Rangers

Hartnett: If Fired By Penguins, Bylsma Should Become Top Candidate For Rangers

Rangers Won't Be Able To Resist Bylsma If He's Let Go By The Pens
Head coach Dan Bylsma of the Pittsburgh Penguins celebrates with the Stanley Cup on June 12, 2009, in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Head coach Dan Bylsma of the Pittsburgh Penguins celebrates with the Stanley Cup on June 12, 2009, in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

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‘Rangers Inside And Out’
By Sean Hartnett
» More Columns

The process of hiring the next head coach of the New York Rangers is under way in the resort city of La Quinta, California.

On Monday, SportsNet Canada reported that former Vancouver Canucks head coach Alain Vigneault flew into La Quinta and will meet with Glen Sather and the Rangers’ brass as the first of several candidates to interview for the open position formerly held by polarizing figure John Tortorella.

According to Hockey Night in Canada, the Rangers have received permission to speak with former Buffalo Sabres head coach Lindy Ruff. Meanwhile, Mark Messier — the longtime Rangers captain and current special assistant to Sather — has expressed an interest in becoming the next head coach of the Rangers, and is expected to be among candidates interviewed by the club.

One name scratched off the Rangers’ list is Dallas Eakins. The Edmonton Oilers quickly secured the services of a rising coaching star in Eakins, and he was introduced in front of the media in Edmonton on Monday. Also, according to SportsNet, Eakins filled out a questionnaire from the Rangers and interviewed with the Vancouver Canucks, though that’s as far as the process went before Eakins was wooed by the Oilers.

Yet, the man currently employed by the Pittsburgh Penguins (though that may only be for a short while longer) could be the most intriguing of all candidates should he become available.

PITTSBURGH’S BYLSMA NEXT ON THE FIRING LINE?

Speculation about Dan Bylsma’s job security intensified even before the Penguins were swept in a stunning four-game elimination by the Boston Bruins.

There’s no doubt that Bylsma was outcoached by Claude Julien in the 2013 Eastern Conference Finals. Throughout the series, Bylsma failed to make adjustments and unsuccessfully tried to force the Penguins into playing a physical style. What’s also notable is that the Penguins went 0-for-15 on the power play during the series.

This doesn’t mean that Bylsma is an offensively-incapable coach. We’ve seen the Penguins play run-and-gun in the past, and Bylsma outmaneuvered perhaps the best coach in the NHL in Mike Babcock to win a thrilling seven-game 2009 Stanley Cup Finals over the Detroit Red Wings.

Should Bylsma suddenly be removed from his position in Pittsburgh, he should immediately jump in front of all candidates to replace Tortorella. To some Rangers fans, it won’t make a lick of sense to hire Bylsma considering the Penguins’ struggles on the power play this past playoffs and his trying in vain to out-grit the Bruins.

Still, Bylsma’s accomplishments as a whole are hugely impressive for a 42-year-old coach. The Penguins would be foolish to fire Bylsma, and he would be welcomed by the Rangers’ organization and their players with open arms.

Bylsma seems to have a very good handle on relating to players. His personality is even-keeled and he keeps practices interesting by including shootout drills, often participating in them himself.

Some even go as far as describing Bylsma as a whacky, off-the-wall personality behind the scenes. During his playing days, Bylsma was known as “Disco Dan” for his dance moves inside the locker room.

He can rebuild the confidence of a player like Chris Kreider who was yo-yoed between New York and Connecticut, and he won’t take shots at his own players. Tortorella came under harsh criticism for publicly branding Carl Hagelin as a player who “stinks on the power play.” Considering that Hagelin was playing through a torn left shoulder labrum throughout the playoffs, it makes Tortorella’s comments look even worse.

Bylsma isn’t the type to alienate star players, which played a significant part in Tortorella’s downfall.

MESSIER IS STILL THE WILDCARD

If there’s anyone who knows Messier best it’s certainly Sather, who coached “The Messiah” for a decade in Edmonton and briefly in New York for parts of the 2002-03 and 2003-04 seasons.

The two have worked together closely since Messier accepted a role within the Rangers’ hierarchy in the summer of 2009. Messier was once thought to be groomed to eventually replace Sather,though assistant Jeff Gorton is currently next in line should Sather suddenly step down.

Should Bylsma remain in Pittsburgh, Messier will be given every chance to make his case over Vigneault and Ruff. I can’t imagine the Rangers resisting the opportunity to hire Bylsma should he become available, even if it means that they’ll pass on a franchise legend in Messier.

SATHER STEPPING DOWN FROM GM ROLE?

When Sather was asked about the possibility of relinquishing his power during the conference call to announce Tortorella’s firing, he dismissed any notions that he wouldn’t continue on in his current role as president/GM.

Gorton stepped in to handle some of Sather’s duties during the weeks leading up to the trade deadline while the 69-year-old Sather was undergoing treatment for prostate cancer.

Some have speculated that Sather could be ready to step down as GM in the near future and retain his role as president. We’ll just have to sit back and see how this plays out.

EXPECT A NEW COACH IN PLACE BEFORE THE DRAFT

The Rangers are less than three weeks away from the 2013 NHL Draft, which is set to be held at Prudential Center on June 30th.  Sather stated during the same conference call that he expects to have a new head coach in place before the draft in Newark.

You can follow Sean on Twitter @HartnettHockey.

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