Time for a Fresh Face Behind the Bench of the New York Rangers
More and more it’s becoming clear that the Rangers need to hire a coach that isn’t part of the NHL’s coaching carousel. Someone with new ideas and better ways to handle not only the rigors of playing in the NHL but playing for a rebuilding team in one of the most popular cities in the world. One of these old-school coaches won’t do it, and if Pavel Buchnevich’s recent comments have made it clear, this Rangers team needs a fresh voice in the room; and it doesn’t get fresher than a coach looking to break into the NHL.
The reasons for getting a fresh-faced coach go much deeper than just Buchnevich’s comments, but it’s a good starting point. Many NHL coaches that are part of the coaching carousel are very set in their ways, styles and how they handle managing their team. Some are more lenient and some rule their bench with a much heavier hand. Yes, some coaches have adapted their styles over the years including our good friend John Tortorella, who has found new life in Columbus coaching the Blue Jackets. But for the most part, coaches are who they are.
Alain Vigneault is a very veteran-oriented coach who keeps his rookies on short leashes, and for a team that is entering the rebuilding process, that kind of system just doesn’t work. Many fans figured this, but Buchnevich’s recent comments confirm this. Now you might say that there are some veteran coaches out there that are good with young talent, and yes that would be correct; but at this point, none of those guys happen to be available because they’re good at their jobs. No disrespect to Bill Peters by the way, as I think he would be a fantastic coach for this team, but all signs seem to point to him going to the Calgary Flames at this point in time.
With all due respect to Darryl Sutter, I don’t see him working out here in New York. The NHL has gone from the big and heavy game to a speed and finesse game, and I don’t think his style of play will cut it with the way this team is being built. Sutter has a great resume, but his skills on that resume don’t apply here. Glen Gulutzan failed to make the playoffs in Calgary with a roster that arguably deserved to and it’s a real shame for that franchise. Maybe they didn’t have the forward depth, but with a blueline like that and those top end forwards, they should’ve at least gotten a wild-card spot. Count Gulutzan out for the Rangers job. People will point to Dave Tippett as being a possible choice also but he’s been out of the game for a bit and who knows if he’d even want the job in New York. Dan Bylsma? No thanks. Didn’t seem to ever have the rebuilding Sabres on the same page so I don’t think he’d cut it in New York either.
Now, the next thing people will point to is that a new and fresh coach might have some growing pains with his new team, especially if he hasn’t coached in the NHL before. In the long run, though, it will pay off. Two big examples of minor league coaches making the jump are Jon Cooper and Jared Bednar. Both are prime examples of why minor league coaches with good hockey minds completely dispel the need for NHL experience.
Jon Cooper was hired to replace Guy Boucher towards the end of the 2012-13 season. Boucher’s style of hockey just wasn’t doing it for Lightning management and they wanted a fresh voice in the room. Cooper, who was coaching the Lightning’s AHL affiliate, the Syracuse Crunch, at the time, had won championships at every level of coaching. He just seems to have a knack for knowing how to use his players the right way and putting them in the right situation. Since taking over behind the bench, Cooper has done nothing but win with the Lightning and he shows no signs of slowing down as he’s turned them into a powerhouse in the NHL. Cooper has over 200 NHL wins and is proof that you don’t need NHL experience to be a good head coach in this league.
Jared Bednar had one of the worst seasons ever as a head coach last season. This season, he had one of the best turnarounds in NHL history. Bednar was named head coach of the Colorado Avalanche prior to the start of the 2016-17 season. Patrick Roy resigned very late in the offseason and GM Joe Sakic made the decision to hire Bednar, who was the head coach of their AHL affiliate, the Springfield Falcons, to be the new bench boss for the Colorado Avalanche. With a season under his belt and time to implement his coaching staff, Bednar and his team had a 47 point improvement from the 2016-17 season and snapped a four-year playoff drought in 2017-18. Like Cooper, Bednar was a successful minor league coach that just needed a chance to show what he could do and he is now delivering.
Not to be understated here is that there are plenty of really great candidates in the NCAA. Now, there have only been three NCAA coaches to ever make the jump from the NCAA to the NHL: Dave Hakstol, current coach of the Flyers, Bob Johnson, who led the Penguins to a Stanley Cup in 1991, and Ned Harkness, who coached the Detroit Red Wings in 1970. It’s not the norm to hire an NCAA coach, but with some great ones out there now, the Rangers would do well not to ignore them.
With names like Sheldon Keefe of the Toronto Marlies, David Quinn of Boston University, Jim Montgomery of Boston University and Scott Sandelin of Minnesota-Duluth being rumored as coaching candidates, it’s clear management is doing their homework on minor league and college coaching candidates. Hopefully one of them is the next Rangers head coach.
Editors Note: For a detailed shortlist of potential coaching candidates, click here