The Captain and franchise icon will not be the next coach of the Rangers. No, it won’t be Mark Messier.
The Rangers have decided to go with the proven over the unknown and to hire former Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault to succeed the fired John Tortorella.
Vigneault, who hammered out the details in principle on a contract with Rangers owner James Dolan Friday and Saturday, could be announced as the new coach Sunday, though it remains possible the team will hold off until after the Stanley Cup final series is completed.
The league frowns on major news being announced during its championship series, though the Rangers could break the news on an off-day Sunday. The Rangers have not made an official comment about the hiring.
Vigneault on Friday removed himself from consideration for the Dallas Stars’ coaching vacancy, for which he had interviewed.
Vigneault, 52, beat out Messier and a few others, including former Philadelphia coach and current Los Angeles assistant John Stevens, and perhaps Lindy Ruff, for the job. Both Vigneault and Messier were interviewed by GM Glen Sather and his staff during the week at the team’s organizational meetings in La Quinta, Calif.
Vigneault’s teams won their division title in six of his seven seasons, and two Presidents’ Trophies, including the one where the Canucks edged the Rangers on the final day of the 2011-12 season. But Vancouver was 1-10 in its last 11 playoff games under Vigneault, since Game 5 of the 2011 Cup final against the Bruins.
The possibility exists that the Canucks will, ironically, hire Tortorella – the all-time leader in NHL coaching victories among U.S.-born coaches — to replace Vigneault, who was fired after the third-seeded Canucks’ first-round sweep by San Jose.
The No. 1-seeded Canucks were beaten by eventual Stanley Cup champ Los Angeles, the eighth seed, in five games last spring, and lost Games 6 and 7 of the Cup final to the Bruins in 2010-11 after leading the series 2-0 and 3-2.
Vigneault also coached the Montreal Canadiens for three-plus seasons, from 1997-2001. He has a career coaching record of 422-288-96.
Vigneault is seen as a very different, if not complete opposite, coach than Tortorella, who was gruff and rude publicly, and whose Rangers teams played a strict, defensive, grinding style. He was fired May 29, two days after conducting break-up exit meetings with players, and reportedly after some sort of mutiny by some – certainly not all – of his players.
Vigneault’s teams played a more up-tempo offensive style, though the Canucks surely had far more offensive skill than the Rangers currently have. He allowed his players creativity and a system that was more attack-oriented.
Vigneault is also seen as a more pleasant and respectful persona, obviously, than Tortorella was.
Messier, who had been asked by Sather on at least one and maybe two occasions if he would be interested in coaching the Rangers, and who had discussed taking over the Edmonton Oilers as coach last year, had no experience whatsoever even as an assistant coach at a pro level. His hiring would have certainly been a gamble.
But he and Sather go back some 34 or 35 years, since Messier was a teen joining Edmonton in the late 1970s under the Oilers’ then GM/coach, Sather. He currently is a special assistant to Sather with the Rangers.
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