by Charles Solomon
The problem with losing is that it becomes routine. The problem with the Rangers is not only that, but that losing and playing with a lack of effort is the norm. But apparently, going into the free-agent market for some big players cannot help the team. If the players are not getting it done, and enough talent is being put on the ice by management, then the coach is to blame.
Frankly, Bryan Trottier is not a good coach. Whether he is not experienced enough to be a good coach, or his winning days are behind him, it really does not matter. The Rangers need to win, and they need to win now. His positive attitude has not spurred on the Rangers to play with the effort they did in the beginning of the season. I know that many people point to the thirty-one game in a sixty-two night stretch as a factor for the Rangers’ tired play. I understand that this, coupled with injuries to the Rangers top stars, was a uniquely difficult set of circumstances.
However, the effect of the compacted schedule and injuries could have been lessened if Trottier deployed the fourth line more often, and if the Hartford call-ups who have at least done a respectable job were given more ice time. Trottier made all of these games harder than they had to be, especially by playing Messier, instead of Holik, over eighteen minutes on average.
Glen Sather should own up to his foolish hire and at least replace his head coach with Bob Hartley. He is good with young talent, and tough on his players. His best teams can score plenty of goals, and deploy an effective trap at the same time. I understand the trap is boring and controversial, but it works. The trap can make the loss of injured players less severe. You cannot replace Brian Leetch or Pavel Bure, but if everyone has a simple role that any player can grasp and execute, players like Bure are no longer as necessary as they are in the run and gun offense that Trottier is using. Instead, anyone who pays attention and skates hard can step into Bure’s spot and do his simple job. The Rangers would still miss his goals, but the team defense would be able to keep the score low enough to give them a chance to win every night. At this point, I challenge the Blueshirts to bore me all the way to a victory. I’d rather a boring win, than an emotional disappointment any day of the week.
Hartley is also experienced, and knows how to win. He has a Stanley Cup ring, and he led Colorado to the Western Conference finals many times. Even though Chelios thinks that, “Donald Duck could coach Colorado,” Donald Duck kicks Goofy’s butt, when it comes to intensity, any day of the week. That is what the Rangers lack, intensity.
Yet, I never clamor for a new head coach because ultimately, I am sympathetic to Trottier’s situation, and I wonder if Hartley is Sather’s type of coach. Would Sather ever hire Hartley? I do not know, and I am not going to wish for something that simply cannot come true. The last five years of Rangers hockey have made me a combination of a realist and a pessimist. I do not expect anything sensational, but Bob Hartley would make the Rangers a better team if he can install his system(s) without the Rangers missing a beat. This is a tall order, but Trottier finding success with this club is even less likely.
Random thoughts: Hey Ranger fans, get set for this summer of potential UFA busts. Names like Fedorov, Jovanovski, and Hatcher can all be had unless their clubs re-sign them before July 1st. Expect Jovocop to become a free agent because he is too rich for Brian Burke’s blood, while Fedorov appears to be on the trading block because he probably won’t sign with the Wings. It is reported that he will be traded to an Eastern Conference team, and it is likely that team will sign him to a long-term deal once he arrives. Hatcher may become a free-agent if the Stars deem him expendable which is doubtful. Hicks also definitely has the money to re-sign him.