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Sather confident Tortorella can turn Rangers around

by Brian Compton

"After the start that we had at the beginning of the year and the way we were playing and moving and controlling the puck, the game just started to erode. I wish that it hadn't had come to this, but it did. The last two or three games, it was pretty obvious that we had to have something done."
-- Glen Sather on dismissing Tom Renney

Twelve games into the 2008-09 season, Tom Renney was probably No. 30 on the list featuring NHL coaches on the hot seat.
But with 21 games to go, he was No. 1.
After losing for the 10th time in 12 tries on Sunday night, the New York Rangers relieved Renney of his coaching duties, along with assistant Perry Pearn. Since taking the job in 2004, Renney, 53, guided the Blueshirts to a record of 164-121-42. He ranks fourth all-time among Rangers' coaches in wins and games coached (327).
But with his team on the verge of falling out of a playoff spot, general manager Glen Sather pulled the trigger Monday. At 31-23-7, the Rangers -- who got off to a 10-2-1 start -- are only two points out of fourth place in the Eastern Conference. However, they're also just two points ahead of the No. 9 Carolina Hurricanes, who have won three in a row.
So with that, former Tampa Bay Lightning coach John Tortorella is leaving TSN's broadcasting studios and returning to New York, where he was an assistant coach during the 1999-2000 campaign. Tortorella -- who signed a multi-year deal with the club -- won a Stanley Cup with the Lightning in 2004. He will speak with reporters after running his first practice Tuesday morning. The Rangers will visit the Toronto Maple Leafs on Wednesday night.
Tortorella will be joined by assistant Mike Pelino -- who worked under Renney -- and Jim Schoenfeld, who will be an interim assistant. Schoenfeld entered the season as the club's assistant GM and worked in player personnel.
"I think we've been thinking about it for probably the last couple of weeks," said Sather, who added Renney is more than welcome to stay involved with the organization. "I could see the team starting to slide. After the start that we had at the beginning of the year and the way we were playing and moving and controlling the puck, the game just started to erode. I wish that it hadn't had come to this, but it did. The last two or three games, it was pretty obvious that we had to have something done."
Sather said he finally made up his mind during Sunday night's 3-2 overtime loss to Toronto at Madison Square Garden. He informed Renney of the decision Monday morning.
"I talked to Tom this morning. He's a very classy, intelligent human being," Sather said. "It was a tough thing for both of us to deal with. It was emotional. He handled it very well, very professional. He understands the coaching profession, he understands the mentality of the players sometimes. He knows a lot of these things are out of his control. Coaches can only do what they think they are doing is right. Tom was very upbeat every day. I can't say enough about the way he worked with us the last 3 1/2 years."
Clearly, it will be Tortorella's job to get more out of a team that is paying six players $5 million or more this season. Sather is hoping Tortorella's attitude will rub off not just on the team's higher-paid players, but everyone on the roster.
"Torts is certainly a lot more fiery and a lot different with how he approaches the players," Sather said. "I think that he's going to bring that fiery attitude. It's certainly not a slight against Tom. It's two entirely different styles."
No specific player was mentioned during Monday night's conference call, but defenseman Wade Redden has been booed heavily by the Garden faithful in recent games. The 30-year-old -- who signed a six-year, $39 million deal last July -- has 2 goals and 18 assists in 60 games. While Renney has taken the fall in New York, Sather is willing to accept some of the blame for the team's woes.
"We all have to take responsibility for this," Sather said. "We think that we have a better hockey team than we've been playing the last 10 games. I don't think we've played very well. To come out of the gate the way we did, something happened. You can't point your finger at Tom … you have to point it at everyone, the players included. They have to play smarter and play harder. I think that we all recognize that.
"You can always second-guess any of the moves and the changes that we made. But when we made them, we thought we were doing the right thing, and I still think we have a team that's played very well. We're into a time right now where the team has not played very well, but that doesn't mean we can't back to playing like we played the beginning of the year."
As far as player personnel is concerned, Sather will have to make some decisions soon. The NHL trade deadline is March 4 at 3 p.m. ET, and Sather admitted the offers are starting to roll in.
"That's certainly an option that's coming soon," Sather said. "That's not very far away. The telephones have been busy, certainly a lot busier than they were the first half of the year. Teams are trying to sort themselves out. I think it's going to depend on how John sees the team and sees us going forward. He's certainly going to have input in the lineup, as well as the personnel. I want to be able to give him enough time to be able to analyze that."
Reports surfaced earlier Monday that the Lightning were asking for compensation from the Rangers before the latter could reach a deal with Tortorella, who had one year remaining on his contract with Tampa Bay. Tortorella was fired by the Lightning on June 3.
"There was no compensation … these things just take time," Sather said. "They're always complicated when you start dealing with different people. It just takes time to iron things out. Everything's fine."
But will everything be fine should the Rangers move forward with the re-acquisition of Sean Avery? The 28-year-old forward began the season with the Dallas Stars but was suspended by the NHL in December after comments he made in Calgary regarding his former girlfriends dating other hockey NHL players. He has since been reassigned by the Stars to the Rangers' American Hockey League affiliate in Hartford, where he has 1 assist in five games.
At the time of the suspension, Tortorella didn't hold back his feelings about Avery on TSN.

"The League stepped up here and I think they did the right thing," Tortorella said. "Enough is enough. He's embarrassed himself, he's embarrassed the organization, he's embarrassed the League and he's embarrassed his teammates who have to look out for him. Send him home. He doesn't belong in the League."

Sather is confident the two can get along should the Rangers attempt to claim Avery on re-entry waivers. Avery had 33 points in 57 games for New York last season before signing with Dallas as a free agent.

"I think you always have to be cognizant of the fact that coaches have opinions about players and people in different organizations at different times," Sather said. "He didn't have the history with Sean that we do. I think that over time, he'll learn to love him just like I have. That's going to be something we're going to deal with. Sean is still part of the Dallas hockey club. We're not really at liberty to speak about it.

"Sean has not played that many games at Hartford, (but) he's worked hard," Sather said. "His attitude has been great. He's done what the coaching staff has asked him to do there. He's been a good contributor. He's coming along. We'll deal with that within the next week, I'm sure."

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