As the season is winding down it is becoming abundantly clear that Alain Vigneault and his days as Head Coach of the New York Rangers are probably over. In recent interviews, General Manager Jeff Gorton would not comment on the job security of the coach leading to even more speculating among fans and the media. Usually when a coach’s job is secure, the front office will stand by him and squash any rumors to kill the fire; well Jeff Gorton did not do that so now our antennas are up. It’s no surprise to many that AV is on the hot seat as the locker room has become toxic. He’s had two brutal post season defeats in a row where the team either didn’t show up in some games or had complete melt downs in the waning minutes. Alain’s favoritism of veteran play over youth and his bizarre deployment of lines are just the tip of the iceberg. He’s also showed an unwillingness to adapt to the evolution of the game along with a preference for old time hockey grinders over highly talented and skilled players, which have made this Rangers team a nightmare to watch. Take your pick, but one thing has become apparent, the culture needs to change.
The franchise will be going through a rebuild; this is clear, and it might even be one that requires a little bit of patience and strong-minded individuals to see the forest through the trees. But if the franchise is truly looking to rebuild the core then it starts behind the bench. The one thing that this organization should avoid is another re-tread of a coach. This is a major concern I have moving forward because history tells us that the Rangers will make some sort of fancy splash with a well-known coach simply to bring eyes to Broadway. This is a mistake. If you’re going with a youth movement, it only makes sense to bring on a young, energetic coach with a fresh voice who can identify with the players and help groom them as they develop.
One name that has been on a lot of team’s radar is 37-year-old Sheldon Keefe. Sheldon is the Head Coach of the Toronto Marlies and has been a huge part of their player development for the Toronto Maple Leafs. Over 6 years of coaching Keefe has accumulated a record of 275 wins, 100 losses, and 17 OT losses or ties (41-10-4 in the CJHL, 98-29-9 in the OHL, and 136-61-13 in the AHL), which is a 0.72 winning percentage. Keefe’s coaching style is one that is polarizing to Vigneault’s as he’s more of a modern-day coach. Keefe is a possession-oriented coach who emphasizes spending time in the offensive zone and likes to have his defensemen be part of the offense. He’s also a coach who is heavy into advanced analytics where metrics like speed, skill, skating, and possession of the puck are paramount. And if you need any reassurance that this is a good direction, look no further than President of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Brendan Shanahan. Brendan Shanahan believes highly in analytics which is why he hired a team of them to reshape the franchise. The Maple Leaf organization highly value Sheldon Keefe as he’s developed many of their young budding stars like William Nylander, Connor Brown, and Mitchell Marner. He’s also been a big part of the development of the highly touted Timothy Liljegren who is progressing very well. Sheldon is a players’ coach whose biggest asset is building trust and confidence in his young players which has skyrocketed their development. He understands the evolution of the game and would be a fantastic hire for this rebuild.