The struggling New York Rangers have fired head coach Tom Renney with 21 games left in the NHL season.
The last straw came after the Rangers' 3-2 overtime loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs on Sunday, which handed New York its tenth loss in 12 games (2-7-3).
''I've been thinking about it the last couple of weeks,'' general manager Glen Sather said. ''I wish it hadn't have come to this, but it did. After the last two or three games it was obvious something had to be done.''
Rangers' assistant coach Parry Pearn was given his pink slip as well, however fellow assistant Mike Pelino was retained along with goalie coach Benoit Allaire.
As soon as the fired Renney, they had a deal in place for ex-Tampa Bay Lightning coach John Tortorella to take over. But it took some seven hours and a flurry of complex and confusing behind-the-scenes activity before Sather could confirm Tortorella was free and clear to join the Blueshirts.
The Stanley Cup-winning Tortorella had a short stint behind the Rangers bench in the 1999-2000 season, when he spent four games as head coach after working the rest of the year as an assistant. He went 0-3-1 to close out the season. He briefly assumed the head coaching role after John Muckler was fired. Tortorella left for Tampa the next season when Neil Smith was fired as general manager in New York and Glen Sather was brought in to replace him.
The Rangers are currently in sixth place in the Eastern Conference, but they sit only two points ahead of ninth-place Carolina in a tight playoff race.
The team has been booed recently by home fans at MSG who have also chanted for Renney to be fired. With their recent string of poor play, the team knew something needed to be done sooner rather than later.
"Clearly we haven't played well enough this past month," Rangers' captain Chris Drury told THE CANADIAN PRESS. "On a positive note, there's time left, we're in the thick of things. It comes down to us."
The players met with Renney and Sather following a Monday morning workout at the team's suburban practice facility.
"Sometimes you have to accept that you need a change and you have to do it," goaltender Henrik Lundqvist told THE CANADIAN PRESS. "It's all about winning, and someone had to pay the price. But we're all responsible for this."
Renney may have been doomed by the sub-par play of centres Drury and Scott Gomez who both signed high profile free agent contracts in the summer of 2007.
"It's a tough part of the business," Gomez told THE CANADIAN PRESS. "As players, it's definitely on us. We feel 100 per cent responsible, but also, we still have a lot of games left and we're still in position where we can get into the playoffs. We have to find it. We have to find a way."
In an interesting sidenote, all four NHL teams that opened the NHL season in Europe have now fired their head coaches this season. In addition to Renney, other coaches to get the axe are the Penguins' Michel Therrien, the Lightning's Barry Melrose and the Senators' Craig Hartsburg.
Those teams were part of the NHL's move to generate interest overseas by holding regular season games in Prague, Czech Republic and Stockholm, Sweden to kick off the 2008-09 campaign.
Renney, who turns 54 on March 1, was in his sixth season with the team.
He was originally named to the Rangers coaching staff as an assistant in 2003 after spending time as the team's Director of Player Personnel and Vice President of player development. Renney was then appointed as the team's interim head coach for the final 20 games of the 03-04 season replacing the team's current general manager Glen Sather behind the bench.
Renney was named as a finalist for the Jack Adams award as the league's top coach in his first year as New York finished sixth in the Eastern Conference and a first round playoff sweep of the Atlanta Thrashers.
Prior to his time in the Big Apple, Renney cut his teeth with Hockey Canada, helping the team capture a silver medal at the Lillehammer, Olympics in Norway in 1994. He also coached for Canada at 10 World Hockey Championships, capturing three gold, three silver and two bronze medals in the process.
Renney then got his first NHL head coaching job with the Vancouver Canucks, where he was behind the bench from the 1996-97 season to midway through the 1997-98 season, when he was fired and replaced by Mike Keenan.
The Rangers are 31-23-7 this season.