Pros and Cons of Mark Messier and Other New York Rangers Coaching Candidates
The New York Rangers were underachievers in 2013 and general manager Glen Sather wants to change that going forward.
The most prominent matter he must attend to is finding a new coach to take over the mess that John Tortorella left behind.
Mark Messier, the hero of the 1994 Stanley Cup championship won by the Rangers, is a prominent candidate. So is the Great One, Wayne Gretzky.
Both Messier and Gretzky are Hall of Famers who are among the sport's greatest historical players. But there's more to coaching than being famous.
Here are the pros and cons of five of the leading candidates for the New York Rangers head coaching position.
5. Alain Vigneault, Ex-Vancouver Canucks
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Pros: Alain Vigneault has 12 years of NHL coaching experience in two of the most high-profile markets in the NHL. He spent four seasons leading the Montreal Canadiens and the last eight years coaching the Vancouver Canucks. Vigneault won the Jack Adams Award in 2006-07.
Vigneault did an excellent job of melding a cohesive offensive team in the Canucks, and he got them within one game of winning the 2011 Stanley Cup championship. He has a good handle on matchups and understands the offensive game.
That would seem to fit what the Rangers need most in the 2013-14 season.
Cons: Vigneault has had only one season in which his team won more than one playoff series victory. His last two years in Vancouver saw the Canucks flame out in the first round against the Los Angeles Kings (five games) and the San Jose Sharks (four games).
While he's nowhere near John Tortorella when it comes to having a tortured relationship with the media, Vigneault can be quite arrogant in his get-togethers with the press.
Verdict: Vigneault is an accomplished coach who will come in with a working game plan to upgrade the Rangers' offense. However, he's the kind of individual who can get under his players' skin and he may struggle in his relationship with the media. The Rangers can do better.
4. Wayne Gretzky, Ex-Phoenix Coyotes
Pros: When the greatest scorer in the history of the game wants to coach your team, you have to give him serious consideration. Especially when he has four years of NHL head coaching experience under his belt.
Wayne Gretzky has instant respect in any locker room, and while his Coyotes never made the playoffs, he is a smart man who has the ability to learn from his mistakes.
Many coaches have performed better the second time around—Claude Julien and Peter Laviolette come quickly to mind—so why not Gretzky?
Cons: Take a look at Gretzky's four teams in Phoenix. They were remarkably similar. He only finished with a winning record once and he never made the playoffs. He also seemed to get quite frustrated during his last couple of years on the bench.
Verdict: The media focus on the Rangers would be bright and favorable with the Great One behind the bench, at least at first. However, that warm glow would turn into intense pressure if the Rangers don't show immediate improvement. Gretzky, the coach, shows no similarity to Gretzky, the player.
3. Dallas Eakins, Toronto Marlies
Pros: Dallas Eakins is the hot name among minor league coaches who are trying to climb the ladder and get to the NHL. Eakins has made a solid name for himself with the Toronto Marlies, the minor league affiliate of the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Eakins' strength is his ability to develop young players. He is credited with helping Nazem Kadri become an impact player for the Maple Leafs in 2013, and also has a decidedly new-school approach, as reported by Toronto Globe and Mail columnist James Mirtle.
Eakins, 45, is the type of coach whom his players admire, according to Mirtle, and his style is similar to Pittsburgh Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma.
He has had a positive relationship with the media in a very strong hockey hotbed.
Cons: It's a huge challenge to go from minor league head coach to performing the same job on the brightest stage in the United States. Eakins may be an exceptional coaching talent, but most new shows don't open on Broadway. They work their way up from the smaller markets first.
General manager Glen Sather may like Eakins, but if he gave him the head-coaching job he might not have full confidence in the move. That could be a problem for a coach who has to win over the locker room.
Verdict: The jump factor would be huge in bringing Eakins aboard. He is smart, good with the media and understands what coaching is all about. However, he's never done it in the NHL and starting off in New York is a lot to ask.
2. Lindy Ruff, Ex-Buffalo Sabres
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Pros: Lindy Ruff has 15 years of NHL coaching experience. His Buffalo Sabres made the playoffs eight times and he guided them to the Stanley Cup Finals in 1999, where they lost in six games to the Dallas Stars.
Ruff is a solid strategist who showed he could get the most out of his team, especially during the first half of his coaching stint with the Sabres. He won the Jack Adams Award following the 2005-06 season.
Cons: Ruff appeared to be worn out when the Sabres relieved him of his coaching duties early in the 2013 season. Is he really ready to return behind the bench after just a few months off?
He was never an easy coach to play for and has been known to voice his displeasure with his players. He would not compare with Tortorella in that category, but he can get very tough.
Verdict: The Rangers would get a professional coach if they decided to cast their lot with Ruff. He would preach defensive responsibility, which would be a lot like their former coach. However, he has a lot more to offer when it comes to building a cohesive offensive team.
1. Mark Messier
Pros: Mark Messier is one of the greatest leaders in the history of professional sports, and his Stanley Cup-winning season will always make him a hero in the eyes of Rangers fans.
Messier is currently the special assistant to Glen Sather, and while he has never been a head coach at the NHL or the American Hockey League, he would command respect merely by walking into the Rangers' locker room.
That's a significant part of the battle. Messier may be a nice guy in the public eye since retiring, but one fierce look at his players and they would know who is in charge.
If he is committed to a coaching career, it would be very reasonable to expect Messier to be successful because of his intelligence and work ethic.
Cons: Messier has to decide whether he really wants to be a head coach and whether he will commit himself to the job. It's one thing to picture yourself as a Stanley Cup-winning head coach, it's quite another to spend hours and hours at practice, scouring tape, dealing with the media and coming up with a game plan.
Since he's never done it before, he won't really know it's for him until he lives through the experience.
Verdict: It would be a gamble to hire Messier as head coach because of his lack of experience. But if he really wants it and understands what it takes to become successful, it seems likely that Messier would be an excellent head coach. It would certainly be a gutsy decision by Sather.