Since taking over the New York Rangers at the end of the 2008-09 season, head coach John Tortorella has had the built in excuse of not having the talent he would like on the roster. That excuse is now gone and the team is built in the image that he wants. He has installed the system that he wants, has allowed the young players opportunities to earn their spots and now he has the elite center he has been clamoring for since he arrived. This portion of the rebuild has been a group effort, but the commitment to the youth both in playing them and retaining them as been something that Tortorella has publicly fought for. Now the expectations and pressure on him changes.
In New York there is always going to be pressure to win, so to say he did not have that the past two full seasons would be inaccurate, but the level of expectation was not of a team that could truly contend for anything. At best the team was expected to battle to get in on the lower end of the Eastern Conference playoff seeding and possible steal a round in the postseason. Those expectations are now a team that can contend for a division, finish in the top half of the conference and possibly win at least two rounds in the playoffs this season while hoping to truly contend for a championship in a year.
If the Rangers fail to live up to those expectations, while some will point fingers at specific players that failed to produce, the final verdict will be on Tortorella and whether the hope he has provided in times where the team lacked the combination of skill and toughness he wanted was just a fantasy. It would be true that the Rangers still likely need another scorer and a defender to step forward as a consistent puck mover, but those things are not going to be enough to register the same way the lack of a top line center and power play quarterback have been used to defend the team during struggles. Tortorella has done a phenomenal job in giving chances to and allowing young players to develop over his tenure in New York and just like many expect those players to take the next step this season, Tortorella has to get the team to do the same. Both Tortorella himself and the organization in the great work they have done this summer have raised expectations for what the team can achieve and while it is ultimately the players who decide games on the ice, the first person to have the finger pointed at them if it does not go as planned is the coach.