2009-02-27 / Sports

Rangers Hire New Coach Tortorella To Lift Playoff Hopes

By Nathaniel E. Baker

John Tortorella (back) led the Tampa Bay Lightning as they won the Stanley Cup in 2004. John Tortorella (back) led the Tampa Bay Lightning as they won the Stanley Cup in 2004. The Tom Renney era finally and officially ended Monday, almost five years to the day after it began, with the New York Rangers firing their longtime head coach and replacing him with John Tortorella.

The move to fire Renney, the fourthwinningest coach in franchise history, is not entirely unexpected given the team's recent performance. The Blueshirts have lost five of their last six games and 10 of their last 12 and have seen their playoff prospects disintegrate as a result. Where the team had a share of the Atlantic Division lead 12 games ago, it is now fighting for its playoff lives just one point removed from ninth place in the Eastern Conference. The top eight teams in each conference qualify for the postseason. If the Rangers miss the playoffs it would be for the first time since the 2004-2005 lockout.

Rangers General Manager Glen Sather announced Monday afternoon that former Tampa Bay Lightning head coach John Tortorella had agreed to a multiyear contract. The 50-year old "Torts" becomes the team's 34th head coach in its 83-year history.

"I felt that we needed to get more fire in there," Sather said of the move to replace Renney, who was known for a more passive style and calm demeanor.

With Tortorella, Sather and the Rangers brass certainly get somebody capable of bringing heat. The Rangers Web site describes the new coach as "an intensely passionate man, who, in the past, has not been shy about confronting his players."

Tortorella's style of play "consists of an exciting blend of high-energy puck pursuit, aggressive forechecking, and offensive creativity combined with a keen sense of defensive awareness," it adds.

In his seven-year tenure with Tampa Bay, this style produced two division titles, four playoff appearances and the 2004 Stanley Cup Championship.

It also led to some embarrassing moments, such as in the 2007 Stanley Cup Playoffs when Tortorella was caught saying an expletitive on live television. The following season, he was fined by the NHL for criticizing officials.

Sather said Tortorella's approach was badly needed with the current crop of Rangers. "If you look at some of the players on our team and the past coaches they had in their history, a lot of the guys have thrived under that kind of coaching," he said.

Tortorella was the Rangers head coach once before, albeit on an interim basis lasting just four games. At the tail end of the 1999-2000 season he replaced the fired John Muckler. Ron Low took over as head coach the following season. The Boston-born Tortorella previously coached the AHL Rochester Americans and ECHL Virginia Lancers and was the U.S. men's national team head coach at the 2008 IIHF World Championships.

Renney, who became head coach on Feb. 25, 2004, will take some time off before assessing his future plans, said Sather, who added he was welcome to remain in the Rangers organization in a yet-to-be-specified role.

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