The 2013 New York Rangers had their season ended by the eventual Eastern Conference champion Boston Bruins in the second round of the playoffs. Shortly after the season ended the front office made a change and fired John Tortorella and replaced him with our old friend, Alain Vigneault. AV isn't exactly taking over a rebuild project, but rather a team who has made the playoffs in 7 out of the last seasons. Tortorella was fired for not getting the Rangers to the next level, and Vigneault was fired for not getting the Canucks to the final level. This should be an interesting story to watch during the course of the season.
Today we talk to Joe Fortunato from Blue Shirt Banter and his take and what to look forward to in 2013-14.
The Rangers parted ways with head coach John Tortorella after the season. What were the main factors leading to his dismissal and are you going to miss his post game pressers?
I think there were a lot of factors that contributed to his dismissal. The biggest had to be the fact that the team wasn't getting any better with him as the head coach. I know that sounds like a dumb thing to say after the Rangers played 32 playoff games in the last two seasons combined, but it's true. The team wasn't making obviously needed adjustments and they weren't getting closer to getting over the hump. That, more than anything, lead to Tortorella getting his pink slip.
I also believe his system and personality wore on the locker room to the point where they started playing in spite of him rather than for him. Glen Sather refuses to admit there was a "mutiny" after the season was over -- for what it's worth I agree I don't think a group of players went to Sather to complain -- although Tortorella disagrees. We'll probably never know the truth.
The Blue Shirts have replaced Tortorella with former Canucks coach Alain Vigneault, who has had a history of talented teams that self implode at the most meaningful times of the year. Are Rangers fans happy with the hire?
I think Rangers fans are thrilled with the hire. Of all the available coaches (including team legend Mark Messier) Vigneault was the one guy everyone seemed to want. I think his system, system and personality are exactly what the Rangers need. Sure, he's had some team implode, but it's never just on the coach and I'm excited to see what he can bring to Broadway.
All world goaltender Henrik Lundqvist is entering the final year of his contract. Do you think this will become a distraction through the course of the 2013-14 season and are you worried about losing Hank next offseason?
No and no. Last time Lundqvist was due for an extension it got completed by January. I expect a similar outcome here as well. He's made it clear he loves New York and that he wants to win here. That's not going to change. I think he loves the big stage and the bright lights.
And while you guys are also spoiled by playing in a huge and passionate market like Chicago, nothing is like New York.
The Rangers have a ton of cap space dedicated to Rick Nash and Brad Richards, neither of which had very productive playoff runs. How confident are you that these two can bounce back to lead the Rangers on a deep run in the post season?
Nash was playing with some pretty substantial back and wrist injuries last season. And while neither issue required offseason surgery -- which lead to many fans incorrectly assuming he was "healthy" for the playoffs -- it was obvious Nash wasn't playing the same game he was in the regular season. I have no doubt in my mind Nash will bounce back.
Richards is a different story. I think not playing in Europe during the lockout last year hurt him a lot. He got out of his rhythm and never found his game. I hope he bounces back to the Richards of old, and I do think Vigneault's offensive system will help, but I'm not as confident with him.
Also, quick note on the contract for Richards, the Rangers didn't buy him out because there was nothing in the market worth buying this year (looking at you, Maple Leafs). I would be shocked if he survived this season, regardless of how good he does. Big, front-loaded contracts don't have a place in the new landscape of the NHL.
Derek Stepan lead the Rangers in point last season with 44. Is this something we can expect for years to come or was it the product of a shortened season?
I think so. Derek Stepan is a guy that's had a lot of success everywhere he's been. He was dominant in college, had more points than any other player in the 2010 World Juniors when the USA took gold and put up 45 points and 51 points before breaking out last year.
Without a doubt, Stepan was the most consistent offensive talent for the Rangers last year. That includes Rick Nash, Marian Gaborik, Ryan Callahan, anyone. That's the type of player the Rangers expected when they drafted him and that's who he has become.
Depending on who you follow Twitter, Michael Del Zotto is either a pretty damn good defenseman or he sucks. Which one is it?
People on Blueshirt Banter actually think I am Michael Del Zotto because of the way I defend him. So, there's that. He isn't nearly as bad as anyone thinks he is. He has a lot of growing to do, sure, but in terms of the offense he creates (at his age) I'm willing to give him a pass on some of the mistakes and issues defensively.
Rangers fans are remarkable impatient. I can't tell you how many fans wished Stepan was traded for Nash rather than Anisimov in the beginning of the year (Stepan actually struggled the first five games last season). Now? They're eating their words. What's worse? Those are the same people who hate Del Zotto.
Doesn't make sense to me to give up on a 22-year-old defenseman with a very high offensive ceiling. Those guys don't grow on trees.
I have a bit of a man crush on Ryan Callahan. What would it take to have you guys send him to Chicago?
In the real world? You'd have to blow the Rangers away simply because he wears the "C" and he means everything to the team. In terms of a "fair" trade? Probably some of your better prospects and a higher draft pick.
Tell you what? You give me Kane and we'll call it fair. I have a bit of a man crush on him too.
Thanks again to Joe from Blue Shirt Banter for helping us out The Rangers make their first appearance at the United Center since March of 2012 on January 8th. The Hawks return to Broadway on February 27th for their final regular season meeting with the Rangers.