CHICAGO – Alain Vigneault will be the next head coach of the New York Rangers.
The Blueshirts have offered the job to Vigneault, 52, he has accepted, and on Saturday the parties were hammering out the details of a contract to make it official, according to an NHL insider.
Vigneault (pronounced “Veen-YO”), a French-Canadian originally from Quebec City, won six Northwest Division titles in the past seven seasons coaching the Canucks and led them within one win of the 2011 Stanley Cup, losing in seven games to the Boston Bruins. He captured the 2007 Jack Adams Award as the NHL’s top coach, the Presidents’ Trophy in 2011 and 2012, and posted a 313-170-57 regular-season record that makes him the winningest coach in Canucks history.
Vancouver GM Mike Gillis fired Vigneault on May 22 primarily because of his 1-10 record in playoff games beginning in Game 5 of the 2011 Finals, including first-round exits the past two seasons. But Vigneault’s experience, which also includes three-plus seasons behind the bench in Montreal, demonstrates his ability to work in a big market, to win consistently and to lead a team to the Finals.
Furthermore, he has a reputation much warmer and well-received than his predecessor, John Tortorella, including his dealings with the media. Plus, as Bruins coach Claude Julien told the Daily News Saturday morning, Vigneault has “always had the respect of his players.” Tortorella was fired on May 29 because his act had worn thin on the Rangers players, who told the front office they’d had enough.
It was unknown early Saturday afternoon when the organization intended to officially announce Vigneault as the franchise’s 35th head coach.
General manager Glen Sather opted for Vigneault, who first interviewed for the job on Tuesday, over Mark Messier. The Captain was a strong candidate to land his first-ever NHL or AHL head coaching job, telling the Daily News on Friday afternoon in Chicago that he also had interviewed for the position this week in La Quinta, Calif., at the organization’s offseason meetings.
But then Friday night, ESPN reported Vigneault was in New York, and TSN reported that Vigneault had removed his name from consideration for the Dallas Stars’ vacant head coach position, indicating it only appeared a matter of time before he would be hired on Broadway.
Vigneault commands respect on both sides of this year’s Stanley Cup Finals between the Blackhawks and the Bruins, beginning with his friend, Julien.
Julien, 53, and Vigneault, both defensemen as players, were teammates for parts of two seasons in 1981-82 and 1982-83 on the Salt Lake Golden Eagles of the Central Hockey League. Then their careers continued to parallel: They each coached the Hull Olympiques of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. They each took their first NHL head coaching job with the Montreal Canadiens. Then they faced off as foes coaching the Canucks and Bruins in Boston’s dramatic, heated, seven-game Cup Finals victory in 2011.
“He’s a guy that’s come through, I guess, the same ranks as I have,” Julien told the Daily News on Saturday morning, when Vigneault’s hiring was anticipated. “He’s a hard worker, he’s a good coach, smart guy. He has the knowledge, he’s always had the respect of his players, everybody I’ve talked to. And he’s a dedicated individual.
“Like all of us coaches, that’s what his life is, is hockey,” Julien continued. “He’s a guy that has a lot of assurance in what he does. He’s confident, and he exudes that as a coach. I mean, his teams have always been well-prepared. Every year he’s been in Vancouver, they’ve been a great team and they’ve been a top team and it speaks volumes about his work.”
The Blackhawks and the Canucks have developed a heated rivalry, but Chicago forward Patrick Sharp had nothing but compliments for Vigneault on Saturday morning.
“We kind of have a rivalry with those guys over the past couple years, and their team always seems well-coached,” Sharp said of the Canucks. “They play their system well. They’re disciplined, and they play on the edge, as well. So he’s a guy that is used to coaching in big markets. Vancouver’s a lot of media attention. Everything he does is kind of analyzed.”
Vigneault, despite being a defenseman as a player, also is well known to have afforded his top talents offensive freedom, led by the Sedin twins in Vancouver. That fact did not go unnoticed to foes.
“They’ve got some pretty good players in Vancouver, and he definitely gives them the freedom to do what they want offensively, and they can be creative in the offensive zone,” Sharp said. “But the thing about those guys in Vancouver, and this might be a product of Vigneault, as well, is that they work just as hard coming back playing defensively as they do in the offensive zone, and that’s a sign of a good coach, too.”
Henrik Lundqvist, then, should approve.