John Tortorella was supposed to change everything for the Rangers.
Where previous coach Tom Renney coached with a conservative, defensive posture, Tortorella is all about risk and offense.
Where Renney believed players should always be skating backwards, keeping their opponents in front of them, Tortorella demands his skaters always move forward.
Conceptually, the two coaches could not be more different. Yet, realistically, they're both getting the same results.
During the 2005-06 season, the Rangers pushed their way into the playoffs, breaking a seven-year playoff drought, mostly on the strength of Jaromir Jagr, who scored 54 of the 250 Ranger goals that season. In other words, one player accounted for almost 22 percent of the goal production. The combined goal production of Petr Prucha and Michael Nylander, that season's second and third-leading goal scorers, did not equal Jagr's output that season.
Renney funneled the entire offense through Jagr. Everything was about getting him the puck and shutting the other team down. Renney rolled four lines and counted on Jagr to do his damage every four shifts or so.
Now, looking at the current season, we see an almost completely different team (defenseman Michal Rozsival is the lone holdover from the 2005-06 team) under a philosophically different coach. And yet, we see Marian Gaborik with 16 goals on the season, representing 25 percent of the 64 goals scored for the Rangers this year. If you add up the goal totals of Vinny Prospal, Ales Kotalik, and defenseman Michael Del Zotto, the team's second, third, and fourth-leading goal scorers, they're equal to what Gaborik is producing.
Tortorella rides Gaborik, giving him as much time as he can handle and keeping on the ice as frequently as possible.
How can the same team have the same problem, five seasons apart? What is it that makes the Rangers struggle with scoring so often? And lest you think two aberrational seasons were selected here, please take note the Rangers had just one 30-goal scorer in the intervening 2006-08 seasons.
It's hard to blame the players, since there's almost no overlap between the two seasons.
You can't really blame coaching, since there are two different coaches using two different systems, and both getting the same results.
In terms of variables, that just leaves management and/or organizational culture.
Management is certainly a huge factor in the Rangers' problems. Under the NHL salary cap system, GM Glen Sather has tended to shy away from bona fide goal scorers. Sure, he's spent a lot on free agents, but almost all of them have had fatal flaws. Jagr came to the Rangers when it seemed like his career was over. Michael Nylander and Martin Straka were brought in more for Jagr's companionship than ability. Scott Gomez seemed a sure thing, but Chris Drury was better known for his two-way play than his ability to put up numbers. Prospal, Markus Naslund, and Brandan Shanahan were both older players looking to prove they still had a little more gas in their tanks. And Gaborik's injury history made him a huge risk.
So looking at Sather's moves, while some of them worked brilliantly (Gaborik, Prospal, Jagr, Nylander, Straka, and Shanahan), others were OK (Naslund), and others were train wrecks (Gomez and Drury), none of them seemed guaranteed to improve the team.
The free-agent signings that did work seemed more happy accidents than deliberate planning. And for whatever reason, Sather has taken an all-or-nothing approach to free agency, routinely choosing to take the one (or two) best high-risk free agents available, rather than spreading money around on more consistent, if less prestigious, forwards.
At the same time, Sather has not developed much young forward talent. The injured Brandon Dubinsky has just three goals on the season. The healthy Ryan Callahan has the same. Artem Anisimov, playing his first full NHL season and is more of a defensive center, has four goals.
Uneven free agent signings and undeveloped youth make it hard to find scoring—especially across seasons. As the Rangers have seen, it leaves them with no core to count on.
Organizational culture might also play a huge role in the Rangers consistent inability to score. It seems Rangers don't feel the need to play down low, with opposing creases usually free of Rangers jerseys. Meanwhile, goalie Henrik Lundqvist has spent the bulk of this season getting bumped like a broken snack machine. Organizationally, it often looks like players come to the Rangers not expecting to have to fight for position or to stand-up for fellow players. They play like scoring is an option, not a requirement.
Looking at these factors, it's no wonder the Rangers have either failed to score consistently or have had to lean on one player to do the bulk of their scoring. What is surprising is that management has seemed content to let the team suffer the same ills the past five seasons.
Changing players hasn't helped the issue, nor has changing coaches. The Rangers continue to make the playoffs, but never seem in danger of getting very far. Eventually fans and ownership will want more from the team and Sather will have to figure out a way to solve a problem he seems to have been ignoring for quite some time.