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Hartnett: Vigneault Edging Closer To Rangers’ Head Coaching Job?

Rangers Pulling Out All The Stops To Land Vigneault
Alain Vigneault (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Alain Vigneault (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

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

From the moment John Tortorella was relieved of his duties by the New York Rangers, former Vancouver Canucks head coach Alain Vigneault emerged as far and away the most sensible choice to fill the vacancy behind the Blueshirts’ bench.

It appears there is very little separating Vigneault, the 2006-07 Jack Adams Award recipient, from calling historic Madison Square Garden his newest workplace address.

On Tuesday, Vigneault met with Glen Sather at the Rangers’ La Quinta, California headquarters, apparently impressing Sather and his trusted cronies with his presentation and plan to steer the Blueshirts closer to competing for an elusive Stanley Cup title in 2013-14. Sather and the Rangers’ brain trust seemed content to take their time in the process, until the Dallas Stars reportedly extended Vigneault a substantial offer.

From that point, things escalated quickly. Vigneault reportedly boarded a flight to New York, where it was speculated that he spent Friday meeting with Rangers owner Jim Dolan. In the late hours of Friday, it was also reported Vigneault informed Dallas general manager Jim Nill that he was withdrawing from the running to become next head coach of the Stars.

Now, we can assume it’s just a matter of Vigneault and the Rangers sorting out the contractual details. In all likelihood, the Rangers will be prepared to unveil Vigneault as their head coach in front of the media next week.

VIGNEAULT AND TORTORELLA TRADING PLACES?

After four and a half seasons of allowing Tortorella to do things his way, Sather deemed it necessary to remove Tortorella’s tentacles from grasping the Rangers too tightly on May 29. His highly-demanding and abrasive coaching style had run its course. In Sather’s words, the 69-year-old front office mainstay stated that “every coach has a shelf life.” Tortorella’s reign at “The World’s Most Famous Arena” had expired.

I’ll be the first to praise Tortorella for what he accomplished in New York. His methods are proven and it’s very likely that he will replicate the success he enjoyed with the Rangers in the next stop in his coaching career. Oddly enough, his next destination could very well be Vancouver. There’s a strong chance that Vigneault and Tortorella will be trading places. Tortorella has reportedly risen as the leading candidate after the sides have begun talks.

Perhaps, Sather and Canucks GM Mike Gillis are both fans of the 1983 comedy “Trading Places,” starring Eddie Murphy and Dan Aykroyd.

WHY VIGNEAULT IS THE OBVIOUS CHOICE FOR THE RANGERS

Judging by the way Sather has shifted the Rangers’ roster from one fit to play the “Black and Blueshirts” style that Tortorella demands into one that craves a head coach who allows offensive expression, Vigneault would be an ideal hire

Vigneault was able to get the most out of the Canucks’ offensively-loaded roster and came within a Game 7 of lifting the Stanley Cup in 2011. He came tantalizingly close to beating Claude Julien’s physically-dominant Boston and delivering Vancouver their first-ever Stanley Cup.

He played a big role in developing shutdown center Ryan Kesler into a gifted offensive talent and getting the Sedins to the level where they’re capable of being 100-point players in any given season.

This bodes well for a number of young players on the Rangers’ roster, especially Chris Kreider and J.T. Miller. Neither were given a fair chance under Tortorella, who demanded the youthful duo to focus on defensive-first development rather than simply allowing them the freedom to express their obvious offensive gifts.

Tortorella tried to fit square blocks into round holes with both of these players and wasn’t patient when he needed to be.  Both Kreider and Miller found themselves frequently bouncing between MSG and Connecticut — and that’s never a healthy thing for young players.

Vigneault is also known for his desire to implement advanced hockey statistics. During his time in Vancouver, he established in-house stat-tracking and uses statistics to determine matchups where he’s able to expose his opponents’ weaknesses.

WILL MESSIER JOIN VIGNEAULT AS AN ASSISTANT?

Before awarding the Mark Messier Leadership Award to Ottawa Senators’ captain Daniel Alfredsson, Mark Messier revealed that he interviewed with the Rangers in La Quinta earlier this week.

Despite his inexperience, Messier was considered a leading candidate to land the Rangers’ head coaching gig due to his close relationship with Sather. It appears that Messier has been bit hard by the coaching bug and perhaps, he might be willing to join Vigneault’s staff as an assistant.

According to the Los Angeles Times, the Rangers also received permission from the Los Angeles Kings to speak with assistant coach John Stevens. I’d imagine that Stevens will stay in Los Angeles unless he lands a head coaching gig and will remain in them mix for the Dallas Stars’ vacant position.

I’m sure Vigneault has his own ideas on who he prefers to join him on the Rangers’ coaching staff. For now, it’s abundantly clear that he’ll be the one to replace Torts and usher in offensively-driven hockey in New York once he takes the helm as Rangers’ head coach.

You can follow Sean on Twitter @HartnettHockey.

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