Sunday, June 09, 2002

Hiring Trottier a gutsy move

NHL notes

The (Westchester, N.Y.) Journal News

        It's not that we're getting tired of being the voice of negativity about the Rangers, or that we can't find anything negative to say about their hiring of Bryan Trottier.

        Indeed, the belief is on record here in the past that Ken Hitchcock would have been the best choice to coach the misfit, underachieving, non-defending Rangers.

        But the typically-gutsy move by Glen Sather to bring Trottier and his Islanders legend to the Rangers could turn out to be a pot of gold. Or it could blow up in Sather's face.

        Still, once it was decided that Hitchcock was not Sather's man, and that Ted Nolan really didn't have enough to influence Sather to hire him out of coaching limbo, and that Herb Brooks' heart really wasn't in it, the best way to go was to a rookie.

        That is how teams wind up with a Joel Quenneville or a Bob Hartley, with a Marc Crawford or a Peter Laviolette or a Greg Gilbert or an Andy Murray or a Bob Francis or even a Barry Trotz (the other “Trots” is coach of the Nashville Predators, by the way).

        Every successful NHL coach starts out a rookie, as does every failure. So Sather went through the process, listened to various assistant coaches looking for their NHL breakthroughs, and came up with Trottier.

        The other option was a retread, and the Rangers don't need a retread right now. Pat Burns. Mike Keenan. Barry Melrose, for crying out loud. Getting guys who have records doesn't always work. Just see: John Muckler.

        The point is, the Rangers need somebody who can get their attention, and Trottier's seven Cup rings do that. So does his resume as one of the best two-way forwards in hockey history. Guys who were superstars and played both ends of the ice are more respected than guys who just scored. Just look at Steve Yzerman and a young Mark Messier, Ron Francis, guys like that.

        The two things about Trottier almost as good as his credentials as a player are that he played for and learned from some of the great coaches ever, including Scotty Bowman and Al Arbour; and that he comes directly from Colorado, where young players are allowed to learn and grow by playing. The Avalanche, easily among the top three teams in hockey since 1995, still manage to rebuild while they win, and their kids make mistakes. The Avs live with those mistakes. The Rangers haven't done so, even while whiffing on the playoffs for five straight seasons.

        Trottier can also teach the Rangers some things about the parts of the game in which they are brutally weak: Faceoffs, penalty killing, power play and forwards doing the right thing in the defensive zone. In fact, there probably isn't anybody better to give lessons in those areas, where both Muckler and Ron Low came up woefully short.

        Will he win? Nobody knows. Would Keenan have won here (he hasn't done much in his four coaching stops since the Stanley Cup parade in 1994)? Would Hitchcock have won here?

        Yeah, it's a gamble. But this is where you have to give Sather credit, too. He just doesn't care what anybody else says or thinks or warns. If he thinks it's the right move, he makes it, and the heck with everybody and anybody who disagrees.

        Is it dangerous to bring in an ex-Islander? Heck, yeah. Is it dangerous to hire a guy who has been bankrupt and may want to coach because he needs the big salary? Yup. Is it a risk to give the keys to a guy with no record? Absolutely.

        Is it worth a shot. Yes sir.


        So Sather wants Mike Richter to finish his career as a Ranger? So he is talking with Richter's agent, Mike Gillis. Could it be that Sather is going to make Richter an offer he has to refuse, and thus make it look like the lifelong Ranger bolted for more money as the organization did to Mark Messier in 1997?

        One thing we don't understand. If the Rangers' goal is the Cup (not just making the playoffs, we are always reminded), why would they rid themselves of the one piece of the Cup puzzle they have: The elite goalie? Richter's heart is still in New York, but we're hearing more and more that his healed head is ready to go elsewhere. That might be Philadelphia.

        The Flyers, by the way, are readying a big, big pitch to Bobby Holik, too. Dallas is among the teams getting the bundles of money ready for Bill Guerin. If Sather wants free agents this summer, he's going to have to come firing out of the gate with enormous offers at 12:01 a.m. July 1.


        Sather was hired hours before Game 2 of the 2000 Stanley Cup finals. Trottier was hired hours before Game 2 of the 2002 Stanley Cup finals.


        Assistant coach Roger Neilson hopes to stay in Ottawa, despite an invite from his friend, Keenan, to come down to sunny Florida. Health-wise, Neilson admitted, going south would have been a good move. But Neilson said he feels good enough to stay in Ottawa, where he is helpful and appreciated.


        ESPN's Gary Thorne has made strides in the pronunciation department. Now if he can just get out of the habit of using the term “cleared” so frequently and incorrectly. “Cleared” means to get the puck out of the defensive zone. It isn't used for an offensive dump-in (“cleared in”), or for a pass that doesn't get out of the zone (“cleared, but not out”).


        People are complaining about the number of penalties in the early games of the Cup finals. Yes, constant power plays take away from the flow of the game. But constant power plays are better than offenses stalled by obstruction, illegal picks and slashes to the hands. Good job by the refs so far.


        Now ESPN is hanging ads off its upper-corner scorebox. Guess they have to come up with money to pay the 17 analysts and reporters they have stumbling over each other at every game.


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