Rangers hire Vigneault to be next head coach
Just over four weeks after he was fired by the Vancouver Canucks, Vigneault took over as coach of the New York Rangers on Friday - replacing the blustery John Tortorella three weeks after his dismissal.
Vigneault edged out former Rangers captain Mark Messier, longtime former Buffalo Sabres coach Lindy Ruff and others in landing the job as New York's new bench boss.
He was given a five-year deal.
"I was thinking about the opportunity to coach the New York Rangers, one of the Original Six teams," the 52-year-old Vigneault said. "There is not a chance I could pass that up. Honored and privileged I feel at this moment."
In 11 seasons as an NHL head coach with Montreal and Vancouver, Vigneault is 422-288-35-61 in 806 games.
He was officially introduced during a morning news conference at Radio City Music Hall, which had his name up on the famous marquee outside.
Vigneault was interviewed last week during the Rangers' organizational meetings in California and then met with team owner James Dolan in New York. Messier also had an interview during the club meetings out West.
"We had a list of 13 candidates and I narrowed it down to nine," said Glen Sather, Rangers president and general manager. "I interviewed two in person and four over the phone. It wasn't just between A.V. and Mark."
It is unknown if Messier will remain with the Rangers. He is currently a special assistant to Sather. Messier, a Hockey Hall of Fame player, lacks the coaching experience that Vigneault is loaded with.
Tortorella was fired after 4 1/2 seasons with New York on May 29 - four days after the Rangers were eliminated in the second round of the playoffs by Boston in five games. A year ago, the Rangers reached the Eastern Conference finals before bowing out against New Jersey.
In an ironic twist, Tortorella was reportedly offered the job on Friday to replace Vigneault in Vancouver.
Speculation that Vigneault was about to be hired by the Rangers increased greatly last weekend, especially after he removed himself from consideration to become the new coach of the Dallas Stars.
"I want to win," Vigneault said. "Given the opportunity to come here, it was just something that I couldn't turn down. I did find out, though, that it is a lot easier to negotiate yourself a contract when you've got two teams that are after you than just one."
With that, he gave Sather a hearty pat on the back as those in the room broke out in laughter.
"I didn't particularly enjoy that part," Sather said with a smile.
Vigneault posted impressive credentials with the Canucks, ranking first on the franchise list in coaching wins, earning the Presidents' Trophy twice for having the most points in the NHL, winning six Northwest Division titles, and getting within one win of capturing the Stanley Cup in 2011.
In seven seasons as Vancouver's coach, Vigneault was 313-170-57 in the regular season but only 33-32 in the playoffs.
His final two seasons ended in disappointment as Vancouver was knocked out in the first round in both years - including a sweep by San Jose last month.
The Canucks hadn't been swept in the playoffs in 12 years. The early-round exits when they were the higher-seeded team, and losses at home at the starts of the series were cited by Vancouver president and general manager Mike Gillis as reasons for Vigneault's firing on May 22.
Gillis added that the message had to be changed.
That is exactly what Sather is looking for, too, in replacing the combustible Tortorella with the more calm Vigneault, who coached the Canadiens from 1997 until being let go 20 games into the 2000-01 season.
It was not nearly the surprise in Vancouver when Vigneault was dismissed as it was in New York when the Rangers fired Tortorella.
On his way out, Vigneault said he was proud of many of the club's accomplishments when he was with the Canucks, but lamented that he was leaving without delivering the team's first Stanley Cup title.
"I am coming here to win," Vigneault said. "There is no doubt in my mind that this organization is committed to winning the Stanley Cup.
"We've got a lot of great pieces here and we're going to try to improve so that we all get to where we want to be."
Messier captained the Rangers past the Canucks in the seven-game Stanley Cup finals series in 1994. Vancouver lost another Game 7 in the finals against Boston in 2011 - the Canucks' first trip back to the championship series since the loss to New York 17 years earlier.
Vigneault got a quick lesson in Rangers history as he toured the team's suburban practice facility.
"I saw some of the pictures from the last time this city won the Cup," he said. "It's real clear to me that there is no better place to win the Stanley Cup than here in New York."
The Canucks jumped out to a 2-0 series lead at home in the 2011 finals but dropped four of the final five games - including Game 7 in Vancouver that led to a riot in the city's streets.
Vigneault was hired by the Canucks in 2006 after he spent a season leading Manitoba of the AHL. He had been fired by Montreal during the 2000-01 season during his first job as an NHL head coach.
He earned the Jack Adams Award as coach of the year in 2007.
Tortorella reached the playoffs in all but one of his five seasons with the Rangers, but his failure to get New York back to a championship level along with his combative nature were likely key factors that led to his firing.
Sather declined to give specifics for the dismissal, saying only that it wasn't one thing or particular incident that caused it.
Tortorella was fired shortly after the Rangers' season ended with a loss to Eastern Conference champion Boston. New York never reached the title-contending predictions many made for the team before this lockout-shortened season.
Tortorella conducts business on and off the ice with an iron fist. His abrasive style was likely a factor in Sather's decision to make a change.
Tortorella had one year left on his contract when he was let go.
In 319 regular-season games with New York, including a four-game run at the end of the 1999-2000 season, Tortorella went 171-118-1-29. He was 19-25 in the postseason, and reached the playoffs four times after taking over as coach in February 2009.
Tortorella, hired to replace Tom Renney with 21 games remaining in the 2008-09 season, achieved some success with the Rangers but couldn't match the Stanley Cup title he earned in 2004 with the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Sather said Tortorella's contract status wasn't part of the decision to let him go.
Last season, Tortorella led the Rangers to 51 wins - the second-most in franchise history - and 109 points before they were beaten in six games by New Jersey. He finished his Rangers tenure in fourth place on the team's coaching wins list.
The 54-year-old Tortorella got the Rangers back into the playoffs, and New York outlasted Washington in seven games in the first round of the playoffs before being knocked out by Boston.
Tortorella made curious comments when the Rangers packed up for the summer, remarks that could have led to his ouster.
In his final meeting with reporters, Tortorella said the Rangers weren't emotionally ready to take on Boston after getting past Washington with back-to-back shutout wins when they faced elimination.
But he was defiant in his assessment that this wasn't a down year for the club.
The Rangers entered the 48-game season as a contender to win the Stanley Cup, especially after the offseason acquisition of top forward Rick Nash in a trade with Columbus.
After a slow start, the Rangers rallied to a 26-18-4 record and the No. 6 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs.
New York struggled to score in the postseason, and Nash and Brad Richards were among the biggest offenders. Nash recorded only one goal and five assists in the Rangers' 12 playoff games.
Richards, who has seven years remaining on a nine-year deal, was a bigger disappointment and was a healthy scratch in the final two games against the Bruins. Sather said that move was an organizational decision.
Richards had thrived under Tortorella when they won the Stanley Cup with Tampa Bay, but he managed only one goal and zero assists in his 10 postseason games. Richards also is likely to be gone from the Rangers, who can buy out the remainder of his lucrative deal and remove him from the salary cap that will go down next season.
Tortorella is the career leader in wins by a U.S.-born coach with 410. He was an assistant coach with the Rangers in the 1999-2000 season and took over for John Muckler as head coach for the final four games.
Tortorella was then hired by the Lightning and he was their coach for seven seasons, going 239-222-36-38 and earning the Jack Adams Award in the championship season.