"If there's an unofficial manifest destiny in the NHL, it's that he's going to be the head coach of the New York Rangers one day. While he's denied rumors about the gig, he's the ‘finish the job' guy the Blueshirts will likely turn to when Tom Renney's clock strikes midnight. Tortorella's personality, his approach and his history with the team make him tailor-made for the Garden." - Puck Daddy, July 25, 2008
As you can tell form that excerpt, the surprise wasn't that John Tortorella was named the 34th head coach in New York Rangers history. If anything, the surprise is that it happened in February rather than in the summer; but perhaps Torts both yearned to be back behind the pine and wanted a good sense of which players' lives he needs to make hellish in order to turn this franchise around.
This Dave Andreychuk quote from the AP pretty much sums up what Tortorella brings to this version of the Rangers:
"He will make everybody accountable ... It's brutally ugly at times, but it's also the right cause. As players, you don't like to hear those things, but those things make you a better player. He is definitely going to get the most out of his players like he has done everywhere he has been."
In essence, Tortorella was hired by Glen Sather because he's someone who might be able to turn Sather's collection of underachieving assets back into productive players. Every hockey executive is a creature of ego, and Sather no doubt believes that a roster without a 20-goal scorer this season can find its game with a personality transplant behind the bench.
He no doubt believes that the gaggle of struggling Rangers -- what the hell happened to Brandon Dubinsky anyway? -- are one Tortorella mind game or rage-a-thon away from consistency.
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He no doubt believes that his incredibly spotty and underwhelming track record as general manager will be salvaged by this coach, who'll even learn to love Sean Avery like Sather does.
Is Tortorella the man for this gig? Is a Sather-led franchise doomed? Reactions to one of the biggest coaching changes of the last few seasons are all over the map.
Jay Feaster, Tortorella's GM with the Tampa Bay Lightning, had this take for Lightning Strikes:
Also on Tort's side, Feaster said, is how much Tortorella respects New York star Scotty Gomez and that Tortorella probably has a relationship with Chris Drury because of their association with USA Hockey.
"Both of those guys are going to welcome John Tortorella with open arms," Feaster said. "Both respect the idea of accountability. Everybody is accountable and that includes them. I think Torts will do everything he can to get the most of out what Wade Redden is. Whatever player he is, Torts is going to find a way to get the most out of him."
"To get the most of out what Wade Redden is." That's poetry right there. Steve Zipay of Newsday had more in veteran accountability.
No doubt the MSM reaction we all anticipated today was from Larry Brooks of the NY Post, who wrote in part:
Tortorella is the antithesis of Renney. One is fire, the other is ice. One is four-letter words - Again: take it from me - and the other is complex sentences. One comes off streetwise, the other comes off professorial. One believes in a hockey credo in which, "Safe is death," and the other lives by the motto, "It's not what you take, it's what you leave."
That doesn't mean one way is necessarily better than the other, though Tortorella has a 2004 Stanley Cup ring from Tampa to flash and Renney has two career playoff round victories to his credit. It's not that black and white. Indeed, it's the same pepper gray as the mustache and beard Tortorella has worn from time to time.
Jess Rubenstein of The Prospect Park offers an interesting dissent on Tortorella:
Yes Tortorella is going to be entertaining with his antics, he will be great for sound bytes in his post games but here is what he is not going to be able to do. Tortorella is not going to make Wade Redden a better player, he is not going to make Aaron Voros a better player and he is not going to be able to turn a team that is very suspect on defense any better.
There is another problem that people are willing to overlook because of their frustration with Tom Renney; why did he actually get fired by Tampa Bay?
Just as Tom Renney lost the Ranger locker room by failing to hold people accountable, John Tortorella lost the Tampa Bay locker room with his constant rants and tirades. A winning coach knows how to find a balance between being part Renney and part Tortorella.
What this all comes back to is a severe Sather backlash that will no doubt continue to rage in the MSM and blogosphere (and echo in the Garden) until a change is made at the top or until the Rangers ice a consistent, winning product. But the GM isn't going anywhere, yet.
His new coach takes over a team that needs a kick in the ass. More importantly, he takes over a franchise that needs to reestablish itself in the sports pecking order.
The easiest way to do that is with a lot more personality, on and off the ice. We hear Tortorella might have some to spare.