Alain Vigneault waits to speak at a news conference after being named the New York Rangers new hockey head coach at Radio City Music Hall, Friday, June 21, 2013, in New York. Vigneault, 52, comes to the Rangers after seven years as coach of the Vancouver Canucks.(AP Photo/John Minchillo)
NEW YORK, N.Y. - Before Alain Vigneault signed on for the job he said he couldn't turn down, the New York Rangers' new coach got two important thumbs-up that led him to the Big Apple.
Vigneault's hockey coaching jobs over the past decade have taken him far away from his home in Gatineau, Quebec, and separated the divorced father from his two daughters for far too long.
When the recently fired coach of the Vancouver Canucks was faced with the decision of continuing his career with the Dallas Stars or the Rangers, he chose the place that is just a one-hour flight from his family.
"I was thinking about the opportunity to coach the New York Rangers, one of the Original Six teams, in this great city," he said Friday at his introductory news conference. "There is not a chance I could pass that up."
Vigneault was given a five-year contract about a month after he was dismissed by the Canucks and three weeks after New York fired combustible coach John Tortorella.
Vigneault visited his daughters in Montreal and got a clear message from them where they wanted him to go. When he went into the apartment of his 20-year-old daughter, Janie, at college, he saw two mugs on the table—one with a Rangers logo and the other with a Dallas Stars insignia.
Then he received a much clearer signal.
"They were sitting on the couch, and they both had Yankee hats on," Vigneault said. "So I said, 'I know where you want me to go. I'll see what I can do.'"
Visits that had been limited to Christmas and maybe another time during the season can now increase to multiple times per month.
"They both like to shop," he said.
Vigneault let the Stars know he was taking himself out of the running to be their bench boss and worked out a deal with the Rangers—one that will reportedly pay him $2 million per season.
"I want to win," Vigneault said. "I did find out that it is a lot easier to negotiate yourself a contract when you've got two teams that are after you than just one."
With that, he gave Glen Sather, the Rangers president and general manager a hearty pat on the back as those in the room broke out in laughter.
"I didn't particularly enjoy that part," Sather said with a smile.
Although he has yet to win the Stanley Cup, Vigneault brings a wealth of experience and success into his third NHL head coaching job. His most appealing attribute might be that he is so different than Tortorella—on and off the ice.
That was evident Friday when Vigneault was introduced at Radio City Music Hall. In the short window of time in which he met with media members, Vigneault smiled and joked more times than anyone could remember his predecessor doing in 4 1/2 seasons.
The 52-year-old Vigneault brings a welcoming demeanour away from the rink and a more offensive philosophy on it—in contrast with Tortorella's way of working in the defensive zone and putting a premium on blocking shots in front of star goalie Henrik Lundqvist.
"We needed a change in style," Sather said. "You look at the injuries ... we needed to move the puck out quick. That style was perfect for a couple of years, but it started to wear our team out."
Vigneault edged out former Rangers captain Mark Messier, longtime former Buffalo coach Lindy Ruff and others. In 11 seasons as an NHL head coach with Montreal and Vancouver, Vigneault is 422-288-35-61 in 806 games.
"I'm going into this with an open mind," Vigneault said. "I think (players) should be too. I'm going in with a clean slate. Let's see what we can write on that slate."
Vigneault was interviewed last week during the Rangers' organizational meetings in California and then met with team owner James Dolan in New York.
"We had a list of 13 candidates and I narrowed it down to nine," Sather said. "It wasn't just between A.V. and Mark."
Vigneault and Sather will now work on filling out the coaching staff.
It is unknown if Messier, a special assistant to Sather, will remain with the Rangers. Messier, a Hall of Fame player, lacks the coaching experience Vigneault is loaded with.
"It was a difficult decision. We've both grown up with each other," Sather said of passing on Messier. "At this stage, A.V. was the man. Mark has got to decide what he wants to do."
Tortorella was fired May 29—four days after the Rangers were eliminated by Boston. A year ago, the Rangers reached the Eastern Conference finals.
In an odd twist, Tortorella was reportedly offered the job on Friday to replace Vigneault in Vancouver.
Sather insisted that no player came to him and asked for Tortorella to be fired. No players were in attendance Friday.
"There hasn't been a player who ... complained to me about Torts," Sather said.
When asked if Tortorella was stubborn in resisting adopting a more offensive style, Sather had a quick answer.
"Maybe beyond stubborn," he said. "He was perfect for us for a few years. He's going to be perfect for another team, but it was getting to be so hard on some of our players.
"We needed to make a change to give them a little fresh life and more of an optimistic view of how to play."
Vigneault ranked first on the Canucks' list in coaching wins and came within one victory of capturing the Stanley Cup in 2011. In seven seasons, Vigneault was 313-170-57 in the regular season but only 33-32 in the playoffs.
In his final two seasons, Vancouver was knocked out in the first round—including a sweep by San Jose last month. The early-round exits when the Canucks were the higher-seeded team, and losses at home at the starts of the series, were cited by general manager Mike Gillis as reasons for Vigneault's firing on May 22.
"There is no doubt in my mind that this organization is committed to winning the Stanley Cup," Vigneault said of the Rangers.
Messier captained the Rangers past the Canucks in the 1994 Stanley Cup finals. Vancouver lost another Game 7 in the finals against Boston in 2011.
"I saw some of the pictures from the last time this city won the Cup," Vigneault said. "It's real clear to me that there is no better place to win the Stanley Cup than here in New York."
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