The Rangers have yet to schedule a formal announcement, but it’s all but official that Alain Vigneault will succeed John Tortorella as head coach. The Suit will have more on the pros and cons of the hiring tomorrow, but let’s take a look at some key questions in the immediate aftermath of today’s news.
How does this affect Mark Messier’s future with the organization?
GM Glen Sather deserves credit for using his head, not his heart, in choosing Vigneault over Messier as coach. Many surmised that Sather would be unable to reject Messier given their long history, but in the end Sather made the right decision for the team, perhaps at the expense of his relationship with The Captain. The Fourth Period reported that Messier might join Vigneault as an assistant, but it’d be a little surprising to see Messier agree to play second fiddle to the man that was chosen over him. Not only that, but it would be very unfair to Vigneault to have an apparent coach in waiting, beloved by the New York fanbase, looking over his shoulder. Messier could remain in his current post as special assistant to the president and general manager, but that obviously depends on how stung he feels by Sather’s decision. It’s possible that Messier could be so angry that he chooses to leave the franchise altogether.
Who will Vigneault bring on as his staff?
Vancouver also canned Vigneault’s assistants, Rick Bowness and Newell Brown, following the season, but Bowness has already accepted a position with the Tampa Bay Lighting. It’s still possible that Vigneault could choose to bring Brown with him though. In addition to Vancouver, the 51-year-old has also been employed by Chicago, Columbus and Anaheim. His primary responsibility with the Canucks was the power play, which ranked first, fourth and 22nd in his three years with the club. Brown blamed a lack of righty shots (sound familiar?) and Ryan Kesler’s injuries for Vancouver’s struggles on the man advantage last season. As mentioned above, it’s a possibility that Messier agrees to learn the ropes behind a veteran coach and there are also rumblings that Brian Leetch may have interest in a position. It’s likely that Mike Sullivan will be relieved of his position in the coming days.
Does this mean Brad Richards might not be bought out?
One of Vigneault’s calling cards is his strategic deployment of his players. In Vancouver, Vigneault consistently dispatched the Sedin twins in the offensive zone at a rate previously unseen in the NHL. One school of thought raised by the always thoughtful @RangerSmurf is that retaining Richards might make more sense with Vigneault on board because Alain could maximize Richards’ chances for a bounce back season by using him in the offensive zone much like he did with the Sedins. However, it’s not like Tortorella shackled Richards to his own end last season; Brad was actually second on the club in offensive zone start percentage at 63.4%, behind only Mats Zuccarello. Given the looming risk of injury, it still seems likely that Richards has played his final game in New York.
How will this change how the Rangers roster is constructed?
Few coaches use their fourth line as sparingly as Tortorella did, but rest assured that Vigneault has a history of using all 12 of his forwards. To maximize Vigneault’s matchup wizardry, Sather will need to make sure the Rangers have several more capable forwards than they’ve had in the past. Vigneault will also certainly utilize offensive stars like Rick Nash in the attack zone as much as possible, while many have speculated that Brian Boyle could become Vigneault’s new Manny Malhotra as a checking center. It will come as a relief to many Rangers fans to know that Vigneault typically preferred to stick with line combinations – although that was made much easier by having the Sedins together on the first line for the duration of Vigneault’s tenure.
How much power do the players have over Sather’s decision making?
Tortorella had been inked to an extension during the season before the players virtually ran him out of town in their exit interviews. And today, Renaud Lavoie reported that some players also had a say in who would be the team’s new coach. Many teams seek advice from their veterans, so is that all that’s going on in New York or is this becoming a disturbing trend? That’s a question no one can really answer right now, but it’s something to keep an eye on.
So, are you happy with the hire?