CoachingOffseasonState of the Rangers

5 key questions in the wake of the Vigneault hiring

Alain Vigneault will succeed John Tortorella

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?

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  • Extremely happy to hear this. The Rangers became a talent-laden team between the end of the 11-12 season and this year’s deadline. Torts was still employing a system that relied on grinders. Not that you can argue with his success in New York, but Torts wasn’t using what he had in the best way possible. I’m especially excited to see what the Zucarella-Brassard-Nash line can do with more offensive freedom.

  • I might point out that failing to win the Cup with a proven coach like Vigneault looks better than failing with Messier. From a CYA perspective, this was the right choice. Perhaps irrelevant, but people survive in this business by looking out for themselves. My money is on this being a bad call, but i hope I’m wrong.

    You are right about the roster changes. Vigneault likely would not have made the playoffs with this year’s team. Guys like Nash and Callahan will play and score less – the fourth line needs to put the puck in the net.

    As for Messier, if he really wants to coach, it’s time to take some kind of job of that sort. Not to leave NY angry, but to follow an opportunity.

  • The Rangers’ organization has taken a step back with the replacement of Tortorella with Vigneault. Sure, there will be lots of hype & excitement about a new coach and the players may even get excited as well; but, it’s a step backward. It is easily overlooked that this collection of players, under Tortorella, overachieved and overaccomplished.

    The Rangers will never go to the Stanley Cup with Sather as General Manager. He simply misses the mark in constructing a unit of players needed to go all the way.

  • Better hire than Messier would have been. Now trade Del Zotto and Stralman to the Jets for Byflugen and move McIlrath up and you have a team that can win the cup.

    • I have a feeling that we may never see McILrath in an important role with the Rangers. I hope i am wrong but if he does not make the team this year that will be 4 years since drafted. Defensemen take longer to develop, but he was taken pretty high in the draft and needs to crack the lineup now….once he does they need him to make his physical presence felt and not hold him back (like a younger Scott Stevens)

    • Trade D.Z. and Stralman for Byfuglien,are you kidding ? It would take a lot more then those two to get Byfuglien. Besides he is not even on the trading block.Hi is one of Winnigeg’s core players.

  • Still don’t know why the Rangers upper management is in panic mode and continues to blow up a team that has had a good run in the last few years. AV is a good coach but he’s not Scotty Bowman. Keeping this team together and fixing a few holes will go along way if they still want to be a playoff team. Anymore hailmary moves will likely backfire and the Ranger squad will be once again become a non-playoff team.

    • its not an issue of tweaking the old system. the system isnt built for a long playoff run. it doesnt generate enough consistent offense. tort wont change it so hes gone.

  • That last bit is kind of funny. Renaud said that the players had a say in the firing/hiring, which is always true to an extent. As Kevin said, veterans have a say because they see the locker room from a different perspective.

    That doesn’t mean revolt, it could just be that Slats listened to his vets.

  • Can sense mixed emotions about the Vigneault hiring. Let’s remember that if he had anyone but Roberto Luongo in net, he has his Stanley Cup and becomes everyone’s first choice as coach.

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