Can the New York Rangers Say No to Mark Messier as Head Coach?
How do you say no to a legend?
He ended 54 years of misery when he promised and delivered a Stanley Cup to the Rangers in 1994.
Actually, the promise came in the Eastern Conference Final. Messier and his New York Rangers teammates were trailing the rival New Jersey Devils 3-2 with the sixth game in New Jersey. Prior to that game, Messier guaranteed that the Rangers would not lose.
Messier scored a hat trick and the Rangers won the game 4-2. The Rangers would close out the Devils in the seventh game and then defeat the Vancouver Canucks in the final in seven games to win their first Stanley Cup since 1940.
The Rangers haven't won it since, and Messier is reportedly one of the candidates who would like to replace John Tortorella. The Rangers fired Tortorella last week, a few days after they were eliminated from the Stanley Cup playoffs by the Boston Bruins in the conference semifinal round.
Messier works for the Rangers as a special assistant to general manager Glen Sather. Messier has held that position since 2009, according to the New York Post.
Messier has not worked as a head coach in the NHL or the American Hockey League. However, his leadership ability is unquestioned.
Messier coached Team Canada in the Spengler Cup in 2010. The Spengler Cup is a high-level international club tournament played in Switzerland.
The Edmonton Oilers sought out Messier for the head coaching position in 2009. However, Messier declined the opportunity. Messier may be just as big a hero in Edmonton, since he was a part of five Stanley Cup-winning teams there.
But it's in New York that he's a legend. The Oilers were stocked with talent, and Messier played the majority of his career there with Wayne Gretzky, Paul Coffey, Glenn Anderson and Grant Fuhr. Winning championships seemed relatively easy in Edmonton.
But they were tortured in New York. When the Rangers played road games, particularly on Long Island against the New York Islanders or in New Jersey against the Devils, they were ridiculed with the "1940" chant, indicative of the last time they had won the Cup.
But there's more to being a great coach than being a hero as a player. Leadership is an excellent coaching characteristic, and Messier has perhaps more of that than anyone in the sport.
Messier wants the job, and Sather will give him a chance to convince him that he is ready for it. He would bring the kind of positive approach that the Rangers did not have under Tortorella. According to New York Post columnist Larry Brooks, Messier has a constructive attitude that would try to maximize his players' talents.
Tortorella's constant approach was to demand his players block shots and minimize mistakes.
Messier would not play it that way, and it would be difficult to say no to him.
There are other candidates, like former Vancouver Canucks head coach Alain Vigneault, who has been to the Stanley Cup Final. Dallas Eakins, the coach of the Toronto Marlies, is considered one of the best coaches of young players. Gretzky also has an interest, but it might not be in his best interest to compete with long-time teammate for the job.
Other candidates may surface, but the organization needs positive energy. That's what Tortorella drained from the team, and it ultimately turned the players off.
Should the New York Rangers hire Mark Messier as their next head coach?
Messier would bring that positive energy. He may not know the ins and outs of matchups and implementing power-play and penalty-kill strategies, but that's not as important as understanding the game and motivating people.
Bringing in experienced assistant coaches would help Messier make his adjustment and play a key role in helping him become a winning head coach in the league. That's a strategy espoused by NBC Sport NHL analyst Ed Olczyk in a New York Post story written by Brett Cyrgalis. Olczyk coached the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2003-04 and part of the post-lockout year of 2005-06 even though he had no prior coaching experience.
It doesn't seem likely that Sather would be able to deny Messier the job if he really wants it and can present a competent case that the job should be his.
His guarantee and delivery are still paying dividends.
He brought the Rangers a Stanley Cup as a player. Giving him a chance to do the same thing as a coach would seem to be a move that could end up with a parade down Broadway that the Blueshirts haven't seen in 19 years.
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