John Tortorella Fired: Ranking Best Candidates to Coach New York Rangers
BREAKING NEWS: The #NYR have relieved John Tortorella of his coaching duties...details to follow— New York Rangers (@NYRangers) May 29, 2013
During a conference call on Wednesday, Rangers general manager Glen Sather said he hopes to find a coach in time for next month's NHL entry draft, per Rich Chere of The Star-Ledger.
Tortorella helped the Rangers make the playoffs in four of his five seasons behind the bench, but his postseason record with the New York club was only 19-25, which included just one appearance in the Eastern Conference Final.
The 2013 lockout-shortened season was a disappointing one for the Blueshirts, who finished sixth in the East standings after coming into the year as the favorites by many to reach the Stanley Cup Final. When the Rangers were soundly beaten by the Boston Bruins in five games during the conference semifinals, it was evident that a coaching change might be necessary for this team to make the finals.
Let's take a look at five candidates that the Rangers should consider when conducting their search for a new head coach.
5. Jim Schoenfeld, New York Rangers
Jim Schoenfeld is currently an assistant general manager with the Rangers and has also served as an assistant coach during his tenure with the Original Six franchise. In addition, he's the general manager of the team's AHL affiliate, the Hartford Wolfpack.
Schoenfeld knows the organization very well and has 580 games of head coaching experience at the NHL level, with an all-time record of 256-246-78. In six full seasons as an NHL bench boss, his teams made the playoffs four times. In 10 total years as a head coach, Schoenfeld's teams had just two losing seasons.
He is a good teacher and has a history of helping young players develop their skills and be fully prepared for the NHL level.
Similar to Tortorella, Schoenfeld is a fiery coach and demands a lot from his players. He holds his stars accountable and would play the same physical, defense-first style of hockey that New York has used for the last five seasons.
He probably won't be near the top of the list of coaching candidates for the Blueshirts, but Schoenfeld is a respected and intelligent hockey man who would do well with a veteran team that isn't far away from being a top Stanley Cup contender.
4. Dallas Eakins, Toronto Marlies (AHL)
Dallas Eakins is the best coach in the AHL and will likely be behind the bench of an NHL team in the near future. He has led the Toronto Marlies to an 87-47-8 record over the last two seasons, including a Calder Cup Final appearance last year.
Eakins, 46, is a young and energetic coach whose teams are strong defensively, very well-conditioned and do all the little things (shot blocking, back checking, etc.) needed to win games.
The Marlies coach is not a big name and has no experience as an NHL head coach, but he does understand what it's like to coach in a hockey-crazed city such as Toronto and is very well-respected around the league.
His ability to develop young draft picks into responsible, talented two-way players is quite impressive. The emergence of Toronto Maple Leafs center Nazem Kadri as a quality top-six forward can be attributed to Eakins' teaching and coaching skills. The former first-round choice was considered by many as a bust going into the 2013 season, but Eakins was able to work with Kadri on and off the ice to improve his game and increase his confidence.
As a team that has a lot of talented young players who have yet to reach their full potential, including Chris Kreider, Carl Hagelin, John Moore and J.T. Miller, the next Rangers coach should be someone who works well with and gets the most production out of inexperienced NHLers and prospects.
3. Lindy Ruff
The Rangers would be wise to hire a veteran head coach that is well-respected to replace Tortorella because their current roster includes many established players.
Lindy Ruff was fired by the Buffalo Sabres during the regular season after more than a decade of success with the Northeast Division franchise and will likely be considered for the Rangers' coaching vacancy.
Ruff made eight playoff appearances, two trips to the Eastern Conference Final and one Stanley Cup Final appearance behind the Sabres bench, including an impressive all-time record of 571-432-78-84. He also understands the hockey culture in New York City very well after playing in 83 games for the Rangers as a defenseman from 1989 through 1991.
At this stage of Ruff's career, it's hard to imagine him accepting a job with a team that is not close to contending for a Stanley Cup or is already at that level. With that said, the Rangers are the perfect team for Ruff to join.
On Wednesday, John Vogl of the Buffalo News tweeted about Ruff's possible interest in the Rangers' head coaching job:
The Rangers have fired John Tortorella. From what I've been told about Lindy Ruff's job wish list, this is a place he'd want to go.— John Vogl (@BuffNewsVogl) May 29, 2013
Ruff's defensive style of play would be a great fit with the Rangers, and his impressive motivational skills would help the team's best players perform more consistently in high-pressure moments. He knows how to handle egos and would not have any trouble with the New York media.
2. Dave Tippett, Phoenix Coyotes
Dave Tippett's contract with the Phoenix Coyotes is set to expire at the of the season, according to Mark Spector of Sportsnet.ca, and he would become available if the two sides are unable to work out a new deal before the summer. The team's ownership issues and uncertain future in Glendale are not an ideal situation for a head coach, but there is no report stating that Tippett would like to leave Phoenix.
However, the Coyotes are not letting their coach speak to other teams about coaching vacancies, per Sarah McLellan of AZCentral:
From today's story: Teams have approached Maloney to ask permission to talk to Tippett. Maloney hasn't granted it. "Absolutely not," he said— Sarah McLellan (@azc_mclellan) May 29, 2013
Tippett, 51, has made eight playoff appearances in his 10 seasons as an NHL head coach, including an impressive Western Conference Finals run with the Coyotes last year. He also won the 2009-10 Jack Adams Award, which is given annually to the head coach who makes the strongest impact on his team's success.
If Tippett became available for hire, he would be the perfect coach for the Rangers if the team wanted to continue its defensive style of hockey that demands two-way excellence, consistent back-checking and shot blocking from each player on the roster.
Tippett's Coyotes teams are difficult to play against because they are fundamentally strong, responsible defensively and play a physical game. This blue-collar approach would make him a good fit with the current Rangers roster and style of play.
Despite not having an elite shutdown defenseman or a top-five goaltender during his tenure with the Coyotes, Tippett has enjoyed a lot of success in Phoenix. With a goalie of Henrik Lundqvist's caliber and a deep and talented blue line that included stars such as Marc Staal, Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh, Tippett would find a way for the Rangers to reach the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in 20 years.
No NHL head coach gets more out of his players than Tippett, who has made the Coyotes competitive in a strong Western Conference despite their lack of involvement in the trade and free-agent markets due to the team's financial problems.
1. Alain Vigneault
When the Vancouver Canucks fired head coach Alain Vigneault last week, he became the best coaching free agent available for hire.
Elliotte Friedman of Hockey Night in Canada tweeted his thoughts regarding Vigneault and the Rangers on Wednesday.
There is some history with Glen Sather and Alain Vigneault. Believe AV interviewed for NYR job before it went to Bryan Trottier— Elliotte Friedman (@FriedgeHNIC) May 29, 2013
Vigneault led the Canucks to six playoff appearances in seven seasons as head coach, and his tenure in Vancouver was highlighted by a Stanley Cup Final appearance two years ago and two Presidents' Trophies in 2010-11 and 2011-12.
Coaching in a demanding hockey market like Vancouver where expectations are high every season would help Vigneault make a smooth transition to New York if he's hired to replace Tortorella. His experience managing superstar egos and a relentless media also makes him a quality candidate for this job.
The Canucks finished in the top five in goals scored in three of the last four seasons, and Vigneault has a reputation for finding ways to help his top forwards to be productive offensively, which is something Tortorella was unable to do in during the Rangers' playoff run this year.
New York finished 15th in scoring and 23rd in power-play success during the regular season, then scored just 2.17 goals per game with the second-worst power-play percentage in the postseason.
The Rangers need to find a balance between responsible defense and a consistent offense, and as someone who coached a Canucks team that scored a lot of goals and still managed to defend very well (top 10 in GAA for three consecutive seasons), Vigneault is the ideal candidate to replace Tortorella in New York.
Nicholas Goss is an NHL Lead Writer at Bleacher Report. Nick was a credentialed reporter at the 2011 Stanley Cup Final and 2012 NHL playoffs, and he is also a credentialed writer at the 2013 NHL playoffs in Boston. All salary information via Capgeek.