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 Tuesday, March 28
Rangers clean house: Fire coach, GM
Associated Press

 NEW YORK -- With only four games left and the playoffs all but out of reach for the third straight season, the New York Rangers cleaned house Tuesday, firing general manager Neil Smith and coach John Muckler.

Smith, in his 11th year as GM and president, was in charge when the Rangers won the 1994 Stanley Cup -- ending a 54-year drought. But he has not come close to matching that success.

John Muckler
Muckler has a 70-79-24 record with the Rangers.
The Rangers, who have the NHL's largest payroll at $61 million, are five points behind Buffalo in the race for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. New York (29-38-11-3) has lost five straight games and is 1-8-1 in its last 10 games.

"Once you make a decision like this, the sooner the better," Madison Square Garden president Dave Checketts said. "We made the decision last night. I didn't see any reason to wait."

Muckler was in his second full season as New York's coach after getting the job on Feb. 19, 1998. He replaced the fired Colin Campbell, now the NHL's disciplinarian.

Assistant John Tortorella will coach the team through the final four games. Checketts said a GM will be hired and he will pick the next coach.

Tuesday, March 28
If you don't win in hockey, especially with the Rangers' high expectations, someone will pay the price -- and it's never the players. John Muckler was fired because all the players they signed to expensive contracts had terrible years. That's the bottom line. With their payroll, the Rangers expected to make a run at the Stanley Cup, but they have been awful.

Smith tried to go out and get the best players, but he will be faulted because people will say he should have known that the players he signed couldn't play in New York. Theo Fleury and Valeri Kamensky were the two top players available, and they got two veteran defensemen in Sylvain Lefebvre and Stephane Quintal as well as Tim Taylor. While all five are solid players, none of them had good years. Smith had been with the Rangers a long time and won a Cup, but you can't fire the players.

I think the timing was done to appease fans a bit. Personally, I'm glad they didn't make Muckler stand in Madison Square Garden one more time and coach the Rangers in their final home game. Realistically, the Rangers still have a shot at the playoffs if they won every game, so the organization is also trying to make the firings look like a last-ditch effort to motivate the players.

The final blows for Muckler and Smith were home-and-home embarrassments on Sunday and Monday in which the Rangers were beaten 8-2 and 6-0 by Detroit.

Madison Square Garden fans booed the players and shouted for Muckler's dismissal. They got their wish a day later.

"It's going to be a tremendous amount of work, and it's going to require new leadership," Checketts said of the rebuilding process. "There should be more scoring, more defense, more pride in the Ranger jersey.

"I want to do what I have to to make it work for the fans. They deserve so much more."

If the Rangers fail to qualify for the postseason, it will be the first time since 1963-66 they have missed the playoffs in three consecutive years.

"At best it was disappointing, at worst embarrassing," Checketts said.

New York's loss to Detroit on Monday also ensured the Rangers' third straight home-losing record. That hasn't happened since 1957-58 through 1959-60.

"At times things don't work out as planned and this is one of those times," Checketts said. "In the best interests of the franchise and our fans, it has become clear that we have to go in a different direction."

As coach of Edmonton and Buffalo, Muckler never missed the playoffs in six seasons. He was 70-91-24, plus three regulation ties, in 185 games with the Rangers.

Muckler coached Edmonton to the Stanley Cup title in 1990 and the conference finals the following year. He served as Buffalo's general manager and coach for two seasons, before relinquishing the coaching job in 1995.

After a seven-game winning streak turned the Rangers' fortunes around, the club is 6-15-4 since February's All-Star weekend.

"These decisions are made about results," Checketts said. "Our record since the All-Star break has clearly brought this all to a head. Losing creates this."

Muckler's coaching record
(regular season, playoffs)
Year Team W L T Pct.
69-69 Min. 6 23 6 .257
89-90 Edm. 38 28 14 .563
90-91 Edm. 37 37 6 .500
91-92 Buf. 22 22 8 .500
92-93 Buf. 38 36 10 .512
93-94 Buf. 43 32 9 .565
94-95 Buf. 22 19 7 .531
97-98 NYR 8 15 2 .360
98-99 NYR 33 38 11 .470
99-00 NYR 29 38 11 .491
Totals -- 276 288 84 .491
Year Team W L -- Pct.
89-90 Edm. 16 6 -- .727
90-91 Edm. 9 9 -- .500
91-92 Buf. 3 4 -- .429
92-93 Buf. 4 4 -- .500
93-94 Buf. 3 4 -- .429
94-95 Buf. 1 4 -- .200
Totals -- 1 4 .200 .537
The Rangers' last playoff appearance in 1997 lasted until the conference finals when the club was eliminated in five games. Those were Mark Messier's last games with New York before he left for Vancouver as a free agent.

Acquisitions such as Theo Fleury, Sylvain Lefebvre, Stephane Quintal and Tim Taylor, and the re-signing of captain Brian Leetch to a big contract failed to pay off.

"I'm not taking myself out of responsibility for what happened," Checketts said. "None of the free agents has performed the way we thought they would."

Smith enjoyed early success, as the Rangers finished first twice -- including a Presidents' Trophy as the NHL's best team in 1991-92 -- and second once, marking the Rangers' three best consecutive seasons. On his watch the Rangers have won three division titles, two Presidents' trophies and the Stanley Cup.

In the past year, the Rangers' philosophy changed from one of sending away young talent for high-priced veterans, to one of developing a pipeline through the farm system.

Smith refrained from making a deal for NHL-leading goal scorer Pavel Bure, before he was dealt last season from Vancouver to Florida. He also did not make any major deals at this season's trade deadline.

"None of us had the kind of year we expected," Checketts said. "It's not one losing streak or a couple of games against Detroit. It's a whole host of things."

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