It’s been a short while since Alain Vigneault was fired as the Rangers’ head coach – hopefully the feeling of relief (or whatever you may be feeling) has settled in a little bit and you’re ready to look toward the future. Along those lines I thought it’d be fun to take a look at a few coaching options for our beloved Blueshirts, but to make things interesting let’s stick to Rob’s rule of “never coached an NHL game”.
I’m following this dictum for a couple of reasons. The first is that I genuinely believe that the Rangers would be better off trying somebody new, provided they do their homework thoroughly and have a good idea what they’re in for with a strong candidate. The other reason is convenience: you probably have heard enough about Darryl Sutter, he of two Stanley Cups with the Kings, or even Bill Peters, rumored to have an out clause with the transitioning Carolina Hurricanes. So let’s make some new friends, shall we?
My personal fave of the college guys, Pecknold has been the Quinnipiac coach since 1994 and helped the team transition from Division II to Division I hockey starting in the 1998-1999 season. He has led the team to 17 consecutive winning seasons since, including two NCAA Final appearances in 2013 and 2016, but they lost both unfortunately.
The reason why I’m so high on Pecknold is twofold – the first is that, full disclosure, I saw him speak at a hockey analytics seminar that Steve Valiquette gave a couple of years back, and he seemed like a real straight shooter. He talked about his own team’s analytically-inclined posture and the way in which they take a nuanced look at scoring chances in order to determine whether a win or a loss was deserved, how they can improve, and whether or not they should change course or stick to the plan. This openminded attitude is exactly what the Rangers need in a head coach, especially after years of coaching that was simply unwilling to adjust.
The other reason I’m partial to him is his track record with development and his ability to make something out of seemingly nothing. Quinnipiac is not a giant in college hockey – they don’t have the overall prestige of a team like Harvard or Yale, and they’re not a major athletic powerhouse like Michigan, and yet he’s managed to recruit and use his talent effectively. This is another positive quality that the Rangers could use, given that they’re unlikely to land a generational talent like Rasmus Dahlin or Jack Hughes.
Pecknold could likely get a lot out of a guy like Lias Andersson, who despite popular opinion that he was a reach at 7th overall seems to have a great fundamental toolkit. Pecknold also went to Connecticut College, so as a fellow NESCACer I’ve got to give him some props.
Sandelin started his NCAA coaching career as an assistant to Dean Blais at the University of North Dakota, where he won two NCAA Championships in 1997 and 2000, before becoming the head coach of the University of Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs in March of 2000. At UMD he’s coached the Bulldogs to two Frozen Four championships, including the most recent one, and has produced two Hobey Baker award winners in Junior Lessard and Jack Connolly, in 2004 and 2012 respectively.
He was selected as USCHO coach of the year, and despite his team being picked to finish fourth in the NCHC by coaches and media, as well as losing six of his top eight scorers and his starting goalie to graduation and early departures, still made the most of it. This is a guy, who, like Pecknold, has made the most of what he’s given, which again, is going to be essential for an NHL team that likely will not bottom out.
Another solid aspect of Sandelin’s NCAA pedigree is that he will likely help the Rangers in their quest to gobble up every college free agent under the sun as they plug holes that can’t be filled via trades or drafting, as well as actually, you know, helping them succeed as they grow and develop. Prying him away from a winning program where he’s likely pretty happy in the NCAA won’t be easy, but we are talking about coaching the New York Rangers here (which feels nice to say, I’ve got to admit).
I wrote about Pesan back in January, but in case you don’t want to go back through an old post of mine I’ll save you a click. The story with Pesan is that he was invited to the Rangers training camp this past offseason, which is a little bit unusual and speaks to the idea that the Rangers see something in the young Czech coach, although exactly what is hard to say.
Pesan coaches Liberec in the Czech professional league, where he’s built up a reputation for being able to handle youth well – both giving kids room to grow while also taking a firm hand when they make mistakes. He coached his team well at the World Juniors this past December/January, where he led the Czech Republic to a major upset over Finland. At the WJC his team played a disciplined, structured game despite lacking superstar talent outside of Filip Zadina, and his top defenseman was our very own newly acquired Libor Hajek.
Pesan would certainly be an unorthodox choice, and there’s definitely the concern about bringing over a European coach to the North American game, but he’d certainly be a breath of fresh air and is the only one of my three coaches to watch with any professional experience behind the bench.
There are of course plenty of other coaches worth watching out for as the Rangers seek to fill their HC vacancy; these are just three particularly high-profile guys who the Rangers may be looking at because of their pedigree or connections to the organization.
I’d also keep an eye on Sheldon Keefe of the Toronto Marlies of course, but given that his team is still in it as far as the AHL goes, there likely won’t be any news on him for a little while – we’ll be sure to keep covering the coaching situation as it develops. It’s an exciting yet anxiety-inducing moment for the fanbase, and at this point we’re all just dudes in the Blue Seats spittin’ ideas so to speak, but there’s going to come a time sooner rather than later when the Rangers have a new head coach. Let’s hope he’s the right person for the job."Looking at some potential coaching options for the Rangers",