The Rangers fired combative coach John Tortorella on Wednesday, four days after New York was eliminated from the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Tortorella was unexpectedly dismissed with one-year left on his contract. He led the Rangers to the Eastern Conference finals last year and into the second round this year before New York was eliminated in five games by the Boston Bruins.
The fiery Tortorella, who was hired to replace Tom Renney in February 2009, achieved some success with the Rangers but couldn’t match the Stanley Cup title he earned in 2004 with the Tampa Bay Lightning.
A conference call with Rangers general manager Glen Sather was scheduled for Wednesday afternoon. It wasn’t immediately known if a coaching replacement would be named.
Last season, Tortorella led the Rangers to 51 wins – the second-most in franchise history – and 109 points before they were beaten in six games by New Jersey in the conference finals.
The 54-year-old Tortorella got the Rangers back into the playoffs in this lockout-shortened season, and New York outlasted Washington in seven games in the first round of the playoffs before being knocked out by Boston.
Tortorella made curious comments on Monday when the Rangers packed up for the season, which could have led to his ouster. In his final meeting with reporters, Tortorella said his club wasn’t emotionally ready to take on Boston after getting past Washington with back-to-back shutout wins when it faced elimination.
”One of the things, and it falls on my shoulders, is our team’s mindset going into another round,” Tortorella said. ”I don’t think our mindset was ready to play another series and to the level you need to be at. It didn’t have a playoff atmosphere.
”That’s what I struggle with right now. I didn’t do a good enough job in correcting and getting their mindset back to not only play at the level of a Game 7 in the first round but get ready for round 2, which is always going to be tougher.”
Even though the Rangers were knocked out of the playoffs one round earlier this year than last, Tortorella was defiant in expressing that he didn’t believe the team regressed in its progression.
”I know the surrounding feeling here is that it was a negative season, a disappointing season. I don’t buy it and I won’t,” Tortorella said. ”There are some good things that happened. I don’t think we took a step backward. I think this is a sideways step in our lineup and how things worked out.
”We played really well our last couple of months to get in, found a way to win a big series against Washington, and against Boston I thought we competed right to the end.”
However, star goalie Henrik Lundqvist disagreed with that assessment. The opinion of Lundqvist, who is entering the final year of his contract before he can become an unrestricted free agent, likely registered with Sather.
”It is a step back,” Lundqvist said. ”We were in the conference finals last year, we had high expectations on ourselves this year. It didn’t go our way, so yeah it is a step back. It’s tough to make it there, though. You can’t just expect it to happen.”