Alain Vigneault officially became coach of the Rangers on Friday, his coming-to-Broadway fete staged at Radio City Music Hall, roughly a mile up the street from Madison Square Garden. Vigneault, ex- of the Canadiens and Canucks, has a five-year deal ($10 million total) to bundle up the broken pieces of John Tortorella’s shot-blocking Blueshirts and reassemble them as a Cup contender. General manager Glen Sather, who will turn 70 in September, in a Daily News story last week finally said “style of play . . . had a lot to do’’ with Tortorella’s dismissal.
“I mean, he was pretty successful,’’ Sather added. “He’s a good coach . . . [but] I think the game has changed.’’
By Sather’s expert eye, he saw too much dump-and-chase hockey in Tortorella’s methods, in an era that increasingly stresses and values speed and puck possession. Vigneault’s mandate will be to make the Rangers more of a skate-and-shoot club than the retreat-and-shot-block version that Tortorella molded. The new approach behind the bench could be enough for the Rangers to keep Brad Richards rather than offer the aging center an amnesty/compliance buyout over the next few days.
If the final opinion of Sather and assistant GM Jeff Gorton is that Tortorella tamped down Richards’s game, then Vigneault’s No. 1 job in September will be to salvage what remains of the skilled pivot’s toolkit. Remember, Richards’s game was so shot by season’s end that Tortorella opted not to dress him for Games 4 and 5 of the Round 2 series against the Bruins. If they believe Richards still has enough left in his legs and heart, then Sather and Gorton will keep him on the payroll. If not, then he’ll be cut loose and left free to sign elsewhere, with Tampa and/or Dallas (both prior stops on his résumé) the likeliest suitors.
Sather’s view that the game has changed won’t help Tortorella’s odds of landing the job as US Olympic coach in Sochi (provided NHL players are heading to Russia). The rumor mill long has had Uncle Sam deciding between Tortorella and Pittsburgh’s Dan Bylsma for the red, white, and blue bench boss. While Tortorella has been looking for work (expected to be hired any hour now in Vancouver), Bylsma two weeks ago signed a two-year contract extension with the Penguins.
Meanwhile, Dallas GM Jim Nill late last week zeroed in on former Buffalo coach Lindy Ruff to be the Stars’ next coach. That’s different than hiring him, of course. Club president Jim Lites told the Dallas Morning News on Thursday that Nill continued to interview candidates, while at the same time noting that he and the organization would be “very happy’’ if Ruff were the new coach. And on Friday, the 53-year-old Ruff was given the job.
Ruff was dismissed as the Buffalo bench boss in February after 15 seasons on the job at the edge of Lake Erie. He is a solid choice in Dallas, where the Stars need to live through a rebuild much as Ruff and the Sabres did in the post-Dominik Hasek era. So Ruff knows the patience needed in lean times and Dallas is living them after five straight seasons of playoff DNQs. Tortorella, meanwhile, reportedly met with Nill last week during the GM meetings here in the Hub of Hockey. With Ruff the pick in Dallas, Tortorella’s last opportunity to land work at the moment would be Vancouver.
It would seem a curious fit, Tortorella the demanding, shot-blocking coach with Daniel and Henrik Sedin, still the faces of the franchise. The Sedins have built their careers on skill and puck possession. If GM Mike Gillis opts for Tortorella, it could be a sign that Gillis is seeking an entirely new look, one possibly with the Sedins soon out of the picture.
Keep in mind, it was then-GM Brian Burke who engineered the draft day machinations that landed both Sedins in Vancouver as overall picks No. 2 and 3 in June 1999. Thirteen seasons gone by, and still no Cup, perhaps Gillis will implement dramatic reform, bring in Tortorella, and move the franchise past the Sedin era. The brothers are about to enter the final year of their deals, which pays each $6.1 million. At the moment, they are free to take offers from around the league as of July 1 next year as they approach their 34th birthday.
The more conservative, and perhaps logical, pick in Vancouver would be to bring in Kings assistant John Stevens. He has a far more understated, studious approach than Tortorella and is revered for his work that helped the Kings win the franchise’s first Cup last June. His personality is more like that of Gillis, who became an attorney/agent after his playing days, then segued to the front office.
Bruins loaded in 1982-83
Longtime Bruins fans will remember it was 30 years ago this spring (April 24, 1983) when Brad Park teed up a slapper from above the right faceoff circle and drilled in the OT winner in Game 7 vs. the Sabres at the old Garden. Barry Pederson won the draw, Mike Gillis set the screen in front, and Park put down the hammer. A review of that season’s roster shows an impressive collection of characters who went on to be NHL GMs, head coaches or both. Consider:
Gillis — Now entering his sixth season as Canucks GM.
Park — Head coach of the Red Wings, 1985-86.
Mike O’Connell — GM of the Bruins for nearly five seasons through March 2006; Boston head coach for nine games in 2002-03.
Mike Milbury — GM of the Islanders for 10 seasons, 1996-2006. Boston head coach for two seasons, 1989-91.
Craig MacTavish — Named this spring as GM of the Oilers. Head coach of the Oilers for eight seasons, 2000-09.
Terry O’Reilly — Head coach of the Bruins for three seasons, 1986-89.
Wayne Cashman — Head coach of the Flyers, 1997-98.
Steve Kasper — Head coach of the Bruins for two seasons, 1995-97.
Bergeron gets the nod here
As impressive as Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask has been this playoff season, Patrice Bergeron would be my pick as the postseason MVP (Conn Smythe winner), pending what happens on Monday and/or Wednesday, of course. He knocked in his eighth and ninth goals of the postseason in Game 4 on Wednesday and won 56 percent of his draws (an off night, considering he took an astounding 62.2 percent win rate into Game 5 Saturday in Chicago). Bergeron has one year left on his contract, but agent Kent Hughes confirmed late last week that he fully expects the 27-year-old pivot to sign a substantial extension over the summer. “Patrice’s focus right now really isn’t on anything other than trying to win the Cup,’’ said Hughes. “But overall, yes, there are two parties motivated to get something done upon the conclusion of the season. He loves Boston and has every desire to stay.’’ As mentioned here last week, Bergeron’s new deal, possibly for the eight-year maximum, should land somewhere around Zdeno Chara’s cap number of just under $7 million a year.
Likely to shop No. 1 goalie Ryan Miller to a new home, possibly on or before next Sunday’s draft in Newark, the Sabres on Thursday inked backup Jhonas Enroth to a two-year deal that will pay him an economical $1.25 million per year. Enroth figures to be the starter next season, provided Miller (one year left at $6.25 million) is moved.
According to a source familiar with the Flyers’ financial planning, the Broad Streeters will use a compliance buyout to sever ties with goalie Ilya Bryzgalov. That’s one very expensive do-over. As a free agent in June 2011, Bryzgalov signed a nine-year, $51 million pact to be the club’s long-sought franchise goalie. The compliance buyout will redact his $5.67 million cap hit from the books, but he still must be paid two-thirds of his remaining salary, a payout of some $2.5 million per annum over the next 14 years. The buyout period begins 48 hours after the final Stanley Cup game is played and ends on the eve of free agency. Danny Briere carries a $6.5 million cap hit, and the Flyers on Thursday announced they will buy him out. He will receive a little over $800,000 each of the next four years. The Bryzgalov and Briere buyouts will open up a bit more than $12 million. As for the franchise goalie department, that now looks to be Steve Mason, acquired from Columbus in April. Mason became expendable because ex-Flyer netminder Sergei Bobrovsky was en route to winning the Vezina Trophy with the Blue Jackets. When it comes to the Flyers and goaltending, you just can’t make this stuff up.
The KHL announced that Chris Bourque, whose attempt to stick in Boston this season flamed out after a few weeks, signed to play next season with Ak Bars Kazan. The 27-year-old winger made it about halfway through the 48-game schedule this season, going a modest 1-3—4 in 18 games, which likely will be his final NHL shot. He showed flashes, but didn’t deliver the points. Bourque had an eight-game KHL tour two years ago with Mytischi Atlant, late in the season hopped to Switzerland (Lugano), and returned to the AHL in 2011-12. Ak Bars in recent years has been led by ex-Penguins forward Aleksey Morozov and ex-NHL center (Dallas, Atlanta, Phoenix) Niko Kapanen.
If Bergeron does sign a contract extension this summer, it won’t change his cap hit of $5 million for 2013-14. However, a rich new deal for Rask, possibly $7 million a year or more, could place some real pressure on a ceiling that lowers to some $64 million. Based on their subpar performances, both regular season and playoffs, forwards RichPeverley and Chris Kelly both could be candidates to be trimmed, either via trade or buyouts. Kelly has three more years remaining at a $3 million cap hit. Peverley has two more years at $3.25 million . . . Glen Sather told the New York Post’s Larry Brooks on Wednesday that Mark Messier was “very disappointed’’ that he wasn’t hired as the Rangers’ new coach. Messier has worked alongside Sather in the front office the last four years, with an eye presumably on running a front office one day. Many ex-players, however, realize they don’t have the patience and/or skill set to put in the demanding hours of a GM. It could be that Messier is now at that career crossroads, deciding whether to forge ahead as an administrator or select a career that puts him back on the ice, or at least closer to it . . . A rubber stamp from Wayne County (considered a fait accompli) is all that’s left before the Red Wings get their long-awaited new downtown arena, replacing the beloved (but dated) Joe Louis Arena that went into service in 1979. The new digs are projected to cost a total $650 million, 60 percent of which will be funded privately. The arena itself prices out at around $450 million, some three times more than Jeremy Jacobs paid to erect his current treasury on Causeway Street . . . League GMs met in Boston last week and gave their thumbs up to an array of rule and equipment changes expected to be implemented next season, pending a final nod this Thursday when the Board of Governors convenes. The biggest changes are mandatory visors, shallower nets (allowing more office space near the rear wall), and possibly a hybrid icing rule that first will be tested in the AHL . . . Pierre LeBrun of ESPN suggests that five teams — Florida, Minnesota, Philadelphia, Toronto, and the Islanders — are those most interested in working a deal for Los Angeles backup goalie Jonathan Bernier. The clubs that don’t land Bernier could be motivated to swing a deal with Buffalo for Miller . . . If the Lightning buy out Vincent Lecavalier, as rumored, that means they will need two centers next season. It also means they’ll have to pay him upward of $33 million to go away. Maybe they could just swap him to the Rangers for Richards? . . . No word what ex-Bruins goalie Tim Thomas has planned for next season. The Islanders won’t look to retain his services, which means he is free to shop anywhere as of July 5. One rumor had him signing a dummy contract in order to retire as a Bruin. That probably will happen the same day Bernie Madoff is named dean of Harvard Business School.