John Tortorella Did Not Deserve to Lose His Job After Rangers' Second-Round Exit

Tom Urtz Jr.@@TomUrtzJrContributor IMay 30, 2013

NEWARK, NJ - MAY 19:  Head coach John Tortorella of the New York Rangers speaks to the media after they defeated the New Jersey Devils 3 to 0 in Game Three of the Eastern Conference Final during the 2012 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at the Prudential Center on May 19, 2012 in Newark, New Jersey.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

The New York Times reported the shocking news this afternoon that the New York Rangers relieved John Tortorella of his coaching duties. The Blueshirts' fiery bench boss deserved better, and he should have at the very least been given the beginning of next season to get things going.

The Rangers did not intend to fire Tortorella, but something changed their mind, according to Katie Strang of ESPN New York:

While the Rangers' second-round exit was frustrating, the team made the playoffs four out of five times during Tortorella's tenure. That is an impressive amount of success. Tortorella took over a team that was not full of many promising players and helped make it better.

The Rangers lost star forward Jaromir Jagr to the KHL the season prior, and Scott Gomez was the team's leading scorer when Tortorella took over for Tom Renney.

During his tenure, Tortorella played a crucial role in transforming the team into what it is today. It was Tortorella who put players like Derek Stepan and Ryan McDonagh in situations to succeed. He also helped along Michael Del Zotto, and his system made Ryan Callahan a better player.

These are just examples of some of the good things Tortorella should get credit for if the Rangers have extended success going forward.

No matter how you look at this move, it is very confusing, and it makes you wonder why Tortorella was fired now.

While this year could be seen as a disappointment after the Rangers' run to the Eastern Conference Final in 2012, Tortorella is not the main reason why the Rangers were unsuccessful this year.

While he is the leader of the team and the ultimate goal of winning a Stanley Cup wasn't accomplished, there are reasons why he should have kept his job.


Rangers Had Slow Start, But Finished Strong

A truncated 48-game season did not see a fair representation of this team's capabilities. The numbers show that the Rangers as a team got off to a slow start, but they got it going once the season progressed.

Goals increased as the months progressed, and overall goals against decreased. To Tortorella's credit, he got line combinations that worked and he stuck with them while they were buzzing.


Stars Failing to Execute in Playoffs Is Not Tortorella's Fault


What happened in the playoffs was a disappointment, but Tortorella shouldn't be the fall guy for the Rangers' lack of execution. While the coach usually gets the axe for lack of performance, is it Tortorella's fault that Rick Nash had a terrible postseason?

Tortorella worked the matchups as best as he could to give Nash multiple opportunities to succeed, but Nash didn't get the job done. He was snake-bitten for most of the playoffs and hit the post more times than he hit twine.


Tortorella Made Right Call With Brad Richards

But this is somehow Tortorella's fault. Tortorella even made bold moves that made sense, and he still was doing something wrong.

When Brad Richards was a healthy scratch for Game 4, there was an outcry from many different media outlets. The main narrative was: "How could 2004 Conn Smythe Winner Brad Richards get scratched in an elimination game?"

The problem that many failed to grasp was simple: Tortorella wasn't scratching 2004 Brad Richards. He was scratching 2013 Brad Richards, a slower player whose game has dropped off in a huge way.

Is it Tortorella's fault that Brad Richards stopped playing elite hockey? According to some, that was the case. Ron MacLean of CBC, a close friend of Richards, felt that the Rangers' pivot deserved better.

While his defense of Richards is admirable, this is not on Tortorella. Richards wasn't getting the job done after being put in different situations, and becoming a healthy scratch was the next logical step. Tortorella explained his rationale in this address with the media, and it made a ton of sense:

Richards was playing on the fourth line because he wasn't playing well. He isn't suited to play that style of hockey, but Tortorella didn't bump him up because other players were doing their job. This was hard for Tortorella to do, because as he stated in his press conference, he loves Richards and grew up with him.


Tortorella's Antics Had More Meaning Than Meets The Eye

He admitted to the press that he needed to help get his players going, but that was an example of Tortorella sticking up for his players.


Whether you believe it or not, there was a method to Tortorella's madness.

For every highlight reel that features a great Tortorella sound bite, there is some meaning behind it. As Ken Campbell pointed out in a piece on Tortorella for The Hockey News, Tortorella likes to relieve pressure from his player by making himself a target:

But there was almost certainly a method to Tortorella’s madness. It was Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final, which is as pressure-laden as you’re going to get in hockey. Ever. Tortorella was doing what Tortorella now does to perfection. He was taking all the pressure off his team and placing it squarely on himself.

He may get a ton of grief from the media for his antics and unique communication style, but there are no doubts that Tortorella is one of the smartest coaches in the business. Anyone that has watched MSG's Behind the Bench will tell you that Tortorella is very methodical in his approach.

Campbell also addressed something similar to this in his piece on Torts:

{...} whenever I went to Tampa, Tortorella would spend an hour or more after practice chatting with the two or three beat reporters who covered the woeful Lightning. Tortorella was funny, engaging, insightful and patient, because selling hockey and educating people in Tampa about the game 

Tortorella is a coach who spent a ton of time reviewing game tape and looking for areas where he can make adjustments, because he was a very smart hockey man.


The Pesky Power Play Was Partially Tortorella's Fault

The Rangers' biggest weakness by far was their anemic power play. So why was it so bad?

Tortorella deserves his fair share of the blame for not coaching the power play, but you can't fault him when his players fail to execute. It is also unfair to say he wouldn't allow the Rangers to hire a power play coach, because decisions like that are likely above his pay grade.

There were multiple units that were used on the power play, but it never seemed to click. But somehow, the power play was always his fault. It was Tortorella's fault when Michael Del Zotto failed to hit the net from the point. It was Tortorella's fault when a player forced an extra pass. 

The examples can go on, but at the end of the day it is not his fault that players were in a situation to execute and failed to do so. This wasn't the only area where the players got a pass. They were not held accountable because the Rangers play a system that supposedly stifles offense.


Did Tortorella's System Really Stifle Offense?


The biggest thing about John Tortorella was his mindset. After a loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins early in the season he told beat writer Andrew Gross, "This game isn’t for thinking, it’s about reacting, it’s about being quick, it’s about being hard and that’s the mental part of it.”

It is very easy to state that Rangers were a defensive team that stifled offense under John Tortorella. It is easy to say that the team was all about blocking shots. If that was truly the case, how did Marian Gaborik have two of the best seasons of his career with Tortorella behind the bench?

While Tortorella initially got blamed from running Gaborik out of town, it is fair to say that some changed their tune when it was discovered that the speedy sniper was playing with injury that was corrected with surgery once the 2012-13 season ended.

It should also be noted that the deal which sent the 31-year-old winger—who will be a UFA next summer—to Columbus netted the Blueshirts three really good players. Derick Brassard and John Moore had a solid playoff, and Derek Dorsett will be a nice addition over time.

It is unfair to say that his system stifled offense when there is empirical evidence that suggests that players can be successful. Rick Nash and Derek Stepan proved they could score in Tortorella's system during the regular season.

Here is another empirical look using their stats from the 2012-13 season.

When you take Stepan and Nash's goal totals and extrapolate them over an 82-game season, they would have scored 40 and 32 goals, respectively.

While it is fair to say that the team blocked a lot of shots, the team was playing a style that suited the roster. The Rangers have a ton of smart two-way players who can generate offense from playing defense. 

The Rangers' roster doesn't have as much talent as the Penguins or the Los Angeles Kings do, so there was a reason for using that system. While it appeared on paper the Rangers had enough talent, Marian Gaborik and Brad Richards' down play made the team a less talented group.

Tortorella can get his criticism of how he dealt with Chris Kreider, but blaming him for not completely trusting a rookie in a shortened season is not entirely fair. While he has offensive talent, Kreider didn't prove he could play effective in all three zones at the NHL level. For that reason, he was used sparingly at times during the season.

To Tortorella's credit, once Kreider showed he could play a more complete game, the Rangers' first-round pick from 2009 was given more opportunities

It took the team time to adjust stylistically, but they got it going as the season progressed.


Life sometimes isn't fair, but you have to keep on living. The Rangers wanted to make a change, and they accomplished that by axing Tortorella. It may not have been the right move, but the move was made.

The point of emphasis now switches to the players. There will be no more blaming of the coach for lack of execution. At this point, it is up to Glen Sather to hire a coach who can effectively use this roster and add players to fix the team's weaknesses.

Only time will tell if this was the right move, but Tortorella deserved better, considering all he did for this team. While it is fair to say he should have been put onto the hot seat, Tortorella deserved a chance to turn things around after a full training camp in October.


    Henrik Lundqvist back in goal for Rangers Tuesday

    New York Rangers logo
    New York Rangers

    Henrik Lundqvist back in goal for Rangers Tuesday

    via Newsday

    Bergeron Resumes Skating with Bruins

    NHL logo

    Bergeron Resumes Skating with Bruins

    What Alain Vigneault said after practice on Monday

    New York Rangers logo
    New York Rangers

    What Alain Vigneault said after practice on Monday

    via SNY

    These Rangers Could Be Gone Before 2018-19

    New York Rangers logo
    New York Rangers

    These Rangers Could Be Gone Before 2018-19

    Jeff Kayer
    via The Hockey Writers