As an Original Six franchise, the New York Rangers have seen their fair share of coaches come and go. As a matter of fact, Alain Vigneualt—who was introduced as the new head coach this past summer—is the 34th coach in franchise history.
During the course of their 88-year history, the Rangers have endured many struggles, but also many triumphs. And to see them through both the good and bad were some colorful characters.
Today, we’ll take a look at the cream of the crop in terms of coaching for The Blueshirts and highlight the four best coaches the organization has employed.
Love him or hate him, John Tortorella was a great hockey coach for the New York Rangers.
Tom Renney may have helped restore respectability back to the franchise, but Tortorella was the one who took the team to the next level.
When Torts took over late in the 2008-09 season, the Rangers were in dire need of a change. Although it was the team’s first season without Jaromir Jagr—and goals were hard to come by—the Rangers as a whole were simply not responding to Renney’s quiet and laxed coaching style any longer.
Tortorella came in and, essentially, whipped the team back into the shape.
And although the Rangers would go on to miss the playoffs in 2009-10, Tortorella’s vision finally took shape in 2011-12. In the previous year, the Rangers lost in the opening round of the playoffs, but it was in 2011-12 that the Rangers not only finished first in the Eastern Conference, but also reached the conference final, where they would eventually lose to the New Jersey Devils in six games.
In 2012-13, the expectations were high for Tortorella and the Rangers, and although the team reached the second round of the playoffs, he was eventually fired and replaced by Vigneault.
It was a controversial move, but the sense surrounding the team was that Tortorella did all he could with the club.
In 271 games, Tortorella won 145 regular-season games, which is fifth best in franchise history, while his .583 win percentage is good for third.
Through 654 games over three separate stints as coach of the Rangers, Emile Francis compiled a franchise-high 342 wins and .602 win percentage. His 34 playoff wins are also tops in New York.
After serving as the team’s assistant general manager, Francis doubled up his duties and became the head coach and general manager in 1965. After coaching two seasons in 1965-66 and 1966-67, Francis made way for Bernie Geoffrion in 1968-69, but midway through the year, the Hall of Famer was forced to resign due to health problems, and Francis re-assumed his position behind the bench.
Similarly in 1973-74 Larry Popein took over for Francis, but the switch was short-lived and The Cat returned as head coach in 1974-75.
In all, Francis was Rangers boss for 10 seasons and made the playoffs all but one of them—the first one. Although never finishing atop the standings during the regular season, Francis and the Rangers were perennial semifinalists and even made it to the Stanley Cup Final in 1971-72, although Bobby Orr and the Boston Bruins would prove to be too strong for the Rangers.
“Iron” Mike Keenan only coached the Rangers for one season, but up until this point it is the most important season in the history of the franchise.
After the firing of Roger Neilson during the disastrous 1992-93 season, which eventually saw the team miss the playoffs after qualifying in the previous three seasons, Keenan was brought in to steady the ship and refocus the Rangers in the summer of 1993.
And as we all know, it was more of a success than the Rangers and their fans could have ever imagined.
The Rangers jumped out to an early first-place lead in the Atlantic Division and never took their foot off the pedal. The team would eventually win the President’s Trophy as regular-season champions before marching all the way to game seven of the Stanley Cup Final, which they won. The monumental win snapped the franchise’s 54-year championship drought.
Keenan surprised the hockey world in the summer of 1994 and split for St. Louis after just one year with The Blueshirts. In that one season, Iron Mike lead the Rangers to a 52-24-8 record.
Lester Patrick was the first coach in Rangers history, and he holds the very exclusive honor of being the only boss in team history to lead the club to two Stanley Cup championships in 1928 and 1933.
The Hockey Hall of Famer is best remembered for the incident during the 1928 Stanley Cup Final that forced Patrick to come in as relief netminder. At the time, most teams didn't carry a backup goalie, and when starter Lorne Chabot went down with an eye injury, Patrick was left no other choice but to suit up.
Unbelievably, the Rangers won the game in overtime, and Patrick made 18 saves on 19 shots. An agreement for a replacement keeper was reached following in the game, so Patrick never returned between the pipes. But to this day Patrick, who was 44 years old at the time, is the oldest goalie to ever play in the Stanley Cup Final. And to top it all off, Patrick wasn't even a goalie during his playing days—he was a defenseman.
All in all, Patrick was behind the Rangers’ bench for 13 seasons and led the team to the playoffs all but one season. His last season was in 1938-39—the year before the Rangers won their third Cup.
In 604 games, Patrick compiled a 281-216-107 record. He’s second all time in Rangers wins, and his .554 win percentage also ranks second.