On breakup day, John Tortorella termed the 2013 season “a sideways step.”
That misstep cost Tortorella his job with the Rangers. The organization announced Wednesday afternoon the controversial head coach had been fired.
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“I made the decision,” team president and general manager Glen Sather said in a 22-minute long conference call with reporters. “This is the decision I made.”
While Sather was evasive throughout the call, the executive noted he plans to have a coach hired by the June 30 draft. Already there is speculation former Buffalo head coach Lindy Ruff could be a candidate for the job. Other potential candidates may include Alain Vigneault, John Stevens, Ken Gernander, Guy Boucher, Paul Maurice and Dave Tippett.
“A lot of good candidates,” Sather said.
The mandate for the next coach was made clear by Sather: win the Cup.
Following a 2011-12 season in which the Rangers advanced to the Eastern Conference Final for the first time since the 1996-97 season, the 2013 team finished sixth with a 26-18-4 mark despite the acquisition of sniper Rick Nash to a team that included Henrik Lundqvist, Ryan Callahan and Brad Richards.
The Rangers qualified for the Stanley Cup playoffs in the second-to-last game of the regular season. It took the Rangers seven games to beat the Capitals in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals, including winning Games 6 and 7. The Rangers were eliminated by Boston in five games of the conference semifinals.
During Monday’s breakup day, Lundqvist termed the season “a step back” and was tepid when asked about his long-term future. Lundqvist is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent next summer. Sather said he planned on locking up Lundqvist “to a long-term contract.” Lundqvist is the second highest-paid goaltender in the NHL, behind Nashville’s Pekka Rinne (seven years, $49 million).
Sather denied that Lundqvist’s eyebrow-raising words played a role in the firing.
“We were very successful last year. This year, I thought out team played well. Did [the] team play up to our expectations? I don’t think so,” Sather said. “This year, we didn’t make [the Stanley Cup Final]. I think that’s what he’s referring to.
“I felt this was a decision that had to be made going forward,” Sather said. Tellingly, he added “every coach has a shelf life.”
When pressed whether Tortorella’s grinding style did not match the skill set of this year’s team, Sather demurred, opting to say coaching is “a trying job,” but there wasn’t a “specific reason” for the dismissal.
“After the analytical work, this is the decision I made,” Sather said. “It wasn’t one specific thing.”
In 319 games spanning two stints as coach of the Rangers, Tortorella compiled a regular-season record of 171-118-1-29. His 410 regular-season wins are the most all time for an American. In 2004, as head coach of the Lightning, Tortorella won the Stanley Cup and the Jack Adams Award.
“John was a little bit shocked,” Sather said. “I can't tell you how shocked he was, but I don't think he was prepared for it.”
Follow Rangers beat writer Denis Gorman on Twitter @DenisGorman.