We're only a few hours removed from the announcement that John Tortorella has been relieved of his duties as head coach of the New York Rangers. And despite everyone still trying to fully grasp what has happened in the last 24 hours (including me), I'm going to – possibly prematurely – take our first look at potential candidates to replace Tortorella. Again, we're only a few hours removed from the announcement so we are very likely not anywhere close to finding out who the new guy is. So this is very preliminary guess-work. But what do we have to lose? Here are the guys who, in my mind, are in some capacity a candidate for the position or at the very least will be linked to us.
Lindy Ruff – I'll start with the most obvious name just to get it out of the way. Ruff was let go by the Sabres on February 20th and was seemingly linked to the Rangers almost immediately. In 15 seasons that Ruff was in charge, the Sabres made it to the Eastern Conference Finals four times and the Stanley Cup Finals once, where they lost to the Dallas Stars. He won the Jack Adams award for the
2005-2006 2006-2007 season and has a long-standing reputation as a quality coach. There's also the Rangers connection. I won't go as far as to say that Glen Sather invokes nepotism, but it's pretty clear that he values relationships and history. Glen Sather pretty much has a relationship with anybody who is anybody is hockey, and Ruff has been in the league a long time. And there's the fact that Ruff did spend three years as a New York Ranger, so perhaps there's mutual appeal there from both Ruff and Sather.
The concern with him is how much reputation surpasses actual results. Tortorella was let go, at least according to Sather, in part because the team didn't meet the expectations of reaching the Stanley Cup Finals. Well, in 15 years Ruff managed to do that only once, and that was largely on the back on arguably the greatest single-season performance in the history of goaltending by Dominik Hasek. Of course, what Ruff did with Buffalo's culture and location and economics is different from what he maybe could do here. But nonetheless it is worth the concern; if Torts wore out his welcome in a mutant season then how much faith can we put in Ruff, who hasn't so much as led a team past the first round since 2007?
Dave Tippett - The currenty coach of the Phoenix Coyotes, Tippett is a coach that many teams would love to add. The Rangers are always going to be a desirable landing spot in any state, and especially in this state with so much talent and potential. Tippett had a solid though unspectacular tenure as Dallas Stars head coach, but he has truly improved his stock since joining the Coyotes. Despite Phoenix being a non-traditional hockey market and therefore not exactly preferable landing spot for players, as well as the absolutely abysmal financial situation they've been engulfed in for years now, Tippett has led the Coyotes to the playoffs all three years he was in charge prior to this shortened season. He won the Jack Adams in 2010, his first season with the Coyotes, and led them to the Western Conference Finals last season.
The concern with Tippett is his defensive system. Not that a defensive system in itself is problematic; all that matters is winning no matter the score. You have to wonder, though, how desirable a head coach persistent with and dependent on a defense-first philosophy is for Glen Sather after watching a team loaded with talent have an embarrassingly bad powerplay and ultimately fail to produce in any capacity. There's also the problem of actually prying him away from Phoenix. Tippett is still under contract in Phoenix and their GM, Don Maloney, has denied all requests from other teams to speak to TIppett. Still, if Tippett decides he wants to leave then Maloney is probably not going to hold him hostage. It might be tempting to join talented team like the Rangers with a ton of money to spend instead of staying with the cash-strapped Coyotes who might not even be in Phoenix by next year.
Alain Vigneault - Just fired by the Canucks after a poor showing in the first round against the Sharks, Vigneault is a virtual lock to be linked to the Rangers. He has shown the ability to get plenty of offense out of talented players – The Sedins, Kesler, Burrows, Edler, etc. – His teams have consistently been among the best in the NHL offensively. He won the Jack Adams Award in 2007 and the Canucks were always viewed as a contender under Vigneault.
The concern with him, like Ruff, is if he is the guy to get the Rangers to that next level. Vigneault only made it past the second round once in seven years with the Canucks. The team became a media circus for all the wrong reasons. The goaltender situation with Luongo and Schneider became an absolute joke. To be fair, a lot of this is probably on GM Mike Gillis, but nonetheless Vigneault does come with baggage and question marks. Still, he is possibly the most proven, high-potential name out there.
Dallas Eakins - His name has constantly been floated out there as the next guy to be a successful NHL coach. Eakins, currently head coach of the Toronto Marlies in the AHL, led the Marlies to the AHL Finals last season and his team had another successful regular season this year before imploding in the playoffs. He was viewed by many as the obvious replacement for Ron Wilson with the Maple Leafs but the gig was instead given to Randy Carlyle. Since then, he has been linked to numerous coaching gigs. He is currently in Dallas to speak with the Stars about their vancancy and the Canucks have also inquired about him as well. He played three games for the Rangers in his short NHL career, so make of that what you want.
The big concern for him is lack of experience. Everyone has to start somewhere; Scotty Bowman wasn't born as a legendary NHL coach. Still, you have to wonder if that's the kind of coach you want to bring into New York City to lead a team that is expected to contend for the Cup immediately. Alternatively, the Stars won't have high expectations and will give him room to slowly build his roster, make mistakes and learn, and groom the team into what he wants it to be.
Mike Eaves - The Pierre McGuiare favorite, Mike Eaves is the head coach of the University of Wisconsin, where he's been since 2002. Over time he has built Wisconsin into a powerhouse in the NCAA and has put himself in discussions for the USA's Olympic head coaching job. Ryan McDonagh and Derek Stepan would surely love it if he got the job since they both played for him at Wisconsin and really grew their games. With the number of talented young players that have come out of Wisconsin Sather would probably feel pretty safe handing him the futures of guys like Chris Kreider, JT Miller, and Dylan McIlrath.
Again, the concern is experience. He has been an assistant at the NHL level for the Flyers but ultimately is unproven. Succeeding at the NCAA level is a completely different monster from succeeding at the NHL level. Proving he can handle 20-year-olds is one thing, but handling and coaching guys like Rick Nash or Dan Girardi or Arron Asham to success is a whole different problem. I'm not holding my breath that he's willing to leave Wisconsin, either. Still, he's an intriguing name and one that shouldn't be ignored.
Mike Sullivan - Don't shoot the messenger here. Mike Sullivan was Tortorella's assistant and it seems probable that he will be leaving as well. Especially since the two have been a package deal for so long.
But let's do our due dilligence here. It wouldn't be the first time that an assistant took over from his former boss. And while I reiterate again that he's probably going to be packing his bags in the coming days, it is a bit curious that Glen Sather said Sullivan is still part of the organization for the time-being. Why not just let him go if he was 100 percent not a part of future plans? Is it at all possible that Sather is at least keeping his options open and considering Sullivan as Tortorella's replacement? There is probably a much more logical explanation to keeping him around at least for now, but I don't feel safe ruling anything out. It's a bit skeptical, at least.
Mark Messier – Here is the name which is going to make for a lot of discussion and debate. If you're reading this website then I shouldn't need to summarize who Mark Messier is and what he means to this franchise. He's a legend and will always be a legend. Both by our standards and the standards of hockey itself. Right now he is Special Assistant to Glen Sather, is involved in some scouting and development and probably has some sort of input into personnel decisions.
But here is where it's going to start to get ugly. The concern for lack of experience for guys like Eakins and Eaves have already been expressed. Their resumés look full compared to Mark Messier's. Aside from coaching Team Canada is a couple of minor European tournaments, he has virtually no coaching experience at any level. At all. Going from that to head coach of the New York Rangers as they look to win a Stanley Cup immediately is, to put it lightly, a jump. And even if he won't be one to wilt under pressure of expectations and New York that doesn't mean he is actually ready for the job.
There's also the fact that, historically, people who were superstars in the NHL have been awful NHL coaches. Search for former great NHL players who were also good coaches and you're going to have a tough time. Toe Blake made the Hall-Of-Fame as a player before coaching the Canadiens to eight Stanley Cups, but he's pretty much the exception to the rule. Larry Robinson won a Stanley Cup with the Devils but his overall record isn't completely convincing. From there, Denis Savard, Phil Esposito, Wayne Gretzky, Bryan Trottier, and Brad Park are some of the best players to become NHL coaches, and they ranged from mediocre to absolutely awful. In fact, look around the NHL and you'll see that the best, or at least most reputable coaches – Trotz, Julien, Tippett, Hitchcock, Babcock, to name some – had either nondescript NHL careers or never even made it to the NHL level at all. Could Messier be different? Sure. But let's not pretend that any desire to bring him in as Tortorella's replacement is based in anything other than nostalgia.
There will be some other names linked for sure, and it's very possible that the next head coach of the New York Rangers isn't even on this list. We'll update you as more people are linked and the coaching search narrows. Feel free to throw your own names into the discussion and debate which guy(s) you think best suit the Rangers.
Follow Me On Twitter: @Herman_NYRBlog
Email Me: AdamNYRBlog@gmail.com