Alain Vigneault the right choice for Rangers
Arthur StapleArthur Staple
Staple, with Newsday since 1997, has covered high school
There are no prizes for winning press conference day, but the Rangers took the right first step on Friday.
Glen Sather's surprising decision to fire John Tortorella on May 29 left the Rangers president with a host of attractive candidates. He interviewed only two in person, and it was a clear choice -- between the experienced favorite, Alain Vigneault, and the sentimental favorite, Mark Messier.
And it was close, according to people familiar with Sather's decision. Vigneault offered over two decades of coaching, from the Quebec junior league on up to the Vancouver Canucks. Messier offered what The Captain offers: Leadership and a commanding presence.
Sather could have gone out on a shaky limb by making the emotional choice, by installing Messier, his good and loyal friend, as coach with only a couple weeks' experience doing so, in an international tournament a few years back.
That's not to say Messier wouldn't have succeeded. It's never a good thing to bet against him. But is a guy with his jersey in the rafters of Madison Square Garden going to hunker down to watch game video at 2 a.m. at the Raleigh Renaissance?
It had to be a question that Sather asked himself after sitting down with Vigneault, a guy who got fired from his dream job coaching the Canadiens in 2000 and started back in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League to work his way back. Experience may not have been the only factor in choosing between Vigneault and Messier, but it was a big one.
"It's not the only reason you hire a coach," Sather said on Friday. "[But] it matters, sure."
As the Nets embark on an experiment with the just-retired Jason Kidd, and the Warriors have done the same with Mark Jackson, there's reason to wonder whether Messier could have been the right choice.
But hockey, with one head coach and two or three assistants, is not basketball or baseball, with a head coach or manager and a bevy of specialized position coaches. Messier may yet go off and do the work, in junior or minor-league hockey, to become a more viable candidate, but now was not his time.
Vigneault validated Sather's decision with his personality on Friday as well. By all accounts, he's the anti-Tortorella -- patient and willing to put up with plenty, but also a coach who commands respect and knows how to crack a whip when necessary.
He already sounded like a man who knows what he's looking for out of his new team -- a more up-tempo style and a willingness to bend his system to the skills of the Rangers.
Tortorella wasn't able to do that last season, and it cost him his players' faith.
"That style worked for a couple seasons," Sather said, "but it started to wear on the team. A lot of guys had the crap kicked out of them with injuries and those things."
Vigneault will want to see creativity from Rick Nash, from Derick Brassard, from Michael Del Zotto. He will not want his team to collapse in front of Henrik Lundqvist as often.
But beyond that, not much will look different. Vigneault said on Friday that he "wants the team to play the right way," and that phrase has echoed around the Garden for all of Tortorella's five seasons.
Coaching is not much about vastly different styles these days -- it's why Tortorella is on the cusp of replacing Vigneault in Vancouver, where the Canucks supposedly need an anti-Vigneault to shake up their squad.
Sather made the right choice, and Vigneault said the right things. On this day, the Rangers had some winning moves.