Alain Vigneault was named coach of the New York Rangers, inheriting a National Hockey League team that has made the playoffs in seven of the past eight seasons and hasn’t won a Stanley Cup title since 1994.
Vigneault was fired by the Vancouver Canucks, who are interviewing former Rangers’ coach John Tortorella for their vacancy. Other candidates for the Canucks’ job have been told they are no longer in the running, ESPN said, citing people familiar with negotiations.
Vigneault, who won the NHL’s coach-of-the-year award in 2007, becomes the 35th coach in the Rangers’ 87-year history. He’s signed to a five-year deal, team president Glen Sather said today in a news conference.
“I am coming here to win,” the 52-year-old Vigneault said. “Honored and privileged I feel at this moment.”
Tortorella was fired on May 29 after leading the Rangers to the playoffs the last three seasons and never advancing past the Eastern Conference final.
One of the NHL’s “Original Six” franchises, New York has won the league championship four times, only once in the past 72 years. Sather said at the time of Tortorella’s firing that a Rangers season isn’t a success unless the team wins a Stanley Cup title, a stance underscored today by Jim Dolan, club’s president.
“He knows how to get the best performance out of the entire roster,” Dolan said. “I believe he is perfectly suited to help the Rangers continue our drive to win the Stanley Cup, which remains our first and only goal.”
Vigneault gained favor among media members in Vancouver for his openness, including the public handling of a goaltending competition last year between Cory Schneider and Roberto Luongo, and joked today with reporters. Tortorella drew criticism throughout his tenure with the Rangers for short, often-heated press conferences.
The Canucks fired Vigneault and two assistants last month after the team was swept by the San Jose Sharks in the first round of the playoffs. In seven years behind the Vancouver bench, Vigneault led the Canucks to the playoffs six times. They reached the Stanley Cup final in 2011, losing in seven games to the Boston Bruins.
Though Vigneault was 313-170-57 in Vancouver and the team won the Northwest Division each of the last five seasons, 2012-13 was a step back for a franchise that has become one of the NHL’s regular Stanley Cup contenders. The Canucks were 19th in the league in goals per game, and ranked in the bottom 10 in power-play percentage and face-off percentage. They also lost 10 of their last 11 playoff games.
The Rangers were 26-18-4 in the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season, and fell to the Bruins 4-1 in the second round of the playoffs. New York struggled to get consistent production from its biggest names, including three-time All-Star Marian Gaborik, who was traded in April to the Columbus Blue Jackets, and five-time All-Star forward Rick Nash, the team’s highest-paid skater, who scored one goal in the playoffs.
Brad Richards, the second-highest-paid skater on the team, was benched late in the playoffs after recording one point in the first 10 postseason games. The 33-year-old center has seven years left on a nine-year, $60 million contract and may be bought out this offseason.
“I believe that your top skilled players have to be given a little more latitude,” Vigneault said. “They have to understand the game, and the time in the game when you need to play higher percentage, but they also have to be given that latitude to make something out of nothing.”
Sather declined to comment on whether Richards would be with the Rangers next year. He also said he was unsure about former Rangers captain Mark Messier’s future with the team. A Hockey Hall of Fame inductee and one of Sather’s assistants last year, Messier interviewed for the Rangers coaching position and Sather said the two would speak again within the next week.
A Quebec native, Vigneault said he spent time yesterday at the team’s practice facility in Tarrytown, New York, looking at photos from the team’s 1994 Stanley Cup win. He called the Rangers “one of the elite teams in the NHL.”
“It’s real clear to me that there is no better place to win a Stanley Cup than here in New York,” he said.