Sunday, June 2, 2013

Messier is Still the Man, but Not the Right Man to Coach the Rangers

I've been a New York Rangers fan for over 40 years and in that time I never saw another NHL player that was as strong a leader as Mark Messier. Over the span of his 25-year NHL career (plus three seasons in the WHA), Messier did it all- fighter, goal scorer, face off man, checker, specialty teams regular, captain and six time Stanley Cup winner.

He was the man who proved he could win a Cup without Wayne Gretzky in Edmonton and brought the Cup to Rangers fans for the first time in 54 years. Next season's post-season will mark 20 years since the Rangers won that lone title since 1940 and that is just one of the reasons that the man that guaranteed a conference finals win and ensured it with a hat rick is not the right man for the job.

You can be the greatest player of all time, but that doesn't mean you can make a natural transition to coaching.  Just look back at how things went for Ted Williams when he tried to manage Major League Baseball's Texas Rangers. Messier knows just about everything there is to know about hockey, but that doesn't mean he can help coordinate the power play, motivate players that are not teammates, or win hockey games. It's also unusual for a player of any status to become a head coach with no coaching experience in any of the major sports.

It's hard to know how interested Messier is in getting the job since everything we've heard is through the media, but reportedly there is a high interest. His former teammate and the greatest hockey player of all time, Gretzky, is keeping his eyes on the job as well. The "Great One" never finished higher than fourth in his four seasons at the helm of the Phoenix Coyotes.

An experienced, and hopefully successful, coach has a better chance to take the current group of players to the finals. As worn out as the team and fans were with John Tortorella, he had coached a team (Tampa Bay Lightning) to a Stanley Cup championship, and took the Rangers to the Eastern Conference finals last season. Torts' predecessor Tom Renney was a good coach who couldn't get the team past the second round.

There is an urgency for success due to the clock ticking on the team's key to success, Henrik Lundqvist. The 2011-2012 Vezina Trophy winner will be 32-years old when next year's playoffs come around. He'll also be in the final year of his current contract. Right now, Lundqvist's response to reporters' query about an extension is "We'll see." The correct coaching move could entice the "King" to remain in the Rangers' red, white, and blue.

Messier has been an assistant to GM Glen Sather, a job far removed from coaching. If Mess wants to coach, groom him as an assistant to the next coach or let him cut his teeth by having take over the Rangers AHL affiliate in Connecticut.

Whether it be rumored candidates like Lindy Ruff, Alain Vigneault, or Dave Tippett (under contract to Phoenix until June 30), the Rangers need someone familiar with the X's and O's and not just someone who would be an extremely popular choice with the fans.

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