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May 30, 2013

Coaching Mess In New York

Just hours after being knocked out of the 2013 Stanley Cup playoffs the New York Rangers disposed of head coach John Tortorella. He crashed and burned spectacularly this season as his team struggled and his usual and equally unusual sparring with the media wore real thin. The overwhelming sentiment seems to be "good riddance, Torts," as no one seemed to like him by season's end, and that list most importantly includes his players.

The New York Rangers search for a new coach will include all the usual suspects for all the league's coaching vacancies - Lindy Ruff (a former Ranger, too), Alain Vigneault, Paul Maurice, Dallas Eakins, etc.

But there has been much buzz about "Mr. New York Rangers" Mark Messier being interested in the job. Messier, whose only coaching experience was a second place finish for Team Canada at the Spengler Cup in 2010, has been a special assistant to Rangers boss (and Mess' close friend) Glen Sather.

Perhaps it is Messier or even Sather himself feeding the media this story just to test the waters. But most dismiss the idea as ill-advised. At best. No coaching experience and the sure-to-result media sideshow coming off of the Tortorella disaster is not what the New York Rangers need. Glen Sather has done a good job of building the Rangers to a very solid team that really impressed in 2012 and disappointed in 2013. A more traditional coach could salvage Sather's good work, and Sather knows that.

One name that seems far more likely to step behind the bench would be Jim Schoenfeld. He's a long time NHL coach who has been far more active in the Rangers' management team than Messier. Could Sather give "Schoeny" the coaching reigns and then give Messier a bigger role in management?

Jeff Z. Kelin of the New York Times has an even unlikelier suggestion for the next coach of the Rangers - Wayne Gretzky. Gretzky coached the Phoenix Coyotes for four unsuccessful seasons. He resigned and has never been actively involved in hockey in any capacity ever since. Gretzky has hinted he would still be interested in coaching if the right situation presented itself. Perhaps that situation would only be with Glen Sather's Rangers.

Again, it is a far too risky move for a team that could make a lot of noise in the 2013-14 season. But I do think Gretzky's coaching tarnished legacy is a bit unfortunate. His biggest mistake in Phoenix was not surrounding himself with better assistant coaches. Rick Tocchet? Ulf Samuelsson? Doug Sulliman? Barry Smith was a good call but he left for Europe early. Had Gretz surround himself with real tactical coaches like a Ken Hitchcock or, dare I say it, Dave Tippett, he could have saved his now tarnished coaching legacy.

That is the only way I can see Mark Messier or Wayne Gretzky succeeding as coaches, especially in New York. It is very unconventional as essentially the assistants coach the team while the superstar does the rah-rah routine, holds players accountable, and handles the media.

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