Rangers fire first-year head coach Trottier after 54 gamesPosted: Wednesday January 29, 2003 6:40 PM
Updated: Thursday January 30, 2003 2:04 AM
After only 54 games, the Rangers decided he'd caused them enough trouble as their coach, too.
Trottier, a rookie NHL head coach, was fired by the Rangers on Wednesday as the league's highest-paid team faces a sixth straight season without a playoff berth.
The Rangers have a payroll over $70 million but are last in the Atlantic Division just over halfway through the season at 21-26-6-1.
Trottier, arguably the greatest Islanders player, replaced Ron Low in June but didn't last until February.
"I think he's a good coach," general manager Glen Sather said. "I just think at this time, under these conditions, with this group of players that maybe it wasn't the right fit."
Trottier was the seventh coach to lose his job this season -- and the All-Star break isn't until this weekend.
Hit hard by injuries this season, the Rangers showed signs of getting back into the playoff race, winning five of six games heading into last weekend.
But the Atlanta Thrashers, who have the second-fewest points in the NHL, beat New York twice in four days. Those defeats were sandwiched around a 7-2 loss at Washington on Sunday -- New York was outscored 16-5 during this three-game losing streak.
"I made the decision that the team was sliding in the wrong direction," Sather said. "If I was going to do anything to try to salvage this season I had to do something in a hurry, put some shock value into the team and get the reality of the discipline that we need to have to win."
The Rangers planned to announce a new coach on Thursday, before New York hosts the Colorado Avalanche. Rangers assistants Jim Schoenfeld and Terry O'Reilly were considered likely candidates.
But Sather, who won four Stanley Cups as coach of the Edmonton Oilers in the '80s, didn't eliminate himself as a possible replacement.
Trottier was given the news after concluding his final practice with the team Wednesday afternoon.
"It was a shock, but he looked like the weight of the world was off his shoulders," Sather said. "He said he didn't think he was the right guy for this group of players and felt like it was the right thing to do."
Sather said Trottier, who signed a three-year contract, could still remain in the Rangers organization.
Trottier helped the Islanders win four Stanley Cups in the 1980s, and Rangers fans never really warmed up to the Hall of Famer who used to torture their team on the ice. Trottier even fell out of favor with Islanders fans -- many of whom branded him a traitor.
He won two more Stanley Cups as a player with Pittsburgh and another as an assistant coach in Colorado. But Trottier couldn't bring a winning formula to the Rangers.
"It really had more to do with the discipline and the accountability more than anything," Sather said. "We were on a pretty good roll and then all of a sudden the discipline disappeared."
Bob Hartley, let go by Colorado, and Darryl Sutter, fired by San Jose, have already landed elsewhere. Hartley took over for Curt Fraser in Atlanta, and Sutter replaced Greg Gilbert with Calgary.
Before turning to Trottier, Sather interviewed several candidates, including Ken Hitchcock, who was hired by Philadelphia, Dave Tippett, who took the job in Dallas, and U.S. Olympic coach Herb Brooks.
"I certainly thought he was capable of doing the job and I felt we'd be very successful," Sather said. "I thought that it would be a great match for us. It didn't turn out to be that way."
At least 20 people were given a long questionnaire. Many responded well, but only Trottier wrote his answers by hand -- faxing dozen of pages to Sather. That was enough to win him the job.
But what was on paper didn't translate to the ice.
The Rangers sit in 11th place in the Eastern Conference, four points behind the Islanders, who hold the eighth and final playoff spot.
"I think that this team certainly has the right personnel to get into the playoffs and do well if we can get there," Sather said.
The Rangers have been hurt by injuries.
Regular goalie Mike Richter was lost for the season following a concussion in November. Trottier then used 19-year-old rookie Dan Blackburn in net for 18 straight games, until turning the job over to Mike Dunham after he was acquired from Nashville.
All-Star defenseman Brian Leetch hasn't played since Dec. 6 because of a bruised ankle, and Pavel Bure has been limited to 27 games because of knee injuries. Bobby Holik, New York's major offseason acquisition, missed 18 games because of a hip injury.
Trottier was an assistant coach with Colorado from 1998 through last season and spent three years as an assistant with Pittsburgh. His only previous head coaching experience was with Portland of the AHL in the 1997-98 season.
Like so many coaches before him, he leaves the Rangers without winning the title. Since 1940, New York has won the Stanley Cup just once -- in 1994.
Low was fired April 15 after two years. Trottier was the Rangers' 30th coach and fifth since they last made the playoffs. Sather hired Low shortly after taking over as general manager in 2000.