Scott Stevens, Rangers Head Coach?Getty Images
The Rangers are without a head coach heading into the off-season for the first time in five years. After Alain Vigneault was fired, the Rangers also fired Scott Arniel among other members of their coaching staff. While Lindy Ruff has not been fired, his name has not come up amongst the many rumors regarding the next head coach of the Rangers. Instead, names like Sheldon Keefe and Jim Montgomery have been at the forefront of the rumor mill. Additionally, there are a few established names that have been thrown around. Dan Bylsma and Darryl Sutter are two of the top head coaches without jobs at the moment. While all of these names have some good arguments to be made for them, there is one name that Larry Brooks mentioned in his article the other day that really jumps out: Scott Stevens.
Wait, Scott Stevens? As in the former captain and face of our arch rival, New Jersey Devils Scott Stevens? Yes, that Scott Stevens. Before you start calling me Benedict Arnold, please hear me out.
Stevens has been working with the NHL Network and is widely regarded as a very cerebral hockey mind, and he understands the evolving game of hockey. This is on display every night as he dissects the games with Alex Tanguay, former Rangers goaltender Kevin Weekes, and the rest of the NHL network crew. Even though Stevens only spent one season with the Minnesota Wild as an assistant coach, the reason that he did not come back was that he wanted to be closer to his family. Stevens received top marks from everyone within the organization and is already known as a leader.
All of these qualities are well and good. However, they could apply to any number of hockey names. So why is Stevens a good candidate for the Rangers?
Scott Stevens is, first and foremost, a leader. The Rangers are coming into a season where the corps that they have had for the past half decade is mostly gone. JT Miller is gone. Veteran Michael Grabner is gone. Alternate captain Derek Stepan is gone. Alternate captain Dan Girardi is gone. Alternate captain Rick Nash is gone. Captain Ryan McDonagh is gone. Add into all of that change that Mats Zuccarello and Marc Staal may not be here when the 2018-19 season begins. No matter what, the Rangers are going to have a leadership void that will need to be filled. The Rangers will most certainly look to sign a few veteran players (Ilya Kovalchuk anyone?). They may even make a big splash and sign Islanders center and captain John Tavares. However, the Rangers need a strong coaching presence who isn’t afraid to speak up. Too often, Alain Vigneault was too passive and relied too heavily on the veterans in the locker room. I do not think that this will be a problem with Scott Stevens.
The Rangers have an incredibly young defensive corps coming into next year. Marc Staal and Kevin Shattenkirk will be the oldest defensemen on the Rangers blue line. In addition to Shattenkirk, the Rangers will have Brady Skjei, John Gilmour, Anthony DeAngelo, Neal Pionk, Ryan Sproul, Ryan Lindgren, Yegor Rykov, and others competing for a slot in the top-six. Who better than one of the greatest defensemen of all time – sorry, I just barfed – to mentor and develop these young kids? Additionally, if there is anyone who can implement an organized defensive system to provide longevity to Henrik Lundqvist’s career, it is Scott Stevens. With Stevens, the Devils had one of the most stifling defenses in history. Sure, they gave up shots, however, they did an incredible job of keeping the shots to the outside. While the game has changed, Stevens has given every indication that he understands and can adapt.
Ah yes, toughness. No, I don’t believe that fighting equals toughness, but it is absolutely a component of it. However, it does mean being hard to play against and not allowing the opponent to dictate the play. Too often, the Rangers allowed opponents to get overly physical, crash the net without consequences, and beat up on the Rangers. I believe this is largely due to the tone set by Alain Vigneault. Players like Miller, Chris Kreider, and Brendan Smith were chastised for sticking up for their teammates. The Rangers rarely cleared the crease and rarely had any sort of altercations in the offensive zone around the opposing goalie. Hockey is a physical and emotional sport. The flat, emotionless, and passive style that the Rangers played was a large detriment to them. Sometimes you need Kreider to crash the net hard and maybe make a little contact. Sometimes you need to chip away at a loose puck in the crease. Sometimes you need to play with an edge to get your team in the game. I may be completely wrong, but I think Scott Stevens understands that aspect of the game.
There is nothing to indicate that Scott Stevens will become the next head coach of the Rangers other than Larry Brooks’ article. However, Stevens is an extremely intriguing candidate. Would he leave his position at the NHL network so quickly after coming back to spend time with his family? Maybe, maybe not. Either way, the next few months should be extremely intriguing as Stevens’ name pops up.