Friday, March 15, 2013

Ask yourself

John Tortorella (New York Rangers)
Winnipeg is as far west as the New York Rangers will travel during this shortened NHL season (unless they make it to the NHL Finals) and for me that is a good thing. It is a good thing because I spent way too much money on a big screen TV and I can't afford to kick it in.

But here is what I would like those of you reading this to do; close your eyes and travel back in time to February 23rd 2009. If you have forgotten that was the day when Glen Sather fired Tom Renney and replaced him with John Tortorella as coach of the New York Rangers.

It was a move that whether you liked Tom Renney or not needed to be made as it was clear that the Rangers were heading nowhere playing an offensive system that sucked the life out of the team and their fans. John Tortorella won a Stanley Cup using an attacked based system that had the nickname "Safe is Death."

It is a high risk, high reward exciting brand of hockey which calls for players who have strong skating skills and are lethal in open ice. In 2009 when John Tortorella took over there was no question that the Rangers lacked the kind of players needed for that system so Tortorella got a pass when he kept Renney's system.

The Rangers since then have added highly skilled forwards in Marian Gaborik, Brad Richards, and this year Rick Nash via free agency and the much publicized trade for Nash. Through the draft the Rangers brought in Michael Del Zotto, Chris Kreider and Carl Hagelin; prospects who's common denominator was their speed and skating in the open ice.

Chris Kreider when he was taken with the 19th pick in the 2009 draft was called the "fastest skater in the draft class" by the Rangers as to why they selected at the time a virtual unknown Kreider. Kreider is supposed to be the fastest skater that the Rangers have which is saying something since Carl Hagelin won the title of "Fastest Skater" the last time the NHL held the All-Star Skills Competition.

So why in 2013 are the Rangers still playing the Tom Renney system of 2009?

People are wondering why Marian Gaborik and Brad Richards are struggling this year and the answer is rather clear; they are not in a system that gets the most out of their skill set.

Ranger fans wanted Brad Richards in large part because they knew what Richards had done when he played for Tampa Bay under Tortorella. The Lightning did not play a shot blocking grind it out win games 2-1 in the shootout.

So the biggest question has to be why is John Tortorella not playing the attacking brand of offense that made him so attractive to Ranger fans in the first place? If you have the answer to that question I know I am not the only one who would love to hear it.

In Tampa, Tortorella had Nikolai Khabibulin as his goalie when he won the cup, In New York Tortorella has Henrik Lundqvist and no question that Lundqvist is the better goalie so why not open the offense?

Watching this year's Ranger team where effort and consistency are never a guarantee then one now has to ask this question as well: Is history repeating itself and the players are tuning John Tortorella out after 4 years of screaming?

Coaches who are known to be hard nosed, demanding screamers tend to have a short shelf life before the players eventually do tire of being screamed at and tune the coach out. Is that what we are seeing happen from the Rangers now?

History has this strange way of repeating itself as in 2008-09, Tom Renney had an unemployed John Tortorella that Ranger fans were almost begging Glen Sather to hire. And on that fateful February day the Ranger fans got what they asked for.

The Rangers had the nice guy in Tom Renney playing the grind it out shot blocking game and it failed. Now they have the bad guy in John Tortorella doing the same thing and it's not producing any kind of consistent result.

Here we are in 2013 and one has to wonder how long before John Tortorella looks up and sees an unemployed Lindy Ruff that Ranger fans start begging Glen Sather to hire. Tortorella may have started that scenario in motion after he trashed Sam Rosen after the Rangers lost to the Sabres.

It is one thing for Tortorella to trash a Pat Leonard or Larry Brooks but Sam Rosen? Rosen has been calling Ranger games for so long that 16 current Rangers were not even born when Rosen became the Ranger's announcer.

Then there is something that Lindy Ruff does better than John Tortorella and that is teach younger players how to become NHL players. Ruff didn't have much choice coaching the low budget Buffalo Sabres for all those years and losing players to free agency.

Glen Sather didn't invest as much of the Dolan's money in building a player development program not to see it produce and get the most out of the Ranger prospects. John Tortorella wanted Chris Kreider to leave Boston College early for 2 years wanting him in his lineup.

Tortorella got his wish as Kreider left after his junior year and the Rangers burnt up a year of Kreider's entry level contract in last year's playoffs. So why isn't Kreider playing for the Rangers as we speak?

And the one thing that Tortorella can't fight is Father Time or in this case Glen Sather's age. In September Glen Sather turns 70 and one has to wonder if Sather wants that final ring before retiring?

Coaches don't last very long working for Glen Sather as it is as Ron Low holds the record at 341 games. Counting the games this season, John Tortorella is at 293 but if the Rangers look like they are in serious trouble then never say never with Glen Sather.

But ask yourself is time on John Tortorella's side or not?


Game Action

Just 2 games on Thursday night but the results just may have set how the OHL's Eastern Conference playoffs wind up. First in Niagara, the IceDogs missed out on a chance to possibly move up in the standings when they dropped a 5-2 decision to the Brampton Battalion.

The IceDogs didn't have Ryan Strome (NYI 11 1st) in the lineup as he sat out with a sore foot but the IceDogs still had a chance to win this one if not for a defensive mistake late in the 2nd period that Brampton took advantage of turning a 2-1 Niagara lead into a tie game.

In the end Brampton scoring 3 in the 3rd walked out with the win and no worse than 4th place in the Eastern Conference. Jesse Graham (NYI 12 6th) had the primary assist on Niagara's first goal which came on the power play at 6:32.

For Graham it was his 33rd assist and his 37th point (4-33-37) but now with just 2 games left Niagara is currently 6th needing help to get up to 5th. If Strome sits then not a chance to move up so it looks like 6th is the best the IceDogs will do.

In Barrie, Mitchell Theoret (NYI 11 7th) and his Barrie Colts were still trying to overtake the Belleville Bulls for the OHL's Eastern Conference title as they hosted the Kingston Frontenacs. Theoret was scoreless but his Colts held off a stubborn Frontenac's team 4-2.

The Colts remain 2 points behind the Bulls with 2 games remaining for both teams but the Colt's win also opened a door for Peter Ceresnak (NYR 11 6th) and his Peterborough Petes to earn a playoff spot. The Frontenacs and the Petes both have 57 points heading into Friday's showdown in Kingston.

The winner of Friday's game will be in the drivers seat for the 8th spot but there is a 3rd team in the mix, the Mississauga Steelheads who hold a 1 point lead over both teams. The Steelheads will be hosting Belleville on Friday night.

We also get to add another prospect to the mix as New York Islander 2012 7th round pick Jake Bischoff has rejoined the Omaha Lancers of the USHL after his high school season ended. Bischoff is a 6' 182 defenseman who will be joining New York Ranger 2012 1st round pick Brady Skjei at Minnesota next season.

The final weekend of the Canadian juniors regular season and in the USA, the college hockey tournaments continue. Oh and the Rangers are in Pittsburgh to play the Pens so will the 40 tickets that JT Miller got for friends and family have a happy ending?

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