Which Head Coaching Candidate Gives New York Rangers Best Chance to Win Now?

Franklin SteeleAnalyst IIJune 12, 2013

LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 18:  Head Coach Alain Vigneault of the Vancouver Canucks react to the officials call during a 3-1 win over the Los Angeles Kings at Staples Center on April 18, 2012 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Harry How/Getty Images

The New York Rangers fired John Tortorella on May 29 after Rick Nash and Co. were eliminated by the eventual Eastern Conference Champion Boston Bruins in the second round of the playoffs. Since then, there has been rampant speculation as to who will replace the stubborn and gruff head coach behind the bench for the Blueshirts.

New York doesn't fall under the category of "patient hockey market," nor should it. The general managers for the Rangers have always been big spenders during free agency, and have recently doled out massive contracts to the likes of Marian Gaborik (now with the Columbus Blue Jackets) and Brad Richards while maintaining one simple goal in mind.

To bring the Stanley Cup back to Broadway.

That didn't happen under Tortorella's watch, and regardless of how you slice it, it's that fact that ultimately cost him his job. GM Glen Sather wouldn't have put as much stock in what the players had to say about Torts had they just delivered a Cup to New York.

The Rangers expect to win, and they expect to win now. Marquee names like Rick Nash and Richards (granted he remains with New York) aren't in town to help a rebuild along, and fans of the club are expecting big things in 2014 after a team that was believed to be capable of contending for a title was ousted easily in the second round this year.

With those Cup or bust expectations in mind, which rumored free agent(ish) coach fits into the "win now" mold that is in place in New York?


Mark Messier

Tortorella hadn't been out of a job for more than 48 hours before sources such as the New York Daily News starting connecting Messier to the coaching gig for the Rangers. In any other NHL city this rumor might have been met with negative backlash because of the simple fact that the ex-player has never coached a pro game in his life.

Not in New York, though. Not after all that Messier did for the team, including bringing the Stanley Cup back to the starved market back in 1994.

Sadly, nostalgia doesn't win hockey games. Coaching requires clout and systems and schemes. Two outta three 'ain't bad for Mess, but the "do you know who I am?" line shouldn't be enough to land Messier the job at this juncture.

If he really wants to coach, let him get his chops as an assistant to whoever replaces Torts, but Messier is not the best option for the Rangers if they are looking to win immediately.

Is He the Guy? No.

Wayne Gretzky

Another former legend was connected to the vacant bench boss position for the Rangers in Wayne Gretzky. Sources such as the New York Post were quick to point out that No. 99 could be interested in taking over for the recently fired Tortorella.

While The Great One recently told Darren Dreger of TSN that it was "very unlikely" that he'll be the next head coach of the Rangers, his name will remain on the radar until a new coach is named by Sather.

Unlike Messier, Gretz actually has some experience as an NHL head coach—albeit that "experience" is very, very forgettable.

In 2000 he became a partial-owner of the Phoenix Coyotes and took over as head coach for the team in August of 2005. Over his three year tenure, he posted a forgettable 143-161-24 record while failing to ever place higher than fourth in the Pacific Division.

He also failed to ever guide the 'Yotes through to the playoffs. And lets not even talk about the gambling scandal that the NHL did a masterful job of sweeping under the rug. Not exactly a recipe for success for a possible Torts successor.

Is He the Guy? No.

Lindy Ruff

For hockey fans over the last 16 years, there were a few certainties heading into an NHL season. One of the givens was that the Buffalo Sabres would be coached by Lindy Ruff. He took over behind the bench in 1997 and that's where he stayed until his coaching "expiration date" finally came along in 2013.

He coached 1,165 games for Buffalo, posting a 571-432-84 record. Ruff also put up a 57-44 playoff record as the commander of the Sabres. As one of the most experienced and decorated coaching free agents on the market, it was no surprise when the Rangers asked Buffalo for permission to speak to Ruff, according to ESPN New York.

While the experience and success is there—a plus over candidates like Messier and Gretzky—the attitude isn't a good fit for New York in any capacity. While not quite as notorious as Torts, Ruff hasn't ever been known as a soft-spoken fellow. Quite the opposite, really.

He's an outspoken coach, and isn't known for getting along with the media particularly well, either—all of this should sound far too familiar to Sather and the Rangers. Ruff is harsh with his players as well, which is the exact style that went out of tune while Tortorella was in town.

If the Rangers are going to hire Ruff, they might as well go ahead and rehire Tortorella. They'd be more or less getting the same presence in the locker room and behind the bench.

Is He the Guy? No.

Alain Vigneault

The ex-Vancouver Canucks bench boss met with the Rangers about their coaching vacancy on June 11, according to ESPN New York, and is the best candidate to replace Tortorella as the head coach in New York.

Out of all the names that have been tossed around, Vigneault's makes the most sense. While he isn't a citywide hero like Messier and doesn't have a record for the most records like Gretzky, his demeanor and body of work are both well suited for the Rangers.

Sure, he never could quite get over the hump with the Canucks, but many point the finger at the front office when it comes to blaming someone for the numerous playoff failures in Vancouver. Somebody has to pay when a team underperforms—Vigneault, like Torts, wasn't fired because he isn't a good coach. He just wasn't the right coach.

And there is a difference.

With Vancouver, Vigneault created systems for a dangerous team that was constantly considered to be in the hunt for the Cup. His 313-170-57 record is stellar. Add in two Presidents' Trophies and six Division Champion banners and you have an outstanding resume.

Barring an out-of-nowhere candidate that no one is talking about at this point, Vigneault should be the next coach of the New York Rangers.

Is He the Guy? Yes.


Dave Tippett is the coach of the Phoenix Coyotes until June 30. At that point, his current deal will expire, making him a free agent.

Teams have asked permission from the Desert Dogs to speak with him, but they've been turned away at the door. It's likely that an extension would already be in place if the Coyotes had a steady ownership group, but since that's up in the air still, GM Don Maloney can't put the finishing touches on a new deal for his head coach.

Sarah McClellan of the Arizona Republic has reported that Tippett and Maloney are "close on actual terms of a potential new contract", likely removing him from the short list of potential coaches to replace Tortorella in New York.

Still, if the ownership deal in Phoenix hits a snag, Tippett could suddenly end up on the market. This would drastically shift the landscape for teams looking to hire a new coach, as they would all suddenly have the same No. 1 guy in Tippett.