New York Rangers coach John Tortorella has had two days to mull his team’s disappointing out-of-the-playoffs finish, and already knows what changes he wants made.
The blustery Tortorella believes the Rangers need to get younger, add character to the dressing room, and remove players that don’t fit his program.
“I wasn’t crazy about the room,” the pull-no-punches Tortorella said Tuesday as the Rangers packed up for the summer. “That isn’t an indictment of (captain) Chris Drury or Ryan Callahan or our leadership group. I think some people need to be weeded out of there. It’s certainly not our core people.
“I think that room doesn’t sustain itself. I don’t think the room’s a strong room.”
High on the list of veterans who might not return next season is defenceman Wade Redden, who still has four years left on a big-money contract and could be a candidate to have his deal bought out or be sent to the minors to take his salary off the cap.
“I think some guys need to be bumped out,” Tortorella said.
Veteran backup goalie Alex Auld, acquired during the Olympic break, doesn’t seem likely to return. Tortorella said the Rangers are already scouring the list of potentially available goalies who would be able to give Henrik Lundqvist a rest and limit his appearances to the 65-70 game range.
The sting of New York’s 2-1 shootout loss in Philadelphia that eliminated the Rangers on Sunday still permeated the practice rink that was darkened and quiet.
The Rangers started the season strong with a 7-1 spurt and ended it well by going 7-1-2 in their final 10. But inconsistent play in the other 64 games ruined New York’s chances for a fifth straight playoff appearance.
“It’s tough to come in here and say goodbye and pack up your stuff and know you have five months of thinking,” forward Brandon Dubinsky said. “The biggest thing is making sure we remember how we felt.”
That was one overriding theme during a breakup day that most on the team came too soon. The other key talking point among the Rangers as they took physicals and finished exit interviews was that games in October, November and December count just as much as those in crunch time of March April.
Yes, they were eliminated in crushing fashion during Sunday’s shootout, but the reality is that the season was really doomed well before then. A win or two earlier would have been enough to get the Rangers into the top eight places in the Eastern Conference with room to spare on the final day of the season.
“One of the toughest losses I’ve had,” said Lundqvist, who made 46 saves in a brilliant final-day performance. “It was so close. The whole year comes down to that.”
New York finished in ninth place, one point behind Montreal – which is readying for a first-round matchup with top-seeded Washington instead of heading home for a long summer.
Tortorella said adding more character guys to the team such as late-season acquisitions Brandon Prust and Jody Shelley would greatly help the Rangers in the future. And instilling even more youth to a foundation group that features forwards Marian Gaborik, Callahan, and Dubinsky, along with 19-year-old defenceman Michael Del Zotto and Marc Staal would make it easier for New York to establish a team identity.
“We don’t have enough,” Tortorella said. “I’m not saying it’s anybody’s fault. I think we have a young core, now if you get some people sprinkled around then with character, I think we need to get some people out of the bus.”
Tortorella also called out players for their sub-par performance on Sunday.
Outside of Lundqvist and the line of Artem Anisimov, Prust and Shelley that produced the Rangers’ only goal, Tortorella was disappointed in Gaborik, who hit career highs with 42 goals and 86 points, and others on the top lines that couldn’t get the Rangers over the top with the season on the line.
The Rangers set up a winner-take-all game by beating Philadelphia 4-3 on Friday night in the first half of the home-and-home series.
“We played a (gutsy) game against Philly in our building and we had zero top guys show up in Philly, which was despicable,” Tortorella said. “I think Gaborik’s a legitimate star but I don’t like the way he has played in big games. I think he needs to cross the line there, but we’ve got some pieces here.
“We need to add to it. Then when you get an opportunity – hey, I might not even be here – but when you get there and you’re not fighting ninth and eighth every year you might be a legitimately good team for a while.”