By Steve Silverman
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Rangers head coach John Tortorella is in line to receive a major award tomorrow night in Las Vegas.
Tortorella is one of three candidates for the NHL’s Jack Adams Trophy that goes to the best head coach in the league. It is not the award he wanted to receive.
Like all of his players, Tortorella wanted to get his award about a week ago. He wanted to see NHL commissioner Gary Bettman hand out the Conn Smythe Trophy to goalie Henrik Lundqvist and then wanted to see the big silver bowl known as the Stanley Cup given to captain Ryan Callahan. That would have allowed the rest of his players to skate around Madison Square Garden (or the Staples Center) with it.
That award was taken out of the picture when the Rangers were eliminated in the Eastern Conference Finals by the Devils. Perhaps Tortorella could have done more for his team in the postseason, but it’s doubtful it would have been enough to shake New Jersey. The Rangers may have finished first in the Eastern Conference during the regular season, but they simply did not have the firepower to go further in the postseason.
You need consistent scoring in the playoffs and the Rangers struggled in each round. They needed seven games to get past the Ottawa Senators and the Washington Capitals and where never able to shake loose from their offensive doldrums. There’s only so much you can depend on your shot blockers and your goaltender.
The playoff performance may underscore the strong job Tortorella did during the regular season. He has worthy competition for the coaching award in Ken Hitchcock of the St. Louis Blues and Paul McLean of the Ottawa Senators, but Tortorella appeared to get the maximum he could from start to finish.
Tortorella’s manner with the media has been dissected and ridiculed by many of his critics. His interview sessions often get downright disrespectful and obnoxious. But there is far more to his personality and coaching style than he shows when he stands up at the lectern.
On the personality front, Tortorella showed well on the HBO 24-7 series that preceded the Rangers’ appearance in the Winter Classic against the Flyers. Tortorella’s warmth and friendship towards young Liam Traynor seemed as caring and legitimate as possible. There was no feeling that Tortorella was trying to cultivate an image by befriending a Rangers fan with cerebral palsy.
On the ice, Tortorella demanded everything he could from his players throughout the season. All year long, the Rangers became a very difficult team to compete against. Getting any shot through to Lundqvist became quite difficult because the Rangers excelled at blocking shots.
The defense first attitude was mandatory because the Rangers did not have the plethora of goal scorers who could have allowed them to play a more entertaining style. Tortorella never let off the gas pedal and did not let his team relax from that demanding style.
The strategy may not have been overwhelming, but it worked because Tortorella knew how to motivate his players. There was some fear involved – fear of losing ice time or being demoted – but there was enough positive motivation to push the team through the long “dog days” of the schedule.
Hitchcock took over behind the Blues’ bench in early November when they fired Davis Payne. The Blues played a similar style to the Rangers and they finished the season as the No. 2 team in the Western Conference. MacLean took over a Senators’ team that was among the worst in the league in 2010-11. However, he refused to let the team’s dreadful self-image fester. MacLean was clearly a player’s coach and his players responded enough to earn a playoff spot.
Neither Hitchcock nor MacLean had anywhere near the pressure that Tortorella faced on an every-game basis. If voters give that concept credence, the Rangers’ coach will walk away with Adams Trophy.
If not, Tortorella will simply roll up his sleeves and go back to work.
Who deserves to win the Jack Adams? Leave your thoughts below.