Rangers are running scared

The New York Rangers fired their head coach, John Tortorella, yesterday. The news is debatable, but not too surprising. There are many reasons to justify Torts’ removal, but his win-loss record is not one of them. Since I think outside of the box, I would like to submit one possible reason why Rangers’ GM Glen Sather decided to pull the plug and hit the panic switch now, while Tortorella had one year left on his contract.

The idea that the players had input into this decision is a smokescreen. The only professional athletes in North America can have the clout to have their head coach fired are NBA superstars. Maybe Wayne Gretzky in his prime had the same clout that franchise NBA players have today. (But since Wayne was winning 4 Stanley Cups in his prime, he had no reason to have his coach fired. And his coach happened to be Glen Sather, the current New York GM.) I believe that the Ranger players were getting tired of Tortorella’s coaching style. And I am certain that a number of them, veterans and youngsters alike, were relieved to hear the news. But if there was one hockey player that had an impact on the Rangers’ coaching situation, he is not on this roster.

The best hockey player, and arguably the best professional athlete in the New York Metropolitan area in 2013 does not wear the Broadway red, white, and blue. And he doesn’t wear the New Jersey red, white and black either. He is John Tavares, and he plays for the New York Islanders. He is (at the time of this posting) only 22 years old, and is already a Hart Memorial Trophy finalist, a.k.a.: the NHL’s MVP. (The other 2013 finalists are Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin. You know, the 2 biggest names currently in the NHL.) The Islanders have been abysmal for the past decade and have been beyond irrelevant in both the NHL and the New York area alike. They have no local radio home, and their TV broadcasts are always the lowest priority when there are simultaneous games being played, i.e.: if the Rangers, and/or the Devils are playing at the same time, the Islanders are bumped to an obscure sister cable channel. And god forbid if the Knicks are playing as well. The Islanders’ game would not be shown at all. At least not live anyway. After years of finishing near the bottom, their high draft picks are making their way into the NHL now. And this year, the Islanders, led by Tavares, finally made the playoffs for the first time in a long time.

Many lifetimes ago, (all right, it was circa 1980-1985), the Rangers and Islanders had a fierce rivalry that rivaled any other in sports. After the end of the Islanders dynasty, the rivalry faded as well. And with the advent of the New Jersey dynasty in 1994, the Devils became the Rangers #1 rival. On April 13, 2013, in Uniondale, NY, the rivalry might have been reborn. In quite possibly the league’s best game of the regular season, the Rangers defeated the Islanders 1-0 in OT. Not only did the game have significant importance in the standings, but it was acknowledged that the Islanders’ home arena was full of juice, energy and life. The momentum generated by the fans continued into the post-season as the Isles pushed #1 seed Pittsburgh to six games in the first round.

The expedition of the coaching change could be tied to the expedition of the Islanders’ move to Brooklyn. The bigwigs at Madison Square Garden can not be pleased that a second franchise has relocated from the suburbs to the heart of downtown Kings County. Like their MSG co-tenants, the NY Knicks, the Rangers have a mix of young and old talent to be a formidable playoff participant. But also like the Knicks, the consensus analysis is that the Rangers are far away from the truly elite and thus not a true contender for a title. Some have questioned the MSG owners’ priorities towards winning, but the best way to increase season ticket sales is to have a perennial powerhouse. But while the Knicks have a huge fanbase due to basketball’s vast popularity, the Rangers do not have such a luxury. The NY (Brooklyn) Islanders have a much better chance to acquire new fans for their sport, than their future co-tenants, the Nets. Of the 4 teams, Knicks, Nets, Rangers, and Islanders, the Isles are the only one that have the best young talent, and the only one that is not financially restricted by the salary cap. (In fact, the Isles have been perilously close to not hitting the salary floor.) They have the highest upside in the short-term. And they have a legitimate shot of replacing the Rangers as being the #1 team of the 4th biggest sport in New York City. (I say 4th for now, but that is a tenuous hold since soccer is gaining ground fast. Especially with a 2nd MLS team coming to town by 2015.) In order to hold off the oncoming rush from Long Island, and quite possibly placate their superstar goalie who has only one year left on his contract, the Rangers pull off a pre-emptive strike. If this is indeed a power play, it is the first the Rangers have successfully pulled in years.


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