John Tortorella sat at the head of a conference table 48 hours after Rangers season ended in April.
Tortorella really thought he’d have this discussion in June.
The coach was pleased with the development of the young talent within the organization and firmly stated his belief that the franchise in on a pathway to success. What bothered him was a lack of leadership in the dressing room from unnamed veterans.
Two months later, at the Rangers prospect development camp, Tortorella praised the drafting of Dylan McIlrath, while reiterating the need for more youth and toughness in the lineup.
The Rangers started (7-1-0) and ended (7-1-2) 2009-10 impressively. However, they were bland-to-awful for most of the season (24-31-9) and, more often than not, the offensively impotent Blueshirts were pushed around by opponents. Still, for all of their flaws, the Rangers missed out on the playoffs by just one point.
“We weren’t tough enough,” Tortorella said. “We can’t ... I?won’t accept that this season.”
One of the overriding themes of the 2009-10 season was the lack of scoring. The forward unit scored 190 of the 222 goals last season, led by Marian Gaborik’s 42.
To improve the goal-scoring, the organization signed Alex Frolov to a one-year contract and believe that Brandon Dubinsky (20 goals last season), Ryan Callahan (19), Artem Anisimov (12) and Sean Avery (11) will improve. Tortorella demanded Avery play an agitating, straight forward game without sideshow antics. The wing, though, already said he plans on playing “his game” this year.
Glen Sather and Tortorella spent a great deal of time vowing the young talent in the system would have every opportunity to win NHL jobs during training camp. At no position are there more openings than on defense, now that Wade Redden has been banished to AHL Hartford.
The top four pairings are set with Marc Staal, Dan Girardi, Michael Del Zotto and Michael Rozsival. That leaves three openings for Matt Gilroy, Ryan McDonagh, Steve Eminger and Pavel Valentenko. Gilroy has a year of Tortorella’s system under his belt.
As long as Henrik Lundqvist is in net, the team is always a fringe playoff squad at beast. Lunqvist’s posted a 177-110- 44 in 338 career games. He re-established his worth last season, compiling a 35-27-10 record, often against a firing squad.
Prediction: The Rangers are not among the top six teams in the stacked Eastern Conference. So, like 2009-10, they will spend the season battling a handful of teams for the last two spots. Unlike last season, they’ll be successful, finishing eighth in the East.