When John Tortorella was brought in to be head coach last season, an air of change seemed to be surrounding the New York Rangers franchise. Just prior to the deadline, Tortorella was critical of the team's conditioning and also promised to deploy a high-flying, hard-working, and resilient team that could go deep in the playoffs.
The 2009 trade deadline began that transformation, jettisoning young wingers Nigel Dawes and Petr Prucha as well as veteran bust Dmitri Kalinin and a pick, to Phoenix and Toronto, respectively, for defenseman Derek Morris and forward Nik Antropov.
Each move proved fruitless in the end as Morris signed with Boston and Antropov with Atlanta. Perhaps it was an ominous sign of things to come.
Nonetheless, Tortorella's first offseason was chock full of change.
Spritely center Scott Gomez was sent to Montreal for a top defensive prospect in Ryan McDonagh and reasonably priced forward Chris Higgins. All-Star winger Marian Gaborik was signed. Hobey Baker winner Matt Gilroy chose the Rangers to begin his NHL career. And the solid fourth line (and top penalty killing unit) of Freddy Sjostrom, Colton Orr, and Blair Betts were all told to look for employment elsewhere in favor of a tougher, more offensively minded group of Brian Boyle and Donald Brashear as well as Aaron Voros.
Add to that list the signing of Ales Kotalik, the acquisition of Enver Lisin for Lauri Korpikoski, and the last-minute addition of veteran Vinny Prospal. All-in-all, the Rangers had an eventful offseason.
Even with the contract holdout of Brandon Dubinsky, there was a lot of promise surrounding this group. A renewed sense of accountability and work ethic.
A tremendous training camp left everyone applauding the effort both the players and coaches put in, which translated to a terrific winning streak to begin the season.
Rookie Mike Del Zotto was making his presence known from the point of the power play and even maligned veteran Wade Redden seemed to be on the upswing.
But somewhere along this roller coaster ride of a season, it all went wrong.
Inconsistency became the consistent analysis of the Rangers play. Kotalik and Redden became the patsies of the coaching staff. The promising Lisin became the latest "Prucha," and line combinations changed more frequently than an infants diaper.
Brashear was a shell of his former self and eventually found himself in the press box more often than the ice. Today he resides in Hartford.
Kotalik's feud with the coaching staff became apparent and he, along with offensively-struggling Higgins, found themselves shipped to Calgary in exchange for tempermental center Olli Jokinen and young bruiser Brandon Prust.
The train got off the tracks somewhere this season and seemingly it couldn't be rescued as the Rangers now sit seven points out of the final playoff seed after yesterday's 2 - 1 loss at the hands of the rival Boston Bruins.
There's no easy answer as to why. In fact, this season has taken on an eerily similar reflection to last year. Former head coach Tom Renney was praised for the conditioning of the players in the offseason and the team got off to a terrific start overseas and continued that back on North American soil.
But his luck ran out and the players eventually quit on him.
Tortorella similarly was applauded for his tough training camp, but the arguable overuse of his top lines has left his stars laggard and tired. His promise of limiting goaltender Henrik Lundqvist's starts, especially with the Olympics, fell short as the Rangers got further behind in the standings and backup Steve Valiquette was sent to the minors.
Now, Lundqvist lacks the sharp, confident play that has made him successful in his first seasons in New York.
And the offensive system that Tortorella had promised, lasted about as long as the team's October winning streak. Whether it was due to personnel or otherwise, the fiery coach learned quickly that he needed a more defensive sysetm to be successful.
Essentially, he was playing Renney's style that he expressed such a dislike towards.
The mea culpa of all of this may have occurred this past week in the comments of Captain Chris Drury. As we discussed over at Blueshirt Bulletin Plus, the "immaturity" that Drury cited is valid and the quick dismissal of it by the coaching staff only exemplifies further the disconnect that exists amongst the locker room.
While the math is still possible for a Rangers post-season appearance, their on-ice play is reminiscent of a team that has quit on their coaches and quit on themselves.
Personnel changes are going to have to be addressed in the offseason, but the culture surrounding the franchise goes much deeper than any top-line center can fix. Accountability starts at the top down and right now, the Rangers and the organization are pointing fingers in a lot of different directions.