John Tortorella Is Gone, so What's Next in New York Rangers' Improvement Plan?
The New York Rangers have much to do if they want to become a serious contender for the Stanley Cup in the years to come.
The Rangers fell down the ladder in the Eastern Conference this year as they were unable to compete on a consistent basis.
A new coach will be expected to introduce his players to a new system that is more effective than the one John Tortorella used during his tenure on Broadway. One of the key issues is improving the Rangers' ability to put the puck in the net.
Here's what the Rangers have to do if they want to improve in the future.
1. Glen Sather Must Determine the Rangers' Biggest Problem
One of the issues that the New York Rangers were going to have to address in the offseason was the status of vice president and general manager Glen Sather.
That became a non-issue as Sather answered questions about Tortorella's firing, announcing that he would be back for the 2013-14 season in both of his capacities.
Before he determines who is going to get the job as the next head coach, he has to identify the Rangers' biggest problem on the ice.
It's really not that difficult to see. New York averaged 2.17 goals per in 12 playoff games, a figure that ranked 10th in the postseason. During the regular season, the Rangers averaged 2.62 goals per game, ranking 15th in the league.
Tortorella appeared to have problems getting along with his players who had the most offensive talent. The Rangers traded away Marian Gaborik to the Columbus Blue Jackets this season and Tortorella benched former star Brad Richards when he slumped during the postseason.
The Rangers acquired high-scoring Rick Nash in the offseason to bolster their scoring, but Nash was held to one goal in the playoffs.
Finding a coach who can bring out the best in his offensive players would appear to be a priority for the Rangers.
2. Find a Coach Who Can Work with the Media
Nobody expects a head coach to be best of friends with the reporters who cover the team. However, a head coach has to have a decent working relationship with the press.
Coaches like Claude Julien of the Boston Bruins, Dan Bylsma of the Pittsburgh Penguins and Joel Quenneville of the Chicago Blackhawks, all manage to answer questions in a civil manner with reporters. This was often impossible for Tortorella.
His battles with columnists like Larry Brooks of the New York Post were embarrassing to the team and the head coach.
Sather said a coach has to be able to deal with the media because it's part of the job.
Sather: Dealing with press "is part of professional sports today"— Steve Zipay (@stevezipay) May 29, 2013
3. Sign Henrik Lundqvist to a New Deal
Henrik Lundqvist is at the top of the list of NHL goaltenders. Some observers may give the nod to Los Angeles Kings goalie Jonathan Quick, but Lundqvist is the defending Vezina Trophy winner and is a candidate for this year's award as well.
Lundqvist is heading into the last year of a contract that pays him $6.875 million, according to CapGeek.
While the Rangers are a team that needs to find more offense, they will get hurt badly if Lundqvist decides to play out the final year of his contract and leave through free agency.
Lundqvist refused to commit to re-signing with the Rangers, though he told Larry Brooks of the New York Post that he has enjoyed his time in New York.
"I have one more year on my contract and we’ll see," Lundqvist said.
The Rangers must sign their outstanding goalie if they want to contend for the Stanley Cup championship in the future.
4. Sign 4 of Their Own Free Agents
The Rangers have four free agents that they should re-sign for the 2013-14 season. Ryane Clowe will be an unrestricted free agent this summer, and there are three other restricted free agents.
Clowe was acquired from the San Jose Sharks just before the trade deadline. While he appears to be a "Tortorella" type of player because he is hard working and defensive minded, Clowe scored three goals and five assists in 12 games while wearing a Rangers uniform.
Restricted free-agents Derek Stepan (44 points), Carl Hagelin (24 points, plus-10 rating) and Mats Zuccarello (eight points in 15 games) are most likely not going anywhere, but the Rangers can't assume they will be back. Stepan is a budding star, Hagelin has game-breaking speed and Zuccarello has excellent vision and patience with the puck.
If any of those players left, especially Stepan and Hagelin, the Rangers will face a significant downgrade.
5. Sign an Offensive-Minded Free-Agent Center
The Rangers have to build an environment that will allow their offensive-minded players to feel comfortable and creative when they have the puck in the offensive zone.
However, helping out Rick Nash and Brad Richards is not enough. New York needs to bring in an offensive-minded center through free agency to help create a more explosive attack.
Mike Ribeiro is coming off a solid year with the Washington Capitals, and was also a solid offensive player for the Montreal Canadiens and the Dallas Stars. Ribeiro scored 13 goals and 36 assists for the Caps this season.
The Rangers should also look at longtime New Jersey Devils center Patrik Elias. He scored 14 goals and he had 22 assists for the Devils this year and he can still be a productive player at the age of 37.
6. Move Back into the 1st Round of the NHL Draft
When the Rangers acquired Rick Nash from the Columbus Blue Jackets last summer, they gave up three players and their 2013 first-round draft pick.
Losing Artem Anisimov, Brandon Dubinsky and Tim Erixon did not help the team, but the loss of the top draft pick could hurt the Rangers for years to come.
While Nash scored 21 goals and added 21 assists in the regular season this year, with much more to be expected in the future, the Rangers could use the influx of young offensive talent that they could get with a first-round draft pick.
If Sather and whomever he chooses as head coach is not as enamored with the defense-first philosophy that Tortorella espoused, the Rangers could include a prime shot-blocking defenseman in a trade package that would allow them to get back into the first round of the draft.
That would seem to be an important move for a team that needs offensive improvement.