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Can feisty Tortorella change Rangers' attitude?

Dan Di Sciullo, NHL Editor

Dan Di Sciullo Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - The New York Rangers have certainly been a lifeless team over the past few weeks and, as is almost always the case in the NHL, a coaching change was made in the interests of turning things around.

Just last week, Michel Therrien's job was sacrificed in Pittsburgh. This time around, Rangers general manager Glen Sather relieved Tom Renney of his duties and brought in John Tortorella to change the atmosphere in the locker room.

Tortorella is known throughout the hockey world as a fiery coach who, over the years, has had clashes with players and management, as well as reporters covering his teams. He is cut from the same cloth as current Calgary Flames coach Mike Keenan, and like "Iron Mike", Tortorella has a Stanley Cup title to back up his tough talk.

Of course, Keenan won his Cup with these same Rangers, but he only lasted a single season on Broadway, as differences between him and general manager Neil Smith hastened Keenan's exit.

Tortorella won his Cup title with Tampa Bay in 2004, and was actually the Rangers head coach for four games prior to landing that job with the Lightning. His first head coaching job in the NHL came as an interim replacement in Manhattan after John Muckler was fired 78 games into the 1999-2000 campaign.

Keenan's job back in 1994 was to get an extremely talented team to the promised land by winning the franchise's first title since 1940. The Rangers had won the Presidents' Trophy for the 1991-92 season under Roger Nielsen, but then failed to make the playoffs the following year. Keenan took the reins at the start of the 1993-94 campaign, and history tells us that was a good move.

Tortorella, on the other hand, doesn't have as much to work with talent-wise, but he also isn't - at least for now - expected to scale the heights that Keenan and his Blueshirts eventually did.

Instead, Tortorella will be called upon to introduce the same type of passion that a coach like Keenan always provides in any of his jobs. That passion often takes players out of their comfort zone, as both coaches are big on accountability and are not afraid to make examples out of their charges.

That's what the firing of Renney and the hiring of Tortorella was all about. Renney has been described as cerebral and patient, the type of guy who doesn't get too high or low after wins or losses, and when his team fell into a funk, he didn't react by expressing his anger.

It will not be a secret when Tortorella is displeased with the way his team is playing. During his final weeks with the Rangers, reporters tried to get Renney to detail his frustrations concerning the way his team was playing, but he never seemed comfortable in that role. Tortorella will tell anybody who's listening what is wrong with his club, and he won't hesitate to name names or worry about protecting his players.

But, it's not like Tortorella has an easy act to follow. After all, Renney led the Rangers to the playoffs in each of his three full seasons in New York, and won a postseason series in each of the last two years. His team would have been in the playoffs again had the season ended on the day he was fired.

So, what would constitute a good finish to this season for Tortorella and the Rangers?

The team can't simply make the playoffs and call it an improvement, but that would be a good starting point for Tortorella's Rangers. More importantly, the type of change Sather and the New York brass would like to see has more of an intangible quality.

"I think Torts is going to bring a lot more fire to his game and to his approach, and that's not to be critical of Tom's approach, that's just his personality," explained Sather at a press conference to introduce Tortorella. "If you look at some of the players on our team and the past coaches they had in their history, a lot of the guys have thrived under that kind of coaching. And I felt that we needed to get more fire in there."

Judging from that, Sather expects Tortorella's coaching style to help turn around a team that lost 10 of the 12 games prior to Renney's dismissal. Renney's lack of fire led to his team's fall and Tortorella's presence will make the Rangers a hungry team once again. In theory, the hunger will ultimately lead to more wins.

One thing is certain, if the coaching change doesn't bring W's, Sather's head will be next on the chopping block. After all, if a new coach with a completely different style than his predecessor gets the same results, then maybe Sather's personnel approach is the problem.

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Dan Di Sciullo
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