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Campbell's Cuts: Renney takes fall for Sather's mistakes

Tom Renney has led the Rangers to a 31-23-7 record this season. (Photo by Andy Marlin/NHLI via Getty Images)

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Tom Renney has led the Rangers to a 31-23-7 record this season. (Photo by Andy Marlin/NHLI via Getty Images)

John Tortorella recently had his cell phone number changed to one with a 416 area code, no doubt so his employers at TSN would have easy access to him. That way, it would be a quick, local call for them to get Tortorella’s unique brand of sunshine.

In the next day or so Tortorella will be changing his area code to 212 or 647 or whatever it is for cell phones in New York.

In what is an ironic reversal of fortunes, Rangers GM Glen Sather is expected to make Tortorella the Rangers next coach, the same man he bought out as a Rangers assistant and allowed to go to Tampa Bay almost a decade ago.

That was the start of a scorched-earth policy under the auspices of Sather that has produced two playoff round victories in seven years and nothing even close to a Stanley Cup. It continues today as another good man and good coach, this time Tom Renney – actually two good men if you include highly competent assistant coach Perry Pearn, who was also whacked by Sather – pays for a series of incompetent moves by an alleged Hall of Fame GM.

In fact, you could easily argue that Renney has been the best coach the Rangers have had since Colin Campbell, who last was behind the Rangers bench 11 years ago. He communicated well with the players, got the most out of many of them, including Jaromir Jagr, and instilled in the team a system of disciplined defensive play.

But the fish rots from the head down and that’s the case with the Rangers. Like most unsuccessful organizations, they are top-heavy with problems starting with a meddlesome chairman and then moving down to Sather, whose philosophy since joining the Rangers in 2000 is to throw money around and see what works.

If you look at the Rangers roster, it’s pretty easy to see why they’ve scored only 20 goals in their past 12 games. Last season, Sather lost Jagr, Brendan Shanahan and Martin Straka and replaced them with Markus Naslund, Nikolai Zherdev and Aaron Voros. That’s 62 goals and 158 points gone, replaced by three players who so far have scored 42 goals and 96 points.

The Rangers couldn’t, or wouldn’t, bring back Jagr or Shanahan, but found $6.5 million in salary cap money for Wade Redden, a player who was clearly on the decline given his play with the Ottawa Senators the past couple of seasons. His foot speed has diminished, he plays a passive game and the faithful at Madison Square Garden seem intent on shattering any confidence he might have once had.

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Bad signing. But there have been a lot of those under Sather’s watch. For example, why did Sather see the need to burn up $14.4 million in salary cap space to sign both Scott Gomez and Chris Drury two summers ago? What the Rangers effectively did was use up about a quarter of their cap space on two second-line centers, neither one of which has ever had a history of scoring goals.

Gomez is a set-up man and Drury is the consummate leader with a history for coming through in the clutch, but neither was worth the money and by paying them what he did, Sather created an expectation for both players that neither could match.

Of course, that’s nothing new for Sather, who whined about having no money in Edmonton then acted like a sailor on shore leave once he ran into it with the Rangers. Here’s a guy who took what everyone in hockey knew was a third-line center in Bobby Holik and paid him first-line money, then people wondered why Holik didn’t produce once he started drawing a huge salary.

It’s because players don’t change, expectations do. Those expectations are created by GMs such as Sather, who pay players far more than they’re worth.

Anyone who has talked to Renney over the years can see he’s an insightful, intelligent hockey guy. Sometimes he uses eight words when two will do, but there is no denying he can coach. Renney was stuck in a bad situation by a GM whose roster construction skills left a lot to be desired and actually made himself an easy target by being a good guy.

As one industry observer noted, Renney’s biggest problem was that, “he couldn’t be an a—hole.”

No problem there with the new guy.

Ken Campbell, author of the book Habs Heroes, is a senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Wednesday and Fridays and his column, Campbell's Cuts, appears Mondays.

For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.

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