It is the same old story… when all else fails, fire the coach. After all, as I mentioned in the review of the Penns desperate move letting go the Therrion, the NY Rangers are treading along that same scratched up ice surface in letting Tom Renney depart in favor of late season heroics (or rather, theatrics) with the addition of John Tortorella behind the bench.
Traditionally, or at least in the recent era, the Broadway Blueshirts have struggled with their identity. They trade leadership for drama, skill for age in a confounding rotation of players without quantifiable definition. This year was no different. It’s a shame, Renney wasn’t a bad coach, the team was just built to implode, yet again, and Renney took the fall rather than Sather.
The fast start to the season was in part due to the schedule. The points lead was deceiving, as it was, in part, due to the extra games played from opening the season early in Europe. Upon returning the edge thinned slightly when looking at the points per game played, however, on the whole this was not a team built for the stretch and those early wins were without the merit of team play as much as they were a result of some well time theatrics and a little bit of scheduling luck.
As the season’s worn on the lack of leadership has become more blatant. Not just from Renney’s inability to inspire the players, but moreso, from the players themselves who refuse to inspire one another. These just are not guys that are able or willing to stand up and take control of their destiny because there’s no continuity to who they are.
It is exceedingly easy to point to the off-season losses as a linchpin to the teams undoing. On paper there’s little accounting for Jagr’s scoring potential and Shanny’s presence as a leader may never show up in a box score but has more than motivated teams to success in the past, and yes even the loss of that blowhard Avery hurt them in crashing the net and irritating opponents every which way. Yet, truthfully, the Rangers were no more competitive last season at times and it isn’t a lack ofthis triumvirate that is their undoing.
After all, these three guys represent exactly the problem with the Rangers for the last few decades. They are a mismatched, hodgepodge conglomeration of concepts on the ice. There’s no continuity, no over-arching idea to tie the positions, or the lines or the ice to the bench together.
Besides, it’s the guys who are here now that are the problem, not looking back at past teams. Case in point number one: Scott Gomez… the structure of the Devils was never built upon scoring threats and yet, Gomez found ways to stand out night in and night out during his time in the Meadowlands. Across the river, in a wide open offensive system and he’s yet to make his mark with a scoring touch and is dying with a -9. Case in point two: Chris Drury… solid career numbers but a -3 and now a -11 with the Rangers and nothing even resembling the the overall offensive threat he once was and offering little to the teams backbone. Case in point number three: Markus Naslund… shining career probably heading into it’s twilight with a -14 on the season and zero impact as a veteran on the ice.
That’s not just any three guys, that’s the last few years of free agent investment into the growth of this franchise along with the handful of “homegrown” talent they are trying to figure out including Lundqvist, who has yet to see a defense in front of him all season and is left hung out to dry more than the laundry of a town without electricity.
Tortorello is a a Stanley Cup winning coach with the perfectly opposite temperament of combustibility and contempt for slacking compared to a more nurturing and laid back Renny. However, with a short stack cards to play on and the days of the season waning, there’s no time to teach a new style or instill a work ethic. Even if there was, welcome to Renney’s hell, a ragtag group of misfit skills and styles to try and mold a team out of.
There’s a kind of irony in the fact that six of the teams beginning their season overseas are for the most part all struggling this season. One can’t help but draw the early conclusion it was the trip that trounced the franchise’s ability to sustain for the season. However, the more obvious answer is the wrong six teams went when looking at their ability to outperform. Considering the injuries sustained by other franchises, the hurdles in schedules to be overcome on extended road trips and the general fatigue that sets in from night-in and night-out team deterioration, it is hard to believe this is solely the European trip.
For the Rangers, this is a convoluted team conspiring against their creator and no coach, no trade-deadline finesse, no monumental collapse by their division or conference competitors will undo what is truly the problem here, and that’s Sather bought and sold, leveraged and traded every last chip each season as if it was his last chance to win and, therefor each team during his tenure is exactly that, a desperate attempt at reaching for what is ultimatel just out of reach.
John Tortorello is a good coach, but, so was Renney… this is not a good team as a team. On paper, the numbers say it should, the percentages are all there, the ability exists, but hockey is not raw statistics, it isn’t a mathematical manipulation game, it is truly a game of souls, of wits, of desires and dreams. Momentum can turn on a hair from nothing more than a high-five after a brutal forcheck or winning a decisive face-off, or never change despite a score or a penalty. And, building a team based on paper will not do as much as building a team based on intangibles and the Rangers chase the former rather than accepting their fate in the later.
The best teams in the East are built on systems. It existed before “system” was a buzzword really, but that’s the way consistency has won and continues to. The left-wing lock, the defensive forward drop-backs, the zone-pass (those big diagonal cross-ice passes, forgot them, didn’t you), the board/neutral zone trap, etc. heck, even the blueline sharp shooters (iafrate, borque, leetch), even now, look at how the Caps are built on offense, how the Phils are built on force, the Devs are built on defense, the Brues are built on continuity of mindset… and what are the Rangers built on? Money…?