After the Rangers finally announced that Alain Vigneault had been relieved of his head coaching duties, the immediate question became who would replace the 56-year-old bench boss.
There are a few names that have popped up over the season that would seem to be good fits for this very young Rangers team. Two are veteran NHL coaches, two are AHL coaches, and two are people who have never coached in North America. That shouldn’t scare anyone, but we will go through each one and make a case why he should be the 35th head coach of the New York Rangers.
Most known as the guy who led the Los Angeles Kings to two Stanley Cup championships, including when the Kings defeated Alain Vigneault and the Rangers in 2014. Sutter’s teams played a hard-nosed style that combined speed, grit, and all-around intensity that gave his club a never-say-die attitude that saw the Blueshirts surrender leads in three of the four games they lost.
Sutter was not given a contract to coach this season, where the argument was that his style of coaching has been slowly fazed out of the NHL. But for a team that will need structure and a strong voice behind the bench, Sutter would seem to be a very good option for the Rangers.
One name that hasn’t been talked about much at all is former Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma. A big reason why he should get some consideration from Jeff Gorton and the Rangers’ brass is that Bylsma is largely responsible for developing the talents of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin into the, perhaps, all-time greats they both are.
Bylsma spent a large part of his early professional coaching career in the AHL, coaching the Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins before being promoted midseason to the Pens in 2008. Bylsma took those Penguins to the finals, with an 18-3-4 record to close out the regular season that saw them earn the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference. Bylsma is an offensive-minded coach who will certainly put his budding talents in the best position to succeed.
Perhaps the most talked about man over the course of the season has been Toronto Marlies head coach Sheldon Keefe.
Keefe has spent his entire coaching career developing young talent, where he has coached current Rangers prospects Tony DeAngelo, Tim Gettinger and Brandon Halverson with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds in the OHL. From Sault Ste. Marie, Keefe was hired by the Marlies, where he has been responsible for developing bright young stars in Toronto like William Nylander, Kasperi Kapanen, Connor Carrick, Travis Dermott, Andreas Johnsson, and Calle Rosen to name a few.
Keefe has a major upside over his NHL-experienced “competition” in that he is a young guy coaching in the latest iteration of professional hockey in North America; a game predicated on speed and skill as opposed to huge hits and gritty play in the corners. He has shown the ability to mold and develop top-end young talent, and with the Rangers having a bevy of guys that fit this description, he would be a great choice for the New York Rangers.
You might recognize this name from his playing days, but Marco Sturm has turned the German national team into a formidable contender on the world stage. The Germans took the hockey world by surprise at the 2018 Olympics, first by defeating Canada to advance to the gold medal game, which they would lose in overtime to Rangers prospect Igor Shestyorkin and the Russians.
Much like his playing style, a never-quit forward that wasn’t afraid to go into the dirty areas, Sturm has instilled those values into the teams that he has coached. The growth of the German hockey program is largely due to Sturm’s success both on the ice and behind the bench. I’ve been saying for a while that if the Rangers as a team played more like Jesper Fast, they’d be in a much better place. While not a young Swede, Sturm played the same style of game that Fast does for the Blueshirts, and he can indoctrinate a young group with a great work-ethic, regardless of the situation.
Speaking of international coaches, another name that could be in consideration is Filip Pešán from the Czech Republic.
Pešán coached the Czech team at the World Juniors in Buffalo, guiding Rangers prospects Filip Chytil and Libor Hajek to the bronze medal game at the tournament.
Much like Sheldon Keefe, Pešán is a young upstart coach who has done well in molding young talents for success. The Rangers certainly have a lot of those coming into training camp next season, and depending on the system he chooses to employ, could be an exciting guy behind the Blueshirts bench.
One final name that shouldn’t be discarded from the conversation is Hartford Wolf Pack head coach Keith McCambridge. I don’t see him getting the “call-up” to 4 Pennsylvania Plaza this summer, but McCambridge did spend a significant amount of time with guys like Lias Andersson, Filip Chytil, and Tony DeAngelo, among others, down in Hartford. The Rangers need a voice that the players are going to respect and listen to from day one and having someone potentially rise the ranks of the organization along with the players could be a good way to go.
The Rangers are looking toward the future now and one of these six men could be the one to lead the Blueshirts for the next few years. The only question that remains is who will be the 35th head coach of the New York Rangers.