lead them than Tortorella.
2. He Makes Players Earn Ice Time
No one gets a free pass from John Tortorella. Not even Brad Richards, who he coached in Tampa Bay and won a Stanley Cup with.
Tortorella isn't afraid to use ice time as a motivating factor for his players—in fact, it's a huge part of his coaching philosophy. He doesn't accept excuses, and if Tortorella thinks a star forward isn't playing to their full potential—he just might get benched.
Make a bad play and lead to an opposing team's goal? Benched.
Rangers fans seldom saw this gritty coaching mentality from former head coach Tom Renney, who is now the head coach for the Edmonton Oilers.
The core difference between Renney and Tortorella is that even in a shutout victory against the Bruins on February 14th, Tortorella wasn't amused. "We were sloppy," Tortorella commented after the win.
Tough words for a team that is second in the NHL with 79 points as of February 14th and 8-1-1 in their last 10 games.
3. He Speaks His Mind
John Tortorella is not afraid to speak his mind—in fact, it most recently cost him $30,000.
After the now-infamous penalty shot that was awarded to the Philadelphia Flyers in the 2012 NHL Winter Classic with under 20 seconds remaining in regulation, Tortorella accused NBC, the NHL and the referees of conspiring together.
Tortorella didn't hold back from his emotions: “I’m not sure if NBC got together with the refs or what to turn this into an overtime game," he said. "It started with the non-call on Gaby’s, and he gets pitchforked in the stomach and everything starts going against us. So for two good refs, I thought the game was reffed horribly.
"So, I’m not sure what happened there. Maybe they wanted to get into overtime. I’m not sure if they had meetings about that or what. But we stood in there. We stood in there. And again, I don’t want to—because they are good guys. I just thought tonight, it was—in that third period, it was disgusting.”
Tortorella quickly backtracked and apologized for "tainting the Winter Classic with my mouth."
But make no mistake: Tortorella wears his emotions on his sleeve, and he isn't afraid to speak up.
He even tiptoed around controversy to make his point after a stunning loss in regulation on February 7th to the New Jersey Devils, after Marian Gaborik was called for goaltender interference. Artem Anisimov scored a goal just seconds after Gaborik collided with the Devils' Martin Brodeur, but it was instantly waved off, costing the Rangers a potential victory.
"I'm not saying [the goaltender interference call] was wrong, [I was] just saying you've got to get it right," Tortorella remarked.
Media-shy Tortorella is not.
A bold leader on and off the ice can really motivate a team to fight for what they believe in.
4. He's Not Afraid to Mixup Offensive Lines
If you're not producing points under the coaching direction of John Tortorella, you better look out. You're not far from being benched or getting reduced ice time or possibly an AHL conditioning stint if you're not really effective.
But under all normal circumstances, Tortorella doesn't hesitate to change his offensive lineups—sometimes even multiple times per game—if the Rangers are having trouble finding the back of the net.
While one might think this makes it incredibly hard for the players to build line chemistry, it may be one of the core strengths of Tortorella's coaching philosophy. Sometimes, players need motivation to produce and Tortorella never likes any of his players to sit back and get comfortable.
About the only line that has remained consistent for the majority of this season is the "GAS" line of Marian Gaborik, Artem Anisimov and Derek Stepan. And even that line was broken up for a short period when the scoring dried up.
This translates to an ever-evolving dynamic on the ice that forces the Rangers to adapt and overcome scoring obstacles. Most of the time, it leads to strong results on the scoreboard.
5. He Has Given the New York Rangers an Identity
In the post-lockout era of the NHL, the New York Rangers sorely lacked an identity.
John Tortorella changed all of that.
Slowly but surely, the Rangers have adopted Tortorella's mantra of playing a very physical, grinding, defensive game. The Rangers are currently fifth in the NHL with an 87.1 penalty kill percentage and second in the league with nine shutouts.
There aren't many teams in the NHL that will have your entire lineup be willing to sacrifice their body to block shots and make diving defensive saves when your goaltender is out of position.
The Rangers do all of this and much more.
And one message that has remained consistent throughout this season—despite all of the Rangers' success—is that there's never a good time to get caught up in the moment.
Even when James Dolan, owner of the New York Rangers, emerges to proclaim that the Rangers are playing like Stanley Cup contenders, Tortorella is not impressed. "I had my owner up here talking about winning a Stanley Cup," Tortorella said. "We have to take it one game at a time."
That Tortorella will never be satisfied with his standings in the NHL says a lot for a team who missed the postseason two seasons ago.