As the Rangers prepare for their contest with the Cheese Steaks tonight, we can observe 2 teams with 2 new coaches both vying for the cellar in the Metropolitan division. The coach in Philly has now lost 4 straight. There was no new coach “bounce” for that team and we now hear Ken Hitchcock quotes about how it takes 30-45 days for a team to acclimate to a new coach. In contrast, a story is emerging in Colorado, where Patrick Roy in his first stint as coach, has turned a team around from bottom feeder to a consistent winner at 8-1, even a Penguins beater.
For the famously underachieving early 70s Rangers, a team stocked with the Rangers’ first 50 goal scorer, Vic Hatfield, the speedy dominating Rod Gilbert, the elegant playmaker Jean Ratelle, the all-star defenseman Brad Park, and the beloved Eddie Giacomin in net, the ultimate prize was elusive. Coaching for them seemed to matter to a degree. Emile Francis, for several seasons in a row, would hire a new coach, the team would falter, and he would reassume the coach position and go on a tear. Same team, with little time to install a new “system” and they would immediately start winning games. Strategy, “Xs and Os”, is something a coach certainly institutes, but as the current players have been saying the last few days, no system reinvents the game; you still have to cover your man, and create opportunities up front. So what can be the difference for a coach?
Here is where there may be an impact: getting the most out of players and placing them in a frame of mind to consistently succeed. Much of this is psychological. There is a good deal written about how players making millions shouldn’t have to be motivated. I believe most players bring a lot of good intentions to every game, and this includes the opposition. When suiting up, they’re thinking: “let’s bring it!” or “let’s get a win!” The difference is in which team can squeeze out that little bit more, the extra jump, the extra victorious battle along the boards, or the extra burst of speed at the right moment. Former head coach John Tortorella creates this edge apparently by being “in players’ faces.” Francis was successful perhaps by being coach and GM, a friendly presence who had a history of results. Of course, the playoffs needed something again extra that he could not provide.
AV acknowledges his responsibility for this team. He believes it has the horses; that they have won before, and can win again. He has to find a way to inspire that extra jump, edge, or commitment every night. Let’s give him some more time to do that. It’s not about learning a new system, but rather how and if he can have them hit the ice with the confidence and enthusiasm anyone has for the first day in winter when you lace up the skates, take to fresh ice, and feel like you can fly.