John Tortorella called the 2012-13 season for the New York Rangers "a sideways step." Whichever direction it was, it was big enough to cost him his job.
Rangers general manager Glen Sather announced Wednesday that Tortorella had been fired four days after his team was eliminated from the Stanley Cup Playoffs in a five-game Eastern Conference Semifinal series against the Boston Bruins.
"What we dealt with this year was a shortened season; we dealt with a lot of injuries," Sather said. "I thought the team, under the conditions, played well. Did they play up to the expectations that we had for them? No."
CHANGE IN NEW YORK
Reasons the Rangers fired TortsBy Dan Rosen - NHL.com Senior Writer
Rangers GM Glen Sather was admittedly vague when asked for specific reasons why John Tortorella was fired Wednesday, but NHL.com presents seven reasons he probably could have given. READ MORE ›
The Rangers backtracked in the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season with a sixth-place finish in the Eastern Conference and a second-round exit from the playoffs. Last season, Tortorella was a finalist for the Jack Adams Award after the Rangers finished first in the conference with 109 points and went to the East finals, where they lost in six games to the New Jersey Devils.
Tortorella, who was hired as the full-time replacement for Tom Renney on Feb. 23, 2009, coached 319 regular-season games with the Rangers and posted a 171-118-1-29 record. That includes an 0-3-1 record as the interim coach at the end of the 1999-2000 season following the firing of John Muckler.
"Our goal is to win the Stanley Cup, and I feel this is a decision that had to be made," Sather said. "As far as John is concerned, he was a little bit shocked, but he's a gentleman and he took it very well."
Sather wouldn't go into detail about potential candidates to replace Tortorella, but he'd like to have a new coach in place by the NHL Draft, which takes place June 30 in Newark, N.J. Sather was also vague on the future for assistant coach Mike Sullivan, who remains under contract with the Rangers but was brought in by Tortorella when he was hired four years ago.
"We're going to put some interviews together with a number of different people and try to find the best candidate that's going to serve the needs of the New York Rangers," Sather said, referencing the team having its organizational meetings in June. "I'm sure we're going to find the right person and we're going to move in the right direction. We'll find the right guy."
Sather was evasive when asked about the reasons for dismissing Tortorella as coach, but he called it his decision and said it was backed up by other executives in the organization.
"It wasn't one thing, and I'm certainly not going to speculate and start to criticize what happened with Torts and give you a lot of reasons on why we decided to do it," Sather said. "After the analytical work we do at the end of the season to try to improve the team and move forward, this is the decision I made and the decision that was consulted with some people so everyone knew what was going to happen. Removing anyone from the coaching role from the New York Rangers is a difficult decision, and I think I made the right decision so we can continue to go forward."
Tortorella admitted Monday he was guilty of not getting his team into the proper mindset to play another round in the playoffs after it eliminated the Washington Capitals in seven games.
"I don't think our mindset was ready for another series and to the level you need to be at," he said. "That's what I struggle with right now, is I didn't do a good enough job in correcting and getting their mindset back to not only play in a Game 7 in the first round, but to get ready for Round 2, which is always going to be tougher."
Sather would not say if Tortorella's candor and admission of guilt played a role in his decision.
"There isn't one specific reason or incident that brought this about," Sather said. "It is something that happened and that has occurred, but there isn't one specific reason that it occurred."
Tortorella favored a defensive, shot-blocking system, and as a result the Rangers consistently struggled to score goals. Their power play did not help the cause either.
New York averaged 2.69 goals per game under Tortorella after he was hired in 2009. The Rangers never finished in the top 10 and three times finished 15th or worse.
Their power play finished 23rd in the League at 15.7 percent in each of the past two seasons after finishing 18th at 16.9 percent in 2010-11. The power play went 4-for-44 (9.1 percent) in the 2013 playoffs.
"There were a few things that went into this thing, and it was more of a decision on how we're going to get better and try to challenge for the Stanley Cup," Sather said when asked specifically about how the lack of scoring and the power play factored into his decision.
"Our goal is to win the Stanley Cup, and I feel this is a decision that had to be made. As far as John is concerned, he was a little bit shocked, but he's a gentleman and he took it very well."
-- Rangers GM Glen Sather on the firing of coach John Tortorella
There was some speculation that comments made by goalie Henrik Lundqvist on Monday factored into Sather's decision, but the GM said that wasn't the case.
Lundqvist, who has one year remaining on his contract, said he has to consult his agent when asked about considering signing a long-term extension with the Rangers. He also said the season was a step backward, which is different from how Tortorella put it by calling it a sideways step.
"It didn't have anything to do with it," Sather said. "We plan on signing Henrik to a long-term contract. I'm not going to make any public comments for the negotiations, when and how they take place, but it had nothing to do with it. This is a decision that I made."
Sather said the future of veteran center Brad Richards will be another topic up for discussion at the organizational meetings next month. Richards, who has long had a tight relationship with Tortorella, is signed for seven more seasons with a $6.67 million salary-cap value, but could be a candidate for the Rangers' final amnesty buyout.
"At this time, I'm not thinking about that," Sather said. "I'm trying to deal with this situation and move forward."
Richards had one goal and was a minus-3 in the playoffs before he was made a healthy scratch for Games 4 and 5 against the Bruins. Sather said Tortorella did not make the decision to scratch Richards on his own.
"It was an organizational decision and it was made in conjunction with the rest of us," Sather said.
The decision to dismiss Tortorella also was made in conjunction with the Rangers' top executives, but Sather stressed it was his call and he's ready to move forward.
"I don't want to be too evasive about it, but I can tell you this, the decision wasn't made lightly," Sather said. "Any time somebody loses a job, it's a bit of a shock. I can't tell you how much it was, but I don't think [Tortorella] was prepared for it. I don't think anybody is prepared for it. It's a difficult role that he has to accept, and it's a difficult role for me when I have to deliver the message.
"Our goal is to win the Stanley Cup, and we didn't achieve that goal this year so I had to make the decision."