There isn’t a slam-dunk candidate among those vying to replace John Tortorella behind the bench as next head coach of the New York Rangers.
Out of this group, former Canucks’ head coach Alain Vigneault makes the most immediate sense given his recent success in Vancouver. While a four-game sweep to the San Jose Sharks wasn’t the way Vigneault wished to depart the stage, his résumé makes the most sense given the qualities that GM Glen Sather is looking for.
During his 20-minute press conference, Sather stressed that the goal of the Rangers’ organization is nothing short of delivering the Stanley Cup. Vigneault nearly tasted the champagne of a Stanley Cup title when he took the Canucks to a seventh game in the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals before being shut out by the Bruins 4-0 in Game 7.
Besides his sustained success in Vancouver, Vigneault’s coaching philosophies might be exactly what Sather desires. Sather has molded the Rangers’ roster from a grinding one that fits the qualities that Tortorella desires into one that has the pieces required to play a faster, more opened up brand of offensive hockey.
In Vancouver it was clear that Vigneault got the most out of the Cancucks’ offensive talents and his desire to use advanced hockey statistics is something could intrigue Sather. Vigneault fully embraces the usage of these statistics and is progressive in his nature.
The one knock against Vigneault is his tendency to slip up during interviews and in a city in New York that could certainly be an issue. Dealing with the media in Vancouver will have prepared him for a large market like New York, but experiencing it is another thing entirely.
Some Rangers fans would be comfortable in seeing a familiar face in Lindy Ruff behind the bench.
What’s worrying about Ruff are his close similarities to Tortorella. He’s known to be equally-demanding of his players and constantly delivers feedback to them on the bench. Like Tortorella, he doesn’t let his players breathe.
While there was a time when Ruff received credit for his offensive approach, but his philosophies trended into the direction of defense-first at the end of his 16-year reign in Buffalo.
Ruff certainly brings stability to the table, but Sather expects this team to win the Stanley Cup now. He wasn’t able to reach hockey’s mountain top in Buffalo despite having the great Dominik Hasek between the pipes and a string of high-caliber goalies who followed in Martin Biron and Ryan Miller.
The great ‘dark horse’ candidate is of course, Mark Messier. While it would be unusual for Sather change tracks from the experience of Tortorella to an unknown coaching quantity in Messier, it wouldn’t be a total surprise.
Sather reached out to Messier in 2002 following Ron Low’s firing and Messier was also a leading candidate to take over behind the Edmonton Oilers’ bench in recent years.
What Messier lacks in experience, he certainly makes up for with the conviction of his words and serving as a leader of men. There’s a reason why Sather is keeping him around. Jeff Gorton is waiting in the wings should Sather eventually choose to relinquish his duties as GM. Maybe now is the time that Messier makes the great leap.
Considering the timing of Sather’s decision to pull the plug on Tortorella, maybe he has Messier up his sleeve after all. It’s hard to tell. I’d give the edge to Vigneault, but I’m not counting out the possibility of Messier getting the gig.
You can follow Sean on Twitter @HartnettHockey.