Is John Tortorella Clueless or a Genius for Scratching Brad Richards in Game 4?

Steve Silverman@@profootballboyFeatured ColumnistMay 23, 2013

SUNRISE, FL - APRIL 23: Head coach John Tortorella of the New York Rangers directs the players during third period action against the Florida Panthers at the BB&T Center on April 23, 2013 in Sunrise, Florida. The Panthers defeated the Rangers 3-2. (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)
Joel Auerbach/Getty Images

Outplayed and outworked for the first three games of the series with the Boston Bruins, John Tortorella is not going to let his team fall into the abyss without putting his mark on the series.

He wants his team to play with more focus and better effort. He does not see the same intensity from his New York Rangers as he does from the Bruins.

As a result, Yahoo! Sports' Greg Wyshynski is reporting that he's decided to bench veteran forward Brad Richards for the fourth game of the series.

Richards is usually one of the team's most visible players. He is the second-highest-paid on the Rangers (behind Rick Nash) and he won the Conn Smythe Trophy for Tortorella in 2004 when both men were with the Tampa Bay Lightning.

While Tortorella and Richards were tied at the hip nearly a decade ago, their professional relationship has cooled quite a bit.

In many ways, Richards forced his coach's hand because of his stunning lack of production. Richards has been a dark hole in the playoffs, producing one goal in the Rangers' first series against the Washington Capitals and nothing else.

New York Post columnist Larry Brooks, a longtime Tortorella adversary, said the coach's decision was the proper move:

Impossible to justify giving Richards any ice or any role at this point. Parallels to ARod last October (as a player) continue.

— Larry Brooks(@NYP_Brooksie) May 23, 2013

Prior to making the decision to make Richards a DNP, Tortorella had been using him less frequently in each game of the postseason.

Richards had become a fourth-line player after a slow start against the Capitals and saw just 8:10 of action in Game 3 at Madison Square Garden in the 2-1 loss to the Bruins.

There is plenty of evidence to support Tortorella's benching, but the move will have a huge impact in the locker room because Richards is one of the team's most important leaders.

Veteran winger Arron Asham spoke to the New York Daily News about Richards' leadership and his coach's decision:

I can't speak for Brad, but he's been a leader all year with us.

He's a voice in the room, and he's one of our top players out there. I have nothing bad to say about Brad or anything like that. It's obviously not his decision; it's the coach's decision. And if that's the way he wants to go, that's the way he wants to go.

Richards accepted the demotion, saying he would do whatever he could to change the situation in the future, but it is most definitely a shock for him.

Tortorella has no reason to assert his authority just to show off his muscle with Richards. There's no doubt that Tortorella is the boss.

If the move can send a jolt of electricity into the Rangers and bring about a livelier performance, it could give New York a win in Game 4 and keep the series alive.

However, Richards is a respected and popular personality in the locker room. It could result in a last straw for the Rangers' players who are tired of Tortorella's heavy-handed methods.

It also appears that the Rangers will give strong consideration to buying out the rest of Richards' contract. Per CapGeek, he has a $60 million deal that runs through 2020-21.

An early deficit in Game 4 could prove to be fatal for the Rangers. They may be able to keep their heads in the game for a period or more, but the third period has been their undoing in this series. They have been outscored 5-1 by Boston in the final frame.

It's clear that the Bruins have plenty of focus under Claude Julien. Tortorella is hoping that a move of  addition by subtraction will return that characteristic to the Rangers.

It's a controversial and desperate move, but it could prove to be a brilliant maneuver if the Rangers come back to life.