There is growing talk around the league that New York Rangers coach John Tortorella should be a top candidate if not the winner of the Jack Adams Trophy for coach of the year. I had been thinking about this for a little while then when I heard Don LaGreca say it on Monday following the Mats Zuccarello interview on NHL Live I thought on it some more. On Wednesday you had both Pierre LeBrun of ESPN and Kevin Allen of USA Today along with LaGreca giving Torts the nod in their respective mid-season awards reports.
The argument for Tortorella is a compelling one considering the expectations for the Rangers coming into the season, the massive number of injuries the team has suffered to key players and the number of young players either being mixed in as rookies or asked to take on key roles. With all of those things considered to be 6th in the Eastern Conference speaks volumes to the job Tortorella has done.
If you had said before the season that the Rangers are without Prospal the whole season so far, Gaborik 14 games, Callahan 13, Drury 31 along with lesser injuries to Christensen, Boogaard and Rozsival (in his time here) while incorporating five players that made their NHL debuts the consensus would be the Rangers would be where the Islanders are and not sixth place.
Part of the reason Tortorella has had so much success this season is he appears to be more at peace with everything going on around him and more comfortable with his own club. There are still the moments where he snaps, but he has become a somewhat softer version of himself and that has helped many of the young players with their transitions both to and within this level.
The biggest reason the Rangers are where they are right now is that Tortorella has installed and instilled a system for this team to always fall back on. When you are a team that has less pure talent than your opponent’s you must be a difficult team to play against To do that you must bring a physical style of play to help and negate the other team’s skill advantages. Tortorella has done a beautiful job of that with this club in getting them to be a forecheck based offense while blocking shots defensively. He knows the club will have to rely on its goaltending and he has stuck to the plan all year of getting Henrik Lundqvist his time off while watching Biron be a more than capable backup.
Possibly the best thing Tortorella has done for this team from the outset aside from the system itself is take away an excuses whether it be for poor play or the injuries. Teams can fall back on those types of excuses and get buried under the crutch that they are using. Torts has not allowed the team to do that and in return this team has done a tremendous job of not only fighting through it game to game, but within games as they lead the NHL in points when trailing heading into the third period.
The Rangers success in large measure is predicated on the adjustments the man behind the bench has made not only within the team but himself and he certainly deserves to be under consideration for coach of the year. Personally I do not believe he is the winner at the moment, but more wins like last night against Vancouver will certainly help his case. There are other candidates in the mix like Craig Ramsey, Marc Crawford, Guy Boucher, but for me the winner is the always under-appreciated Barry Trotz, as he has Nashville sitting in 4th in the West. Who knows with 37 games left to go the Rangers can propel Torts to the top of the list before all is said and done.