Five seasons as a coach in New York is an eternity. Alain Vigneault was fired by the Rangers late Saturday night following a season-ending 5-0 loss to the Flyers. The Blueshirts finished with a 34-39-9 record, good for last in the Metropolitan. Vigneault did enjoy some success in his tenure as bench boss of the Rangers, as he guided them to the Stanley Cup Final in 2013-2014, his first season with the team, which was followed by a President’s Trophy season in 2014-2015, though the Rangers lost in Game 7 in the Eastern Conference Finals to the Lightning.
This season marks the first non-playoff season for the Rangers since 2009-2010. GM Jeff Gorton has been transparent about a full-fledged rebuild, and demonstrated through previous actions as well, as he traded Rick Nash to the Bruins, Michael Grabner to New Jersey, and a Ryan McDonogh/J.T. Miller package to Tampa Bay. In June, the Rangers will have three first-round picks, and ten picks altogether, an encouraging sign for a team that had once often mortgaged its future in pursuit of acquiring veterans to accelerate a Stanley Cup victory, one that has eluded this franchise for 24 years.
This is not an indictment of Alain Vigneault at all, but his departure was looming. Vigneault will have no peril with finding a new job, as he has taken two different teams to the Stanley Cup Final. Unfortunately, it was his notorious propensity to play veterans over youngsters and inability to make in-game adjustments that led to his dismissal from the Rangers. I wish nothing but the best for this man, but the Rangers need a new face for devising lines and schemes, and that does not include Lindy Ruff.
Ruff, who has enjoyed some success himself (led Sabres to conference championship in 1999) would simply be an extension of Vigneault, and if Gorton were to select him as the 35th head coach of the Rangers, it would be a mistake.
So with all of that in mind, who will be the next coach of the Rangers?
Many have speculated that former Flames and Kings head coach Darryl Sutter, who guided the Kings to their first-ever Cup win in 2012 (and another one in 2014, against the Rangers no less), and also led the Flames to the Final, could be the next head coach. Often known for his facetious demeanor towards the media, Sutter owns a career 634-467-101-83 record (he coached before ties were eliminated in favor of overtime losses). But would he be the correct choice for a team in the process of a rebuild?
Another notable name is Dan Bylsma, who led the Penguins to a redemptive Stanley Cup win in against the Red Wings in 2008-2009. However, his time with the Sabres was a cataclysmic, with a reported tension with Jack Eichel.
Dave Tippett is another intriguing option. Tippett did led the Coyotes to a few respectable seasons, most notably an appearance in the Western Conference Finals in 2012. He is also a Jack Adams winner.
Whatever the case may be, the Rangers must employ a coach who is willing to foster chemistry with young players and develop a strong possession game. Say what you want about Corsi and possession stats, but they absolutely correlate to winning.
This draft is the future of the team. Jeff Gorton played an instrumental role in drafting Milan Lucic and Brad Marchand in 2006, both of whom were key components in the Bruins’ 2011 Cup-winning season. He also vouched for Phil Kessel in the ’06 draft as well.
Above all else, this is a franchise that has won exactly one Stanley Cup in 78 years, and zero since breaking the Curse of 1940 back in 1994. An entire generation of fans have yet to witness the Rangers hoist the most coveted hardware in all of sports. Henrik Lundqvist would probably trade his Hall of Fame career for a Cup win if he were approached about it.
Other teams (like Nashville) have accelerated their rebuilds by drafting speedy possession-based forwards (Forsbserg, Arvidsson, Sissons) and a coach who knows how to develop talent (Peter Laviolette).
I know that one day, for the first time in my life, I will see the Rangers win a Stanley Cup. Maybe sooner than I think. It all hinges on the next two months.