Published: Dec. 21, 2009
In a cramped corridor, just a handful of steps away from the visitors’ locker room at the Nassau Coliseum on Thursday night, John Tortorella held court.
Tortorella’s team had just topped the Islanders, 5-2. The win was the Rangers’ first win in 12 days, yet the coach was far from joyous. His team has been engulfed in a maelstrom of negativity brought on by eight weeks of often uninspired hockey.
“I think the key thing is we have to start becoming a team. That’s the most important thing,” said Tortorella.
How can a fragile group become a single-minded team? While the mechanics and chemistry may never be fully understood, in this instance, there is a starting point: Wade Redden can no longer be a New York Ranger — at least not right now.
When Tortorella announced that Aaron Voros, Ales Kotalik and Redden were scratched for Thursday night’s game at the Coliseum, the pull-no-punches coach was typically blunt. “Guys that are out, it has to do with their play,” Tortorella said. Voros is a 13th forward, one that has only played in 19 of the Rangers’ 35 games this season. Kotalik, signed to provide secondary scoring, has seven points in the last 15 games. While Voros and Kotalik may be not happy to be on the ice, neither said that they felt they were “singled out” as Redden did.
Ostensibly employed to an obscene six-year, $39 million contract in the summer of 2008 to generate offense from the blueline and be the on-ice power play mastermind, Redden only has six points (a goal and five assists) in 28 games and has not displayed an inclination to be involved physically in any of the three zones. In his two years of undistinguished service, Redden has totaled just 32 points while posting a minus-6. Yet, Redden engaged Tortorella in a shouting match prior to the Rangers’ optional skate after finding his “name on the scratched list.”
“He wants to shake things up and I’m the example here. I can deal with that. Which way do you go? There’s lots of different ways you can handle it and I have to do what’s best for me,” Redden said early Thursday afternoon. “The fact that I’m sitting out, I’m not real happy about it.
“It comes down to performance. (He) feels like I have a lot more to give. I want to get out there and play more and get that chance,” Redden said.
That chance, though, still didn’t come Saturday in a 2-1 win over the Flyers as Tortorella went with young defensive prospects Bobby Sanguinetti and Ilkka Heikkinen for the second match in a row.
“You have to ask him,” said Redden, who never referred to the coach by his name.
Tough. That is the coach’s prerogative, to decide who will and will not play. And while the message may oft-times be uncomfortably blunt, Tortorella and his coaching can only go by what they see on the ice. And it hasn’t been pretty.
During his abbreviated profane tirade masked as post-game press conference Wednesday night, Tortorella shot-from-the-hip when after being asked about the defensive coverage on Jon Sim’s game-opening score in what would be a 2-1 Rangers loss at the Garden, a play where Redden did not exactly cover himself in glory.
“Horse s—t,” said Tortorella after the Rangers’ 2-1 loss to the Isles Wednesday night. He was very bluntly referring to the half-hearted pokes by Redden and Christopher Higgins that led to the first goal in the game.
“The thing that is unacceptable about [Wednesday’s] game, and we’re trying to stay positive around here and work our way through it, but when we play like s—t like that for 20 minutes, in a game like this, in a back-to-back situation, it’s unacceptable. It’s simply unacceptable,” said Tortorella. “I wish I could give you a f—in’ explanation about it. I can’t.”
The truly damning aspect of the petulant player and angry authority figure soap opera is that there are Rangers who have taken on the responsibility of being leaders throughout the season. Henrik Lundqvist, Vinny Prospal, Marian Gaborik, Brandon Dubinsky and Ryan Callahan have testified to nightly cross-examinations, whether they felt like it or not.
Redden, though, puts the blame on everyone for the team’s 8-15-3 nosedive following a 7-1-0 start to the season.
“Everyone’s got to be better,” Redden said. “We haven’t won in 10 games. So draw your own conclusions. We haven’t gotten things done. That’s where we’re at.
“I just got my a— skated off. All I can do is show him I want to be out there. If they want me out there, then I have to deliver.”
Or, if he really wants to be out there, he can “play f—in’ hard,” Tortorella said.