‘Hart Off The Ice’
By Sean Hartnett
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The New York Rangers’ organization pulled out all the stops to make their home opener at newly-renovated Madison Square Garden a full-on spectacle.  They delivered a confident message to their fan base that all of New York was behind a Blueshirts’ team ready to make good on vast potential.

Thursday’s pre-game ceremonies were unusually glitzy for a hockey game.  It was something more out of the book of Lakers’ owner Jerry Buss who courted Hollywood stars to The Great Western Forum.  The Rangers rolled out their ‘blue carpet’ for a parade of celebrities such as Kate Upton, Spike Lee and John Turturro as well as former franchise greats Mark Messier and Brian Leetch.

Even Chazz Palminteri took center ice as hype man, repeatedly shouting “This is New York” to pump up the Garden.  The Rangers had placed the target squarely on their back and Toronto was more than willing to play spoiler on the grand re-opening of MSG.

It would be very easy to drop the hammer down upon the Rangers for not showing up for this big occasion.  I’m not going to take the easy route of naming players who went missing tonight or start questioning head coach John Tortorella for the sake of siding with popular fan opinion.

Tortorella strikes me as a very calculated man who knows exactly what he’s doing.  While a large percentage of Ranger fans disagree with his perceived defensive coaching philosophies or disciplinarian approach to players, I believe he has a logical reason for every move that he makes.  Not every tactic that Tortorella chooses will come off as a masterstroke but no coach should be held to such a ridiculous standard.

Fans at MSG grew restless watching their pedestrian Blueshirts fail to complete simple passes or find openings in the Maple Leafs’ defense.  Toronto out-created and physically dominated the Rangers for the majority of the night.  Paying customers have the right to vent their outrage and fans unfurled a large banner in Section 427 criticizing Tortorella and the organization’s decision to send Sean Avery to the minors.

While sitting in the press box, I noticed fans sitting in front of me becoming increasingly agitated and the Garden soon began to chant in unison, “We Want Avery, We Want Avery…”

I ask Rangers fans to think clearly and re-examine their plea.  Avery quickly wore out his welcome as a member of the Dallas Stars by not conforming to locker room code and team rules, drawing ire from leaders Mike Modano, Brenden Morrow and Marty Turco.  Modano earned a sterling reputation around the league by sacrificing his own production for the good of the Stars.  He had full right to be fed up with Avery’s behavior.  “Talent-wise, he’s a very skilled kid.  But I think character-wise and his personality didn’t blend with the criteria that we’ve always had as Dallas Stars,” Modano told the assembled Dallas press in January of 2009.

While a member of the Los Angeles Kings, Avery routinely mocked Dustin Brown’s lisp causing in-fighting between teammates choosing sides.  No matter how much some Ranger fans appreciate Avery’s unabashed personality, there is no doubt that he causes friction within locker rooms.  Having such a polarizing character around is a risk not worth taking considering that Avery only contributed 3 goals and 21 assists in 76 NHL games last season.

Tortorella wants everyone who puts on the Rangers’ uniform to pull in the same direction.  He has little time for those unwilling to buy into his team-first demands.  Tortorella would rather go to war with a group of less-talented ‘team players’ than skilled ones refusing to check their ego at the door.

The Rangers are currently a work in progress and Tortorella knows it.  When quizzed by the media post-game Tortorella responded, “We’re a .500 hockey club right now but we haven’t played to that.  We have to be honest where we’re at as a club, find some good things, build on those and improve on the others.  We’re not going to look for excuses, this is on us.”

Patience is the key at this early stage in the season.  The Blueshirts are coming off a long road trip and are just beginning to settle into their surroundings at the new MSG.  They have five more games at home before departing for Ottawa.  I’m certain Tortorella will get his troops up to speed sooner rather than later.

Rangers fans – did you feel let down by their performance against the Leafs?  Do you side with Tortorella or Avery?  Share your opinions below and send your tweets to @HartyLFC.