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Slumping Rangers dismiss Renney, hire Tortorella

Monday, 02.23.2009 / 8:00 PM / News

By Dan Rosen - NHL.com Senior Writer

John Tortorella has been saying all season he wants to coach again, and soon. Monday, the former Stanley Cup-winning coach of the Tampa Bay Lightning got his wish.

Tortorella signed a contract with the New York Rangers to replace Tom Renney, who was relieved of his coaching duties earlier in the day along with assistant Perry Pearn. Mike Pelino and Benoit Allaire remain as assistant coaches.

Tortorella had been working as a hockey analyst on TSN this season, but will be at the Madison Square Garden Training Center in Tarrytown, N.Y. Tuesday to run his first Rangers practice in preparation for Wednesday night's game at Toronto.

"I want to coach. It's the only thing I know how to do," Tortorella told NHL.com earlier this season. "(Working at TSN) has kept me close to the game. I have really enjoyed this part of it. I wasn't sure how it was going to be, but the people at TSN have been fantastic. I'm having fun with it, but eventually if I get an opportunity -- and there are a lot of good coaches out there, so I hope I do get an opportunity -- I'd want to get right back in it."

Known as a hard-line, straight-talking, no-nonsense coach, Tortorella was let go by the Lightning after the team finished 30th in the NHL with 71 points last season. He led them to the Stanley Cup in 2003-04, when he won the Jack Adams Award as the League's top coach, and to the playoffs in four of his six seasons in Tampa.

Tortorella's 239 career wins is second only to Peter Laviolette among American-born coaches.

"It was a tough year, and when you finish 30th in the National Hockey League and you're the head coach of the team, you better be looking that you're going to be gassed out of there and I understand that part of it," Tortorella said. "I think it was a number of things going on with that organization, but as a head coach you are responsible with that winning and losing."

Renney was informed Monday morning that his services as Rangers' coach were going to be terminated effective immediately.

 
The Rangers are sixth in the Eastern Conference with 69 points, but just 21-21-6 since going 10-2-1 in October. They have won only twice in the last 12 games, including Sunday's 3-2 overtime loss to the Maple Leafs, and now are only two points out of ninth place.

"Unfortunately, this had to happen," Rangers forward Markus Naslund said earlier Monday. "I know both Tom and Perry put their soul into this to get this going. For some reason, we haven't found a way. I feel for them, but at the same time you have to look ahead. We need a jump start right now, a new beginning."

Tortorella inherits a team that has struggled to score goals all season. The Rangers are tied for 27th in the League with 142 goals. Their top scorer, Naslund, has only 18 goals. Only Minnesota (Owen Nolan, 17) and the New York Islanders (Bill Guerin, 16) have a leading scorer with less.

The Rangers' playoff position, as tenuous as it stands right now, is buoyed by their nine shootout wins. In fact, if the shootout did not exist in the NHL, the Rangers would be ninth in the East, not sixth.

"You can't be a step behind," Naslund said. "To me, that's a big difference from the beginning of the season when we were on top of the pucks and we made things happen. For some reason, when we started to slip, we've been chasing instead. It's going to be a whole new scenario. Hopefully it'll work out as a new injection and changes in philosophy."

Tortorella also inherits a team that is backed by one of the top goaltenders in the League in Henrik Lundqvist, who has 26 wins, a 2.57 goals-against average and a .913 save percentage.

With 21 games left in this season, Tortorella almost certainly will be looking to shake up a few things up in a lineup that had appeared to grow stale under Renney. He has a history of being able to do such a thing.

When he took over the Lightning prior to the 2001-02 season, former GM Jay Feaster said the dressing room "was a country club, a retirement home." Tortorella changed everything by holding the players accountable, and three seasons later they won the Cup.

"John came in and changed the culture, changed the way we do business, and the attitude," Feaster said last June after firing Tortorella. "And in doing so, he raised expectations."

Tortorella reportedly clashed with Tampa Bay star center Vincent Lecavalier, but the two worked out their differences enough to have a suitable working relationship. Lecavalier grew into a bona fide superstar under Tortorella's watch.

The Rangers don't have anyone of Lecavalier's ilk, but they have a veteran-laden lineup, including captain Chris Drury, Naslund, Scott Gomez, Wade Redden and Michal Rozsival, all of whom have underperformed this season.

"As players, we feel 100 percent responsible," Gomez said in regards to Renney's ouster. "We've still got a lot of games left. We've got to find a way. Any time a coach gets fired, you're going to be shocked. For the young guys, it's their first time."

Tortorella is no stranger to the bright lights of Broadway.

He served as the Rangers' interim coach for four games after John Muckler was fired late in the 1999-2000 season. Tortorella was serving as an assistant under Muckler that season, but did not return to the club for the following season as GM Glen Sather opted to hire Ron Low as coach.

"I want to coach. It's the only thing I know how to do. (Working at TSN) has kept me close to the game. … I'm having fun with it, but eventually if I get an opportunity -- and there are a lot of good coaches out there, so I hope I do get an opportunity -- I'd want to get right back in it." -- John Tortorella
After Low couldn't get the Rangers into the postseason in his two seasons, Sather hired Bryan Trottier to start the 2002-03 season, but he was fired 54 games in and Sather took over to close the season, another playoff-less spring in Manhattan.

Sather stayed on to coach the Rangers for the first 54 games of the 2003-04 season. After going 22-25-7, he handed the reins to Renney, then an assistant, for the final 20 games as the Rangers finished out of the postseason for a seventh straight season.

Renney, though, has been at the helm ever since and led the Rangers to three straight playoff berths from 2005-08. He is fourth all-time among Rangers coaches with 164 wins and 327 games coached.

Now it's Tortorella's turn.

Contact Dan Rosen at drosen@nhl.com.

Quote of the Day

It's pretty crazy, but believe me when I say we didn't draft these players with the mindset we had to because they had good hockey-playing dads. It just turned out that way. But we're certainly glad they're a part of our organization.

— Arizona Coyotes director of amateur scouting Tim Bernhardt regarding the coincidence that six of the organization's top prospects are sons of former NHL players