Glen Sather interviewed only two candidates in person last week at his home in La Quinta, Calif. Alain Vigneault and Mark Messier were the two finalists, and two people familiar with Sather's decision said it was close between Vigneault, the veteran former coach of two NHL teams, and Messier, the veteran player who has experience in just about everything hockey-related except coaching.
When Vigneault was introduced as Rangers coach Friday, Messier, still Sather's special assistant, was not present. He and Sather have not spoken since Vigneault got the job, and no one around Madison Square Garden is quite sure what comes next for Messier.
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"It was a difficult decision, no question about that," Sather said Friday. "[Mark and I have] had a long relationship. We've both grown up with each other. It was a difficult decision to make. But running this hockey club is not easy all the time and tough decisions are made for tough reasons. At this stage, [Vigneault] is the man."
Messier helped deliver the Stanley Cup in 1994 and retired as a Ranger in 2004, and many observers believe that when he signed on as Sather's special assistant in 2009, he was being groomed to take over a major job within the organization.
When Messier decided to apply for the coaching job after Sather fired John Tortorella on May 29, that put Sather in a tough spot. With candidates such as Vigneault and Lindy Ruff available, Sather would have to overlook the experience factor to choose his close friend Messier, who had coached one international tournament in the decade since his retirement.
"It matters, but experience is not the only reason you hire a coach," Sather said. "There's a lot of factors that go into it."
Messier could attempt to get some of that experience by coaching with the Rangers' AHL affiliate in Hartford or elsewhere. With Ruff hired in Dallas and Tortorella reportedly on the verge of replacing Vigneault in Vancouver, there are no more NHL coaching openings for next season.
Vigneault said he and Sather will choose a coaching staff during the next several days. There appears to be no intent to add Messier as an assistant.
"I would like to think that [Messier coaching in the NHL] could happen, certainly," Sather said. "He's got to decide what he wants to do. And he's told me he's going to take a few days and we're going to talk about it."