When John Tortorella was relieved of his position behind the New York Rangers bench following a disappointing second-round loss to the Boston Bruins, speculation immediately swirled about who would take his place. The more traditional names like former Vancouver Canucks coach Alain Vigneault and long-time Buffalo Sabres coach Lindy Ruff have been thrown around as top candidates over the past few days.
However, one extremely interesting name has emerged out of the pack as well: Mark Messier.
The 52-year-old has been working as a special assistant to GM Glen Sather since 2009 and has been offered the head coaching position multiple times since retiring in 2005, so it makes sense for his name to be in the mix. In addition, he would bring instant credibility to a team that lost respect for its previous coach.
During his illustrious 25-year career, he established himself as probably the greatest leader in NHL history, winning six Stanley Cups, including when he led the Rangers to its last championship in 1994, a historic run that ended a 54-year drought for the team.
Not only did he lead with his skill (second all-time in points scored), he did all the little things to help a team win, such as winning defensive zone faceoffs and more than holding his own in fights. Messier would bring a winning attitude that the players, the fans, and the media would like.
That being said, though, he is not the right man for the job.
The fact of the matter is that Messier has zero professional coaching experience and little actual coaching experience at all except for his son’s pee-wee team. He cannot make the same impact he did on the ice behind the bench as he did as a player.
As much as Rangers fans would like to think that he could suddenly turn Ryan Callahan, who is a perfectly solid leader, into a perennial all-star, or make the disgustingly awful power play as efficient as it was when the team won it all in 1994, it simply won’t happen because he does not know how to run a team.
The decision on who to hire cannot be about romance. It can’t be about star power behind the bench. The Rangers aren’t some expansion team or low-budget operation in need of a big name to give the operation credibility.
The goal here is to hire the coach who will give the Rangers their best opportunity to win a Stanley Cup before the window closes on the prime of goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, not to mention their core of players that could break apart via free agency next summer.
There is a need here for a coach who is not going to attempt to lead through intimidation or public humiliation. The Rangers have been there and done that with Tortorella.
Vigneault could have won a Stanley Cup if he got any form of goaltending when playing the Bruins in the Finals two years ago, and Ruff was a Brett Hull overtime goal in Game 6 of the 1999 Finals away from winning one as well.
Messier offers a unique brand of leadership, one that no doubt will grab the attention of the Rangers players and fans.
Despite that, Rangers management must consider uppermost in their mind that they would not be hiring Messier to play center or be captain like when they traded for him in 1999, but to be the head coach in 2013.
Those are two completely different things, and coaching is not best way to make an impact on the Rangers right now.