“It has been said something as small as the flutter of a butterfly’s wing can ultimately cause a typhoon halfway around the world.” – Chaos Theory
The Time: Spring, 2004
The Place: MSG Front Offices
The Crossroad: After missing the playoffs for the 7th consecutive season and a long string of unsuccessful big name acquistions, Glen Sather decides to clean house, beginning with household names such as Brian Leetch and Alexei Kovalev. Meanwhile, somewhere in the Midwest, Joel Quenneville had just been fired as head coach of the St. Louis Blues, despite having 7 consecutive winning seasons and consistently being ranked among the league’s top teams. In the midst of these moves Sather decides to hire Tom Renney, the Director of Player Personnel, to groom and develop the youth movement. With the lockout imminent, the Rangers are taking a new approach towards building a team.
The Impact: Tom Renney enjoys relatively good success developing a predominantly young Rangers unit, but never gets passed the 2nd Round of the East Playoffs. As the team begins to falter in his 4th season, Renney is subsequently fired and replaced with the firy John Tortorella, and everyone is happy (for now). As this is going on, Quenneville has caught on with the Colorado Avalanche and leads them to three-consecutive 95 point seasons in the ultra-competitive Western Conference, missing the playoffs in just one of those seasons. At the end of his 3rd season, Quenneville decides to leave the Colorado organization, catching on as a pro Scout with the Chicago Blackhawks. Just one month into the job, Quenneville is promoted to head coach, and leads a young, talented group with the likes of Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, and Brent Seabrook to the Western Conference finals (possibly further).
What It All Means: Its hard for me to say hindsight is 20/20, because I screamed for the hiring of Joel Quenneville during the Rangers coaching search of 2004. Instead, Sather hired from within and failed to realize what Quenneville could have brought to an organization in need of rebuilding. The man’s resume speaks for himself: since taking over as full-time coach of the Blues midway during the 96-97 season, Quenneville has never had a losing record and has only missed the playoffs once. Now I know what some of you are going to say…Renney also never had a losing record and he never missed the playoffs. But the differences between the two coaches goes way beyond the numbers. Quenneville led the Blues to the top of the Western Conference during his time, a conference that included powerhouses like the Stars, Avalanche, and Red Wings. To be consistently among those teams during that period of time speaks for itself. The promise he brought to a blooming franchise also must be taken into consideration. Even though he never finished the job and took the Cup home, the Blue were always there during his time. It’s also hard to fault the guy when the conference he is in is as loaded as described. While Renney never missed the playoffs, who can honestly say the Rangers were a serious Cup contender during his tenure? As a fan, you always felt the Blueshirts underachieved and that some of the young talent never got a chance to do what they do best (see Prucha, Petr).
In My Opinion: This is the one move that Sather DIDN’T make that possibly doomed this team for years to come. John Tortorella is a more than suitable coach now, but this is a team that has struggled for an identity and is now so bogged down with bad contracts that it may be impossible to get out of the hole its in. The choice of Renney over Quenneville probably set the team back 2-3 years, and was a choice that may have results for another 5-10 years. With the youth on the Rangers roster, and with Quenneville as the coach, we may be talking about the Rangers perenially sitting atop of the Eastern Conference and being serious players for the Stanley Cup every spring. Instead, the young Blackhawks are staring the defending champs in the eye in the club’s first playoff run in 7 years (sound familiar), and have one of the most promising futures of any team in the NHL. For the Rangers, it now seems there are a lot more questions than answers. Unless Sather gets real creative (which actually scares me more) or Tortorella gets the most out of this current unit, this group may be ultimately doomed for failure. The beautiful thing about this whole situation is I might be wrong, and the signing of Tortorella may end up being the best thing to happen to this franchise. Only time will tell….