Knowing that head coach Alain Vigneault had other interviews lined up, New York Rangers general manager Glen Sather acted quickly to lock up the coach he wanted.
With the Dallas Stars also strongly in the running for the 52-year-old’s services, Sather made the difficult choice on Saturday to hire Vigneault over NHL and Rangers legend Mark Messier.
This is an important hire for certain, considering the Rangers are at a critical point after firing John Tortorella following a second-round exit from the playoffs about three weeks ago courtesy of the Boston Bruins. The rationale for his dismissal was not explained, but it became apparent that Tortorella’s bombastic personality and tough-love coaching style rubbed the players the wrong way.
The Rangers entered this season with Stanley Cup-Or-Bust expectations after making an exciting run to the Eastern Conference Finals the year before, but were hampered by inconsistency in both the regular season and the postseason and by injuries to key players. Their power play in particular was a black eye, finishing 23rd in the league during the regular season and managing only four power play goals during the playoffs.
Vigneault was selected to be behind the bench for the Rangers because they needed a new message. He had great success at the helm with the Vancouver Canucks, leading them to a trip to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2011-12 and back-to-back Presidents’ Trophies before being fired after his team was swept by the San Jose Sharks in the first round of the playoffs. The main reason for his success is that he is a strong communicator who is skilled at adapting his system to the players he has and putting them in positions to succeed
That should come as a relief to a group of veteran players who grew tired of Tortorella’s stubbornness, especially Brad Richards, who clearly was perturbed after being benched for the final two playoff games and could possibly be bought out during the offseason due to lack of production. Vigneault may also have the upper-hand in solving the team’s power play woes, as his Canucks teams finished at least sixth in power play percentage in three of the last four years.
The hire set a tone for the direction of the Rangers. They could have given in to hiring Messier, currently serving as a special assistant to Sather, just to have a legendary name behind the bench. Instead, Sather made a decision to tab not only one of the best coaches in the NHL, but also one that will make a concerted effort to get to know his personnel and get the best out of them as he possibly can after they grew agitated by the previous regime.