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Seven reasons Rangers fired Tortorella as coach

by Dan Rosen

The legs behind Henrik Lundqvist's comments Monday are growing, and many are pointing to his words as the reason John Tortorella is out of a job as of Wednesday.

It's a fair assessment considering the goalie known as "The King" has become the most important person in the New York Rangers organization, and he was lukewarm when asked about potentially signing a contract extension in the near future.

"I'll talk to my agent and we'll go from there," said Lundqvist, who is entering the final year of his current contract.

Lundqvist was also quite matter-of-fact when he said the Rangers took "a step backward" this season -- a contrast to Tortorella saying they took "a sideways step."

However, there is far more to the decision to fire Tortorella than what Lundqvist said. Though it's certainly possible he had something to do with Tortorella's ouster, general manager Glen Sather already had enough ammunition to make his decision to go in a different direction.

Sather was admittedly vague when asked for specific reasons Tortorella was fired Wednesday, but here are seven he probably could have talked about:


Rangers fire John Tortorella

By Dan Rosen - Senior Writer
Rangers general manager Glen Sather announced Wednesday that John Tortorella had been fired four days after his team was eliminated from the Stanley Cup Playoffs.  READ MORE ›

1. Tortorella's fault

If Tortorella is nothing else, he is a guy who will admit it when he makes a mistake. He did that Monday, breakup day for the Rangers after they lost in Game 5 to the Boston Bruins.

"I don't think our mindset was ready for another series and to the level you need to be at," Tortorella said when he met the media for the final time. "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."

The Rangers were not ready for the Bruins, and it showed. New York lost the first three games of the series and needed an overtime goal by Chris Kreider in Game 4 to avoid being swept.

Every time the Bruins surged, the Rangers had no response. Every time the Bruins gained momentum, the Rangers made it look like getting that momentum back was the hardest thing in the world to do.

The Rangers were at their best in their 5-0 win in Game 7 of the opening round against the Washington Capitals but gained absolutely zero momentum from that.

Tortorella blamed himself for that -- and he took the fall for it Wednesday.

2. Not enough from his top guys

Tortorella knows he might still have a job if he could have coaxed more offense out of his team in the playoffs -- specifically from Rick Nash, Ryan Callahan, Derek Stepan, Carl Hagelin and, especially, Brad Richards. The Rangers averaged 2.17 goals per game in the Stanley Cup Playoffs and those five combined for 11 goals.

Nash, who said his play in his second career trip to the Stanley Cup Playoffs was "good," scored one goal after leading the Rangers with 21 during the regular season. Richards, though, was the biggest culprit with one goal, no assists and a minus-3 rating before being scratched for Games 4 and 5 against Boston.

Tortorella put him on the fourth line for the five games prior, but said he couldn't keep Richards there because it wasn't working and that's not how he should be using the 2004 Conn Smythe winner.

Offense was a problem for the Rangers throughout Tortorella's four-plus seasons. They never finished in the top 10 in scoring and three times were 15th or worse.

3. Powerless on the power play

The power play struggles were so well-documented in the postseason it became almost too cruel to continue asking about it. The Rangers were 4-for-44 with the extra man through their 12-game run.

Tortorella admitted it got to the point where he was coaching the mindset, not the strategy, because he knew his players were shell-shocked by previous failures on the power play.

"I was trying to manage just the confidence level," Tortorella said Monday. "Forget about the Xs and Os, it's just them feeling good about themselves. We certainly went over the foundation and how we wanted to approach each team, but I thought the biggest thing was coaching their mindset because you could see how uptight they were."

The problem, though, is Tortorella and assistant coach Mike Sullivan, who ran the power play, never adjusted the tactics to counter the aggressive penalty kills they were facing. Tortorella changed his point men at times and finally moved defenseman Ryan McDonagh onto the power play in Game 4 against the Bruins (too late, Tortorella admitted), but none of the adjustments worked in time to make enough of a difference.

The Rangers were guilty of throwing the puck away too often -- and that's if they were able to get it into the offensive zone cleanly.

Under Tortorella, the Rangers never finished with a power play better than 18.3 percent in the regular season. They were 23rd in the NHL in each of the past two seasons at 15.7 percent in each season.

4. 'Stinks on the power play'

To go along with the power play problems is the fact Tortorella went as far as saying Hagelin "stinks on the power play." He may have been saying it in jest and didn't necessarily mean for it to be a huge story -- but it was, and his honesty was an indictment of the power play.

Hagelin is a top-six offensive player who has speed and skill, but Tortorella was never able to figure out a way to get him to perform on the power play.

Ironically, after saying he stinks on the power play, Tortorella used Hagelin.

If he stinks there, why put him there?

5. The Richards dilemma

Tortorella and Richards have a well-known and well-documented relationship. Tortorella's work behind the scenes may have helped the Rangers secure Richards on a nine-year, $60 million contract in the summer of 2011, but his loyalty to Richards may have gotten in the way of how he used the veteran center.

Tortorella gave Richards a long leash to get through his struggles during the regular season and it seemed to work: He had 11 points over the final six regular-season games. However, it took until the Rangers' 11th playoff game for Tortorella to finally scratch Richards, who was totally ineffective against Washington and Boston and admitted afterward that his entire season "was a mess."

Tortorella said he made the move to scratch Richards for the betterment of the team, but Richards was ineffective as soon as the coach put him on the fourth line in Game 6 against the Washington Capitals. Tortorella knew he would be but tried to keep him on the power play. Richards wasn't helping in that area either.

Richards may be an amnesty buyout victim this summer.

6. Blocked vision

Tortorella is a big believer that his players should block any shot they can get to. It's a fine system for a team that doesn't have an all-world goalie, but the Rangers have one of those, Lundqvist, and far more times than not if he can see the shot he is going to stop it.

However, blocking shots became a staple of the Rangers -- it wasn't always for the good and it certainly didn't help their offense. That's where Lundqvist could have used the most assistance just so he didn't have to feel he needed to be amazing every night to win.

Another issue with blocking shots is too often players will take themselves out of position to get in front of a shot. They also can have the shot hit off them, creating a rebound opportunity for the shooter.

Given the Rangers' scoring woes, it's fair to question why Tortorella would want his team sliding on the ice, especially top players like Callahan, to block shots that more often than not Lundqvist would stop anyway.

7. Kreider's crisis in confidence

Chris Kreider has all the makings of a future star for the Rangers. He's big, strong, fast, skilled and smart. But even with all those attributes, Tortorella did not have much time for the inevitable mistakes Kreider was going to make.

Maybe the shortened season had something to do with that -- and that's certainly fair. The Rangers were in a push for the playoffs like 29 other teams as soon as the puck dropped Jan. 19, and they couldn't afford the so-called rookie mistakes from Kreider, who hasn't gone through a full NHL training camp.

But it's also fair to argue that Kreider's upside and offensive ability were too important to the Rangers this season. Tortorella obviously disagreed, which is why Kreider spent a good portion of the season in the American Hockey League with the Connecticut Whale. But in doing so, Kreider's confidence sagged and it took him until a promotion in Game 3 against the Boston Bruins to get it back.

He scored the overtime winner in Game 4 and played another strong game in Game 5, but by that point it was too late.

The feeling around the Rangers this season was that Kreider was going to be a good player for them, but under a different coach. He'll get a chance to show that now.


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