By Steve Silverman
» More Columns
The Buffalo Sabres fired Lindy Ruff last month.
The Tampa Bay Lightning fired Guy Boucher over the weekend.
Both teams were big disappointments in the NHL’s Eastern Conference. Do you see any other disappointing teams in the Eastern Conference?
Could the New York Rangers fire John Tortorella?
Yes, they could.
It seems unlikely that it would happen during the regular season, and Tortorella should last the year. But the Rangers were the odds-on favorite to win the Stanley Cup at the start of this shortened season, and it has not worked out very well.
The Rangers are battling for eighth place with about one month to go in the season. If they don’t make the playoffs, or if they hold on to the eighth spot and then get pummeled by the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round of the playoffs, it seems quite likely that Tortorella will get the gate shortly thereafter.
Tortorella is a strong coach and he knows how to push players to get the most out of them. However, he has a finite shelf life. He is a demanding man who puts a lot of demands on his players. He speaks directly and bluntly.
Produce and he’s on your side. Go into a slump and you will hear about it, and so will everyone else.
When Tortorella goes off on players — as he has done since the middle of the 2008-09 season when he was hired by the Rangers — it gets their attention.
But after years of hearing it, criticism is no longer an effective tool. Players begin to tune out a coach who will read them the riot act for making mistakes.
Tortorella has been in this position before. He coached the Tampa Bay Lightning for seven seasons before his players stopped listening and the message no longer got through in an effective manner.
When the Lightning stopped winning and management thought it was more likely to turn the team around when a new leader was hired, the team fired Tortorella after the 2007-08 season. His message was no longer getting through to his players.
The clock is ticking for Tortorella right now. The Rangers are not as effective as they were last year, and perhaps they have not gotten over the defeat they suffered to the New Jersey Devils in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Perhaps Tortorella has not gotten over that defeat.
It certainly seems that the Rangers’ heads are elsewhere. There have been too many games in which they have not been as competitive as their opponents, and there have been too many games when the effort was inconsistent.
It’s the classic scenario that leads to a changing of the guard behind the bench.
Of course, there is still time to turn things around.
Hockey people like to point out that making the playoffs is the big thing. They argue that if you qualify, you can pull off a run like the Los Angeles Kings did last year when they went from eighth place in the Western Conference to a Stanley Cup championship.
While that scenario is far more likely in the NHL than the NBA, it is still unlikely.
The Kings won because they had a complete team that happened to come together at the right time.
Do the Rangers have a complete team? Could they turn it around at the right time? It’s unlikely, but they still have a chance. They are almost certainly playing for their coach’s future employment.
That does not appear to be a positive motivator at this point.
If the Rangers miss the playoffs — or even if they get there and fall in the first round — will Tortorella deserve to be fired? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the section below…