Monday, April 11, 2011

N.Y. RANGERS ~ The Blueshirts are a Tale of Two Teams


The Story of the Blueshirt's 85th Season is a Tale of Two Teams

NEW YORK RANGERS:  How It Started; Where It Wound Up; and Where Do We Go from Here..

This Rangers story is about the team Glen Sather gave John Tortorella to start the season with; what happened to that team; the team Coach Tort's turned them into; and how on the last day of the regular season, it all might have finally come together.

Seven to eight months ago, this team was assembled very differently if you remember.  As far as the big club, Glen Sather was still taking his yearly huge swings in free agency and missing just as big, as has been his custom to toss MSG dollars about like candy-corns on Halloween.  The teams he assembled along the way were just as scary as some costumes you'd might see on Halloween also.  This season figured to be no different.  At best, the experts predicted the Rangers to be an eighth place team.   And Ranger fans could look forward to just bobbing along the schedule again with no clear plan for building a consistent winner.

The GM is still trying to reconcile letting Colton Orr go.  He's spent far more money on futility than had he just given Colton Orr his money.  First, Glen Sather failed miserably by signing Donald Brashear, who was still on the Rangers' payroll this season.  He then followed that mistake with an equally huge gaffe and signed an overweight and out of shape Derek Boogaard for three years.  Derek Boogaard was a horrible fit in Coach Torts' system to begin with, as evidenced by the three and four minutes a game he was getting before he got beat-up.  And in every fight he had, he looked slow to the punch and usually wound up receiving more than he gave.  This once formidable heavyweight champ of the Minnesota Wild was nothing more than a disfigured shadow of his former self.  THEN he got hurt, and has never been heard from again.  But he still has two years left on his deal.

Wade Redden was too obvious and glaring a mistake that even Glen Sather had no choice but to make him the highest paid AHL player, when, after passing him through the waiver process, demoted Redden to Connecticut (Wolfpack of Hartford at the time).  The nightly negativity raining down on him would have been too much for everyone concerned had he remained on the roster.  But he'll be back next season to present the same problem again.

With Redden gone, Michal Rozsival remained as the other overly priced, ineffective, old, fading veteran defense-man, polluting the Rangers' back-liners.  Somehow, Glen Sather found a way to trade him for Wojtek Wolski.  But Wolski and company are for later in this post.  Rozsival was part of the original plan.

Think back.  Remember the savvy Alex Frolov signing and the hope of 20+ goals from him??   i.e.; Aaron Voros...aka, Nick Zherdev?  Yea; it's all coming back to you, isn't it? 

The returning Sean Avery did not and never had a friend in Coach Tortorella.  But Avery was thrown in the lap of Coach Torts by Glen Sather and was forced to just deal with it.  And for most of that time, it hasn't gone well for Avery.

Vinny Prospal and newly signed Ruslan Fedotenko were the smart vets who would nurture and teach the young Ryan Callahan and Brandon Dubinsky how to negotiate the NHL.  Marian Gaborik was another vet returning from a 40+ goal season the year prior.  Gaborik made another Glen Sather mistake named Scott Gomez go away.  Brandon Prust was a trade throw in and Brian Boyle was brought here to grind and help the Rangers possess the puck down low.  These were the players complementing the Captain of the team; Chris Drury.  This is the team Glen Sather gave John Tortorella.

This is the cast Glen Sather assembled for our entertainment in return for our hard earned dollars.  And frankly, I get more enjoyment criticizing these moves than I did anticipating another Glen Sather creation back in September. 

Behind the scenes, Glen Sather finally had things heading in a better direction.  When Don Maloney was still part of our drafting process, we still drafted small.  It's as simple as that.  Prucha, Moore, Ortmeyer, Hollweg, Tyutin, Dawes, Montoya....even Dubinsky, Callahan and Staal were products of the prior drafting models at the beginning of the prior decade and who began playing after the NHL lock-out.  But after Don Maloney took a job to work with Wayne Gretzky in Phoenix, Glen Sather made two key appointments. 

Gordie Clark and Jeff Gorton are calling shots in player personnel for the Rangers now.  As the Rangers' roster was crippled by injury this season, these two men were directly responsible for the club's ability to dip into the farm and promote some talent that not only kept the team afloat, the youngsters prospered and kept the Rangers in contention.  In some cases, they came up with size; in other areas they brought skill; and other matters they brought smarts and grittiness.

Near season long injuries to Chris Drury and Vinny Prospal opened up opportunities.  When Alex Frolov went down, it created another job opening.  When Boogaard went down, it created yet another job opening.  The disappearance of Rozsival and Redden opened up yet more opportunities on the back-line.  Limiting Sean Avery's minutes meant someone else was getting that ice-time.  And there were a myriad of other injuries the Rangers sustained all season long.  After suffering one of those mid-season injuries himself, the latest and most devastating injury to hit home was Ryan Callahan being lost again after the Boston game.  But prior to Callahan's second injury, all these factors and the surprisingly effective play of the call-ups had Rangers fans all buying into a rebuilding.  Suddenly, costly and aging players no longer were in vogue at MSG.

The fans have never had Glen Sather's ear.  Heck, he doesn't even have to talk to the Media.  So we can scream "Rebuild!!" till we're BLUE in the face and it won't matter.  It's never been that way between Sather and the fan base.

Enter John Tortorella.  When it was clear the Rangers had to make a break from Tom Renney, let's face it, John was the best available coach who just happened to be unemployed at the time.  Based on the strength of a Stanley Cup victory, his volatile disposition could be over-looked in NYC....right?  It had better; he was hired.

Coach came in and orchestrated a rather freakish ending to the 2008-2009 regular season and playoff series loss against the Washington Capitals.  The coach himself earned a one game suspension in that series.  But that's neither here nor there.  He came here like a mason.  From the beginning, he identified four players and dubbed them his core.  He came here wanting to build something from the ground up.  He wanted something built in stone.  That's how you build a club that can sustain success; - By building from within and growing a core of players together over time, with patience and a discipline for sticking with the plan.  Then you go about supplementing them with smart trades and perhaps ONE key free agent acquisition to fill a need.

John Tortorella identified Ryan Callahan, Brandon Dubinsky, Marc Staal and Henrik Lundqvist as his Core Four that all future Ranger efforts towards success should be built around.  When the injuries started mounting, and more kids were called upon, John Tortorella took these kids and in quick fashion molded them into men on the fly.  When they responded to his dictates he trusted them more.  They proved themselves again and Coach gave them roles.  And when they kids proved they could handle him and what he asked of them thus far, Coach Torts officially gave them jobs.

The trade deadline loomed for Glen Sather and John Tortorella.  The Rangers had glaring needs on the power play; they needed a pure scorer on the wing or help at center; and could have used more size on defense.  Of course, the call-ups were the only players other teams suddenly had interest in.  And the first name to arise in any trade conversation was Ryan Callahan's.  An organizational philosophy was either about to be adopted by Glen Sather if he sided with Tortorella and gave these kids the time and patience they needed to grow and develop or, and organizational philosophy would be brushed aside for more of Glen Sather's fantasy hockey league mismanagement and Salary Cap log jams.

It's my opinion, John Tortorella has been more influential on Glen Sather than the GM upon Tortorella.  I believe Coach insisted the Rangers stay the course with the young players and not trade them away for quick fixes.  I think the coming and passing of the trade deadline proved that out because there was so much interest in the new young Rangers.  But Sather was still able to pull off a surprisingly nice deal to acquire Bryan McCabe from Florida for someone unknown to most Ranger fans; I'm sure.   But make no mistake, Coach Torts asked the team to play a certain way and establish a certain identity, and they have collectively responded to validate their Coach on principle alone.

Coach Torts took four of the young, now veteran holdovers from before his time here; Callahan, Dubinsky, Staal, and Lundqvist and mixed in the even younger players together in continuously changing combinations and somehow made it work.  Artem Anisimov; Derek Stepan; Michael Sauer; Ryan McDonagh, Mats Zuccarello, and even Michael Del Zotto, have given the Rangers a whole new identity almost over night.  Even Newbury and Weiss came up briefly and played well for a handful of games.  Newly acquired Wojtek Wolski has provided sparks of his own.  There is still depth in Connecticut and all reports are last year's draft picks are doing well.

The system Coach Torts demanded they play brought out the most in Brandon Prust and Brian Boyle.  And by pairing Marc Staal with Dan Girardi, Coach is getting the utmost out of Girardi.  Girardi is a lesser player without Torts and having Staal by his side.  What's one of the pitfalls of Coach Torts' system? - Ryan Callahan's broken ankle.  He demands his team block shots.  The Rangers were number two in the League this year in that department.

But the feel-good about the newest Rangers on the rise and their success on the ice was a by-produce of Glen Sather's original plan being an utter failure.  And let's not forget that.  We already spelled out all the names.  And if were not for John Tortorella, Glen Sather would have most likely dealt away many of our prospects long ago.  But that's just an opinion.

The "Newer" York Rangers served notice to the Eastern Conference and the rest of the NHL they can play in this league.  They left tell-tale signs all over the National Hockey League.  The early going was sluggish.  They played to a 5-5 record in October.  In November before Thanksgiving, they went 7-5.  And from Thanksgiving to the end of the year they played to a 10-7 record.  They played down to some teams; or did they?  But they pock-marked their 2010 portion of the season with victories over Chicago; Boston: Washington; Pittsburgh; Buffalo; Philadelphia; Calgary; and Nashville.

By the new year, injuries were really taking their toll on the team.  In January they went 7-7 marked with victories over mighty Vancouver; Carolina; Dallas; St. Louis; Atlanta; and Washington again.  February brought less welcome results.  They suffered through a five game losing streak and were 4-8 in the month, but still showed gamely spirit against Pittsburgh; Carolina; Los Angeles; and Washington yet again.

Before Saturday night's news the Rangers made the playoffs, without a doubt, the way the Rangers played through March and April endeared this bunch of Blueshirts to their fans unlike many editions who came before this group.  They rebounded from February to go 8-6 in March highlighted by huge wins down the stretch over Philadelphia; San Jose; Montreal; Pittsburgh and Boston.  A long missed electricity returned to the Garden along the way also.

April -  In the end, the Rangers did what they had to do.  They put their backs against the wall by losing to Atlanta, but they wouldn't have been in a position to advance without a huge win over Philadelphia, a most glorious comeback against Boston, and closing out the season in convincing fashion against the Devils.

Vinny Prospal finally came back from his injury 20 games ago and has played like a man possessed.  He has scored twenty points in his twenty games back and fittingly, scored the last goal of the 2010-2011 regular season for Glen Sather's new Rangers against the Devils Saturday afternoon.  Vinny Prospal has indeed been a god-send for the team and his contributions should not go underspoken.  He'll be even more important in the playoffs due to Ryan Callahan's absence.

So let's credit Glen Sather for Prospal, but only after finally making it back from a most lengthy injury.  Let's also give him credit for acquiring Wojtek Wolski in a trade and shipping the little liked Rozsival away.  When it comes to Prust and Boyle, Sather might have brought them here, but I believe it was Coach Torts that turned one of them into a 20 goal scorer and the other into an Officer Steven McDonald Award recipient.  Additionally, I'd credit John Tortorella for guiding this team through an on-the-fly transitioning, as the roster flipped mid-season.  Coach managed to get into the minds of the team quickly and molded them into a unit of one.

Then Saturday afternoon, something happened that both Coach Torts and Glen Sather can both be happy about.  Glen Sather's much maliegned Captain; Chris Drury waited for Rangers' game #82 to score his most important and only goal of his very short season.  In a blast from the past moment for Drury, he scored the Rangers first goal of the game which tied the score at 1-1 early in the first period.  That goal did everything to keep everyone in the game; both players and fans at MSG alike.  Then it was time for one of Torts' kids to be a hero.  Ryan McDonagh scored his first ever NHL goal to put the Rangers up 3-2 against the Devils after Wojtek Wolski tied it.  McDonagh's goal was the game winner.

The people's player, Brandon Prust gave the Rangers an insurance goal.  And then the Ol' Glen Sather vet, Vinny Prospal slammed the door shut on the Devils with the last goal scored in the New York Rangers' regular season.

It seems as if finally, at least for a game a combination of the old team planned for this season joined forces with the new team that saved this season and came together as one to play the Devils and win the Rangers' most important game of the year on the final day of the season.

So depending on which team you're grading you might have a differnt outlook on 93 points and an eighth place finish.  If you're considering Glen Sather's continuing riegn as the Master of Mediocre, 93 points might seem too much for us considering how miserably most of his acquisitions underperformed.  If Zach Parise doesn't get hurt the whole season and the Devils play just a little better to begin their season, we might not even be having this conversation.  If the Hurricanes win, we're definitely not having this conversation. 

But if you're grading the team Coach Tort's is trying to build, 93 points and a spot in the playoffs is a tremendous uptick from last season.  And I'm behind his method of building this team up from the ground regardless of my differences with his handling of Sean Avery.  That's a situation where the results speak for themselves.

The Rangers Start Their Quest For The Cup Wednesday Night.


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