Saturday, March 12, 2011

Playoffs or Not Talk Of Tossing Tortorella Misses The Boat

In the midst of the Rangers recent struggles and the tightening of the playoff race, which could see the club miss the playoffs for the second straight year the calls for John Tortorella to be fired are growing.  Whenever a team misses the playoffs for multiple years, especially in a market like New York there will be grumblings about how hot the seat is for that coach.  The urge to blame someone is not unusual, but pointing the finger at Tortorella this year is absurd.  Part of the finger pointing stems directly to the phenomenal job he did in the first half in pushing this team firmly inside the playoff race despite the fact he was dealing significant injuries, the incorporation of numerous rookies into key roles.  That level of overachievement through adversity raised the expectations of many fans from a season that was based on development for the future that became one where they believed, when healthy, the Rangers could compete possibly for a title.
The problem has been in the second half, when for the most part, with a healthy squad the team has underachieved and the inconsistent results of the past have returned.  As I said, the urge to blame someone is normal, but how does a coach go from being talked about as a Jack Adams candidate to someone that should be on the hot seat?  Personally I did not believe the coach of the year hype, though he certainly had a candidacy claim, but to go from him being a genius to now he is talked about as if he is clueless in just two months in making my head spin. 
Yes, it is true that the Rangers position as they take the ice today is very similar to last year in the standings and they could end up with the same fate, but the two teams are markedly different and much of that credit must go to Tortorella.  If not for Tortorella and his insistence on building a core group of young players this team does not have the personnel it will when it takes the ice tonight.  Before he came here we went with veteran fix after veteran fix and you can almost guarantee without his voice in the room come deadline day this year, the Rangers would have pulled the trigger on dealing away long term assets for Brad Richards. 
There has not been this much hope for the future around this organization in many years and the fans who have called and pleaded for a youth movement and a rebuild are now the same ones calling for the coaches head when things don’t happen immediately.  Frankly, that’s a joke.
I am not saying that Tortorella is perfect or that there are not decisions he makes that make me scratch my head and want to scream, but right now he is the best man for this job.
Many expected the safe is death system that Tortorella used in Tampa Bay to be what he brought to New York and that if nothing else we would have exciting hockey.  Simply put, the Rangers do not have the personnel to run that kind of system.  The defense first, grinding, physical style and never give up attitude is what put the Rangers into the position they are in and provided this team with something they lacked a year ago; an identity. 
The fact that he has stuck to that in the face of the adversity will benefit these young players down the road regardless of how the season turns out and when you have a team this young sometimes you need the man out front to be calm in the storm. 
This team and this organization are headed in the right direction and to toss Tortorella overboard in an attempt to find a scapegoat to explain why magically putting all the injured guys back in the lineup didn’t make them take off would be a mistake that would set that process backwards.  The job of a coach is to get the most out of the talent he has and while there are times it feels like he misuses some in his cast, particularly on the power play, he has done that and should be applauded for it.