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Wednesday, May 29, 2013
Tortorella reached his expiration date

By Katie Strang
ESPNNewYork.com

NEW YORK -- Rangers team president and general manager Glen Sather didn't provide much in answering why coach John Tortorella was dismissed. But really, he didn't have to.

All you needed to know was there for all to see.

It was apparent in the team's weary performance for much of the season, shackled by a style of play that hindered creativity and seemed ill-suited for its skilled personnel.

It showed on his players' faces as they sat, stunned and dejected, in the moments after their season-ending 3-1 loss in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semifinals to the Boston Bruins last weekend.

John Tortorella
John Tortorella's failure to modify his approach, on and off the ice, ultimately led to his dismissal.

And it was lurking in the subtext of what was said during the team's break-up day on Monday as the players struggled to evaluate a season that fell painfully short of expectations.

Even goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, as affable and media-savvy as they come, couldn't sugarcoat the truth or find a silver lining.

He called the team's performance a "step back," and he was right.

Sather was vague on details, specifics and future plans, but he did say this when reflecting on what he called a "decision that wasn't made lightly":

"Every coach has a shelf life."

And we have just witnessed the end of John Tortorella's.

Some coaches have a shorter shelf life than others, and Tortorella certainly falls into that category. Remember that players can always tune out the message, no matter how loudly it is delivered.

What cannot be taken away from the brazen Boston native is that he came in and evoked a culture change for the Rangers, who would adopt a hard-nosed, grinding, black-and-Blueshirts style of play under his leadership.

But what allowed him to cultivate that mindset and mentality -- his tough, abrasive, bombastic personality -- ultimately led to his undoing.

In the end, Tortorella didn't know how to temper his approach, how to modify his system and adjust his delivery to accommodate his charges on the ice and off.

Coaching is a delicate balancing act, and Tortorella failed to navigate accordingly. He was great at kicking a guy's ass (and telling the media to kiss his) but not so good at picking him back up.

It cost him.

You can motivate with tough love, but it becomes a much tougher sell when the team isn't winning.

And for all the things the Rangers had going their way last season, when they captured the best regular-season record in the East and made it to the Conference finals, it just wasn't the same this time around.

Tortorella admitted his own failure to prepare his team mentally before facing the Bruins in the second round, but his ineffectiveness goes beyond one series. He failed during the season, too; not so much in establishing an identity, but in adapting his course once his desired method didn't take.

Rick Nash had a fine first season on Broadway, but he wilted in the playoffs. Captain Ryan Callahan served as the resident spark plug with his gritty play, but he couldn't take it to the next level when it mattered. Brad Richards stumbled. And instead of finding a way to resurrect his game, Tortorella demoted him to the fourth line before scratching him altogether.

Lundqvist looked downright despondent in grappling with the Rangers' varying degrees of underachievement during the playoffs. The reigning Vezina Trophy winner must have thought about that long and hard, too, because he chose his words carefully when given the chance to pledge a long-term commitment to the team.

He offered a "we'll see" instead. Maybe Sather is right in saying those comments had no impact on his decision. But rest assured, if Lundqvist did have concerns about the direction of the team, those concerns would be heeded.

Lundqvist & Co. are not absolved from the team's lack of success. The Rangers' top guys didn't contribute when needed, but Tortorella couldn't coax enough out of them, either.

And considering the way he tried, it's not surprising.