Somewhere in the wilds of the California desert, deep in the throes of the Ranger year-end meetings, not-dying and not-retiring New York Rangers General Manager and President Glen Sather is conducting a coaching search.
The detached GM-for-Life, who has a spotty (at best) record as team leader and has an equally spotty record as selector of coaches, faces a critical juncture in both his tenure as GM and the Blueshirts’ future.
When Sather took over the Rangers during the Clinton Administration, his first move was to not retain Interim Coach John Tortorella (Hmmm?) and to hire Oilers coach Ron Low. Low shepherded the Blueshirts through a disastorous two seasons of the Theo Fleury Era (crack is whack, y’all!) missing the playoffs both seasons.
Sensing the swelling anger from a disgruntled fanbase, Slats fired Low and did the most logical thing possible, hiring Islander great, Bryan Trottier. Trottier who had zero prior coaching experience, wowed the Hall of Fame GM with a 93 page hand-written application. Seriously, he wrote an application in pen and Slats hired him. I swear. Here, check it out.
Penmanship-ace Trottier lasted 54 games before Sather canned him and inserted himself behind the bench. However the Rangers still finished fourth and missed the playoffs yet again.
During the following season 2003-04, Sather, in one of his better moves fired himself (only as coach, sadly) and hired Tom Renney. And once again, the Rangers finished fourth and missed the playoffs.
The Great Lockout of aught-five, gave the fans a season off from finishing fourth, missing the playoffs and hating Sather. When play resumed in 2005-06 everything changed for the Rangers and their coaches as the Henrik Lundqvist Era commenced. Lundqvist carried the team and made his coach look better in the process. The Rangers riding Hank made the playoffs and would do so for the next three seasons under Renney.
But in 2009, with the Rangers struggling, Renney’s coaching shelf-life was apparently up and the Slats fired him and reached back to his Blueshirt past hiring the acerbic John Tortorella. Torts, the “Safe is Death” offensive genius coach of the 2004 Stanley Cup Champion Tampa Bay Lighting took the reins of the NYR and moved completely away from “Safe is Death” and directly into “Shotblocking is Life” mentality. His squad had some success missing the playoffs on the last day of 2009-10 but qualified the three ensuing years getting as far as the Conference Finals before losing to the Devils in 2011-12.
With his franchise goaltender, unhappy from carrying his club and having to be perfect, dangling his upcoming contract negotiations in the GM’s face, Slats dropped the axe on Tortorella ending his reign of non-offense, no creativity, shot-blocking terror. Somewhere Sam Rosen and Chris Kreider are awkwardly high-fiving.
Now Slats faces a crossroads. The salary cap is coming down six million dollars this upcoming season and Slats has several core young players that he needs to re-sign while trying to get some toughness and skill to add to the roster. He also has the Brad Richards’ anchor contract to shed. All that aside, Sather has to find the right leader for his young team. The Rangers who have an elite goaltender, are decent, but not elite. With this goaltender and a few tweaks, the NYR can compete for the Cup, but a Coach who can get the most out of Rick Nash and the young core is critical.
With that here are some of the names in the running.
Mark Messier. The Captain is the sentimental choice of Ranger fans and press who know almost nothing about hockey. Messier was a leader on the ice, one of the best ever and his raising the Cup will live in Ranger lore forever. However he was a coach killer. After the President’s Trophy winning Rangers were knocked out of the playoffs by the Penguins in 1992, Mess dogged it in 1993, The captain openly campaigned for the dismissal of Roger Nielsen and eventually got his way. Moose did the same thing in Vancouver, running Tom Renney out of a job. Messier, who has no coaching experience whatsoever, aside from 3 games coaching Canada’s C team at the 2010 Duetschland Cup in 2010, once said:
“I’m under no illusion that because I’ve played the game and been involved and won before that that automatically translates into a coach.”
Right on! Bingo! And despite his customary rambling response, he is absolutely correct. He would not be a good coach. In fact, he’d probably be terrible. We can only hope he has horrible penmanship skills. Quick remove all the pens from Hilton Head Island. Stat! Messier is a Ranger legend and should remain as such. He is terrific in his job as Special Advisor to the President (whatever that means) and should stay there. Plus he is going to have his hands full up in Kingsbridge and making his gigantic helmets. If Sather hired Messier, it would generate huge buzz and then, when Messier showed he couldn’t handle the job, Slats would have to fire him in an ugly divorce.
Lindy Ruff. This is another terrible choice. Ruff who is a blonder version of John Tortorella is having his name bandied about because, he is a head coach who just got fired. Ruff, the Sabres coach for a million years, is another hard-nosed gruff voice, who had a mediocre record in Buffalo, that is exactly opposite of what the Blueshirts need.
Alain Vigneault speaks French and led the always disappointing Vancouver Canucks to one Stanley Cup appearance, despite the Sedin twins and a boatload of talented players. Vigneault, like Ruff, is another case of “Quick, grab the closest guy available” mentality. But Vigneault is a decent coach and would help get some production out of the Rangers forwards and he wouldn’t have to deal with a goalie controversy in NYC. and at the very least, Derick Brassard and Martin Biron would be happy with a Francophone behind the bench. C’est bien!
The former journeyman defenseman and one time Ranger (1997) is currently earning rave reviews as Coach of the AHL Toronto Marlies. Eakins is a young coach with a fresh vision and looks a lot like Hugh Jackman, which is a plus. If Brad Richards somehow stays on the team and lollygags on a shift as he is wont to do, dealing with Wolverine is much more intimidating than old Fonzie.
Mike Eaves. University of Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves has been developing players (Derek Stepan, Ryan McDonagh) for years at Wisconsin. Before that he developed players with the US National Development Program Team in Michigan. His former players are veritable who’s who of the young stars in today’s NHL. Eaves, a former NHL center is a proven winner at the college level. However, he was actually sued by one of those former players he tried to develop and the University of Wisconsin had to pay the player 55,000. True story.
Doug Weight. Former Ranger rookie and future star and current Islanders assistant coach, Doug Weight has an excellent hockey mind. The 1,000 point scorer has brought creativity and life to the Isles power play and his offensive mind is excellent. Weight was a star player in the league and has proven himself as an NHL assistant coach helping develop John Tavares and the Islanders cadre of young stars. The Isles-Coach-in-Waiting may have to wait a bit longer as his boss Jack Capuano found success with the young Islanders this year. This is the perfect time for Slats to swoop in and pluck his former Oiler captain from Uniondale.
Wayne Gretzky. The greatest player in the history of the game would actually be a pretty good fit for the Blueshirts, but it won’t happen. Especially with Messier sitting on Slats lap. Despite the fact that they are “great friends,” (remember how jealous Mess was of Gretzky in 97? So jealous that he fled a final four team for a disaster in Vancouver, just three years after winning a Cup.) Gretzky won’t step on Messier’s toes and push for the job. Gretzky, the greatest offensive mind to ever take the ice had a dismal record as coach of Phoenix, but Phoenix was dismal. Gretzky was excellent hen he ran Team Canada and would at the very least transform the Rangers power play. Still, this will never happen. Not with Messier in the mix.
John Stevens. The current Kings assistant and former Flyers head coach is a late name thrown into the mix. Stevens made the playoffs twice in three years with Philly, winning one playoff round before getting canned. Stevens is an assistant coach with a recent Stanley Cup winning team, so even though he was mediocre as a coach, that automatically qualifies him as head coaching material again.
Dave Tippett Currently under contract in Phoenix, Tippett made the playoffs with the Coyotes a couple of times, getting as far as the final four with a hot goalie (Mike Smith) and a team that doesn’t score. Hey that sounds familiar! Maybe he is a good choice.
Dan Bylsma also currently under contract to the Penguins has come under fire for his teams abysmal performance against the Boston Bruins. Two measly goals in four games against the Bruins from a roster stocked with Sidney Crsoby, Evegny Malkin, James Neal and Jarome Iginla, made Torts’ Rangers look like Gretzky’s Oilers. That aside, Bylsma is a players’ coach and would be a good fit for the Rangers, but despite some rumors that Mario Lemieux is looking to replace him, it is unlikely that he goes.
Rangerface.com really likes Doug Weight and thinks that he would be the perfect choice to lead the rangers fix the power play and get the most out of this offense. We think that Weight would be the best choice to continue developing the Rangers young talent and the ex-Ranger would be a calming voice in the locker room.
However, we don’t feel that Sather will go that route and we believe Alain Vigneault will wind up as the next head coach of the New York Rangers.