Monday, 23 February 2009

The European Curse

I was searching for images of guillotines for today's news when it occurred to me that Tom Renney's firing from the New York Rangers had a commonality between him and three other men this season. Long gone are Barry Melrose and Craig Hartsburg from their respective teams, and Michel Therrien joined those two last week. While Tampa Bay never even came close to their potential under Melrose, Hartsburg seemed out of answers when it came to the Ottawa Senators and their season-long funk thus far. Pittsburgh has struggled mightily as well this season, and Therrien was shown the door after two-thirds of an underachieving season. It now appears that Tom Renney, while unable to turn around a dreadful two months, will be joining the other three men who opened the season overseas with games in Europe.

While I'm not saying that next season's European tour featuring the Blackhawks, Panthers, Red Wings, and Blues will result in pink slips for Joel Quenneville, Peter deBoer, Mike Babcock, and Andy Murray, the fact is that the four men who started the season in Europe this year are gone from their teams. Fired and dismissed like yesterday's trash.

Honestly, though, there have been rumblings in New York for some time about Renney's apparent lack of ability behind the bench, although you'd never hear it from the players. Renney's lack of fire and emotion behind the bench was a detriment to his team apparently, thus making his calm demeanor less valuable as a steady influence to young players.

Excuse me, but I don't buy that for a second. I may have repeated it, but it seems like a steaming pile of you-know-what. And that's what this article is about today.

In every single case of these four teams - New York, Ottawa, Pittsburgh, and Tampa Bay - the management model is the same. All four teams have between two and four players signed to massive contracts. All four teams have an apparent lack of depth. And all four teams have struggled mightily this year, especially through injuries.

All four coaches struggled to ice lineups this season that could compete with the likes of the Bruins, Red Wings, Sharks, Devils, or Capitals. All four coaches struggled with shaky, inconsistent goaltending and untested, unreliable back-up goaltenders. All four coaches had special teams that went ice-cold for long stretches of the season thus far. And all four coaches are now watching from home.

While the coaches are somewhat responsible for their team's play, the majority of blame has to be dumped at Glen Sather's door for the Rangers' struggles. This is a team that plays far too soft far too often. Bringing back Sean Avery won't help this team get any tougher either. When Scott Gomez, Chris Drury, Markus Naslund, and Wade Redden are earning $28.1 million and posting combined totals of 47 goals, 89 assists, and a -45, are you happy with your return on investment this season? When Alexander Ovechkin is four goals behind the four top-salaried players on your team for the entire season, you know you have problems.

The same problems plague the Lightning, Senators, and Penguins - all three teams struggle to score. The only difference is that Lecavalier, Heatley, Malkin and Crosby are scoring for those teams. Unlike the Rangers, the guys being paid the most are producing. Where they struggle is in the depth department.

Look, I think Renney is a solid coach who succumbed to the same problems as Hartsburg and Therrien - an underachieving club riddled with injuries and listlessness who, on paper, should be a lot better. I also think that this won't be the last we see of Tom Renney, and he'll surface with another team before long.

But is Tom Renney to blame for the Rangers' woes? No. Not entirely. Everyone involved is responsible to a degree. After all, Renney fills out the line-up, sets lines, devises a system, and gets the players to buy in. But when the players who are earning the most money aren't scoring goals and you have to sacrifice good depth players to sign these albatrosses, the blame must be shifted to the man putting the depth chart together: the general manager.

The Rangers seemingly have been running off Sather's past for a long time. Yes, he built the Edmonton Oilers from literally nothing, and he deserves recognition for that. However, since 1990, what has Sather done? Not much, if you ask me. Smoking cigars in the pressbox notwithstanding.

Look at his draft history since he took over in 2000. For players drafted in the Top-50, where you expect to draft solid, first-line players, Sather has acquired:

  • Dan Blackburn (10th overall, 2001) - retired from hockey.
  • Fedor Tyutin (40th overall, 2001) - Columbus Blue Jacket.
  • Lee Falardeau (33rd overall, 2002) - 83 AHL games to date.
  • Hugh Jessiman (12th overall, 2003) - 215 AHL games to date.
  • Ivan Baranka (50th overall, 2003) - playing in the KHL.
  • Al Montoya (6th overall, 2004) - 153 AHL games to date.
  • Lauri Korpikoski (19th overall, 2004) - 11 points, 47 GP.
  • Marc Staal (12th overall, 2005) - 15 points in 139 NHL games.
  • Michael Sauer (40th overall, 2005) - 116 AHL games to date.
  • Bob Sanguinetti (21st overall, 2006) - 67 AHL games to date.
  • Alexei Cherepanov (17th overall, 2007) - deceased.
  • Michael Del Zotto (20th overall, 2008) - still playing junior hockey.
Out of all those players, Staal is the only one taking a regular shift. Korpikoski has been a scratch several times this season, and Sather traded Fedor Tyutin in the Nikolai Zherdev deal. The rest of them? Nowhere to be seen. Sather gets a pass on Cherepanov simply due to the unfortunate circumstances, but when you draft like that, it's no wonder that your team is floundering. And who is the guy who is required to sign off on every draft pick that the Rangers make? GM Glen Sather.

If there is anything I want to see in the NHL this season, it's a GM who says "you know, I screwed up, not my head coach". I'll give credit to Brian Burke for calling out his players, but I want to see someone call out the general manager for stupid personnel moves. While owners rely on their general managers to make smart, shrewd personnel moves, Rangers' owner James Dolan may want to call Sather into his office for a little sit-down.

$28.1 million for four players who have produced next to nothing, an abysmal draft record, and another early-round exit in the playoffs. It doesn't sound like Glen Sather has done much of anything in nine years to rebuild the Blueshirts into the Detroit of the eastern seaboard.

And isn't that what he was hired to do?

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!


Unknown said...

Great Post. I was having this same debate with a friend and although I could not articulate myself nor provide the appropriate facts as well as you I came to the same conclusion: These coaches are taking the fall for the GM's bad decisions. A similar scenario is developing in Montreal as Guy Carbonneau has been underperforming but Gainey has been unable to acquire any ligitimate goal-scorers (Kovalev notwithstanding) since he took over 5 years ago. The only difference is that Gainey and Carbonneau are old friends and thus many suspect Guy will not likely be fired before Gainey is fired.

Tony said...

Every time I see a coach fired under circumstances like that, I just wonder how people like Joe Paterno stick around so long.

How long does a coach have to stay for there to be an "emotional" connection with the team and given free passes when the team has a bad year.

I mean, come on, look at the standings! You can't be the best every year.

Start riding the players a little more, after all, the coaches aren't making NEAR as much money as those "money core" players are.

Nobody can stick around long enough anymore to get anything set up long term. Makes me sick.