NEW YORK — Rookie coach Bryan Trottier was fired by the New York 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.
Trottier, who starred for the rival New York Islanders for 15 years, replaced Ron Low in June but held the job just 54 games in his first head coaching stint.
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 sandwiched around the Rangers’ 7-2 loss at Washington on Sunday. New York was outscored 16-5 during this three-game losing streak.
“After the last three games, I made the decision that the team was sliding in the wrong direction,” general manager Glen 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 plays host to 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 Wednesday afternoon after concluding his final practice with the team.
“I think he looked a little relieved,” Sather said. “It was a shock, but he looked like the weight of the world was off his shoulders.
“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 could still remain in the Rangers organization.
Trottier helped the Islanders win four Stanley Cups in the 1980s, and Ranger fans never really warmed up to the Hall of Famer. 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 he 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.”
Trottier is the seventh coach to lose his job this season — and the All-Star break isn’t until this weekend.
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.
“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. I still think that Bryan is going to be a good coach in this league.”
At least 20 people were given a long questionnaire. Many responded well to it, but only Trottier wrote his answers by hand — faxing dozens 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 are 21-26-6-1 and sit in 11th place in the Eastern Conference, four points behind the Islanders, who currently hold the eighth and final playoff spot.