Retro Recap of Alain Vigneault’s Introductory Press Conference

Sam Rosen had more enthusiasm than usual while opening the press conference to introduce Alain Vigneault as head coach of the Rangers. It’s been a while since Rosen could talk and act positively around a Rangers head coach with John Tortorella making Rosen the team’s media scapegoat during the 2012-13 season, but on Friday at Radio City, Rosen could be himself with Tortorella long gone.

The press conference didn’t last long and nothing of any real importance was said during it. James Dolan talked and no one listened. Glen Sather talked and told us about the latest personnel decision he had made after firing another failed coach that he had hired. Alain Vigneault talked and gave us a little perspective into who he is and the type of person he will be. The media asked questions. Vigneault answered them. Sather answered a few. Vigneault answered a few more. And then the press conference was over. It went exactly the way a press conference for a new head coach who has coached zero games for his new employer and knows little to no one on the roster personally could go. But that didn’t stop me from taking notes during it for a Retro Recap.

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James Dolan starts the press conference by saying, “I want to say thanks to John Tortorella, he served us well,” (served us well?) to immediately bring back the bad taste in everyone’s mouth that Tortorella left with the Rangers’ second-round embarrassment. Thanks Jim!

Dolan bumbles around his words and the podium like an entitled rich, spoiled brat who should be doing anything in life other than owning the Rangers (and Knicks). He reads his opening remarks off either notecards or a piece of paper like a fourth grader running for student council without ever promising to extend recess or put candy and soda vending machines in the cafeteria. But Dolan says, “Winning a championship is the Rangers’ first and only goal” (though he could have left the words “first and” if it truly is their “only” goal), so he at least tried to endear himself to Ranger fans like a Steinbrenner.

Dolan continues to ramble on while Train’s “Hey, Soul Sister” plays at a soft, but irritating level like a light drizzle in the background. I have now minimized the press conference seven times searching for the autoplay ad playing the song on my computer only to realize someone effed up streaming the video online and the song here is to stay until they notice.

Hey, soul sister
Ain’t that mister mister
On the radio, stereo

Dolan continues on and mentions Vigneault’s “success” (we’ll get to the usage of that word later) during his time in Vancouver, referring to the Canucks as the “Canooks.” What’s the chance Dolan can name one player on the Canucks whose last name isn’t Sedin? The answer is 0 percent chance. Dolan says Vigneault “knows how to get the best performance out of the entire roster.” The same roster he couldn’t name a non-Sedin on. I feel like he googled “nice cliches to say about a sports coach” and added it to his student council speech this morning.

Hey, soul sister
I don’t wanna miss
A single thing you do
Tonight

Dolan’s time ends without him giving us anything that will become a YouTube sensation and without giving the Daily News or Post anything like his lollipop-eating antics from MSG. So far, a successful morning for Jim.

Next up, Glen Sather.

If you thought this day would be about Vigneault, think again! Sather brings back the bad taste just when you thought the throwup that you swallowed after it came up in your mouth had settled, there it is again.

“I also would like thank John Tortorella for the work he did here,” Sather says. Eff it! Let’s all thank John Tortorella today! Let’s just bring him out on the stage and sit him right next to Vigneault!

Sather rambles on (without notes!) about how impressed he is by Vigneault and what he will do for the Rangers for the next five years (so, I guess it was a five-year deal).

“Alain likes to be called ‘AV,’ so I’m going to call him ‘AV.'” Umm, OK? Sather also makes it clear that everyone can call him “AV.” So I now have permission to call him AV. However, he doesn’t have permission to call me NK.

I’m not going put quotations around AV anymore since that’s his name now. He asked for it.

When speaking about why AV was chosen as the 35th head coach in Rangers history, Sather talks about how he wanted an offensive-minded coach and says, “The game has changed a little bit in the last three to four years.” Wait, what? Sather knew three to four years ago that the game changed? He hired John Tortorella four years ago. Tortorella’s system/approach/style has nothing to do with offense and everything to do with blocking shots, dumping and chasing and forcing skilled scorers to muck it up in the corners. Only Sather could admit to hiring and extending a coach, who is wrong for the team and the time, without actually admitting it. Ladies and gentlemen, Glen Sather!

Here’s the 35th head coach of the New York Rangers for at least the next five years, or possibly longer if he wins, or possibly shorter if he loses.

Vigneault starts by making a promise he might regret later. “I don’t intend to let them (Dolan and Sather) down.” You want might want to slow down there Vigneault. If Dolan said the Rangers’ only goal is to win a championship and he just hired you to win that championship and you just said you won’t let him down, well you basically just guaranteed to win the Stanley Cup in your first sentence as Rangers head coach.

“I’m coming here to win,” Vigneault says, “And there’s no doubt in my mind that this is organization is committed to winning the Stanley Cup.” (For reference: he pronounced it or-gan-eye-za-tion like a good Canadian.)

Vigneault talks about walking around the Rangers practice facility and looking at the pictures from the last time the Rangers won the Cup and I can’t help but think if those pictures are in black and white. Did pictures have color in 1994?

“It’s real clear to me there’s no better place to win the Stanley Cup than here in New York.”

Now that we have the guarantees and reckless predictions out of the way that come with every new hire press conference, it’s time for questions from the media.

The first question goes to Stan Fischler because who else would get to ask the new Rangers head coach a question other than Fischler, who predicted the Rangers over the Bruins in 5 and tweeted “If Boston wins series, I will eat beans for a week.” (How were those beans, Stan?)

Fischler doesn’t ask his usual nonsensical questioning, but instead tries to be a real reporter (or whatever he is) and asks, “Can you define your philosophy of the game? How is it going to be different from John Tortorella? What is AV’s coaching like?”

It took Fischler four seconds to use AV for the first time since being given permission from Sather to do so. But instead of having Vigneault talk down to Fischler in a tone that makes everyone other than Fischler aware at how unnecessary his question is like Tortorella would do, Vigneault actually gives him a reasonable and respectful answer.

“I like my teams to play the right way,” Vigneault says before going on to talk about how he wants his offensive players to be creative. “If you have space and time to carry the puck, carry the puck.”

Let me get this right. There are coaches who actually encourage their talented offensive players to create things on the ice? There are coaches who don’t want players like Rick Nash and Marian Gaborik to bang bodies in the corners? Is this real life?

“Offensive players have to be given the latitude to make something out of nothing.”

I’m starting to feel the way I did on that July morning in 2010 when I woke up to Cliff Lee being traded to the Yankees. Is David Adams going to ruin this for me too?

AV is saying all the right things and making me believe in him to the point that I don’t care that Sather passed over Messier and probably ruined the relationship between Messier and the Rangers. If AV says he can fix the power play, I will be buying a Brian Boyle jersey at the conclusion of this press conference.

Sather is asked if the job came down to AV (I think I’m only going to refer to him as that from now … I think I have to) and Mark Messier?

“We had a list of 13 candidates and I narrowed it down to nine,” Sather says. “I interviewed two in person and four over the phone. But no, it wasn’t just between AV and Mark.”

OK, we know that AV and Messier were candidates. I’m pretty sure Lindy Ruff was in there too. So that’s three. So who were the 10 other candidates? Let’s figure it out.

1. Wayne Gretzky – “The Great One” had to be one of the 13 after being rumored to be interested in the job and being such close friends with Sather even if Sather didn’t stop Peter Pocklington from trading Gretzky to Los Angeles. There’s no doubt in my mind that Sather could have prevented that trade if he wanted to and his supposed threatening to resign was likely fake.

2. Guy Boucher – He did a good job in Tampa Bay when you consider his goalies were Anders Lindback and Mathieu Garon. He deserves another chance somewhere when you think about some of the coaches in the league who have been given numerous opportunities with less ability.

3. Mike Sullivan – Vigneault mentioned how he talked with Sullivan at the practice facility. Was Sullivan driving the Zamboni or working at the snackbar? Wait, he’s still with the organization? I actually like Sullivan and think he would make a good head coach at some point again, but can you really keep on Tortorella’s right-hand man from the past few seasons? I don’t think you can.

4. John Tortorella – Would anyone be surprised if Sather fired Tortorella only to rehire him and sign him to an even longer-term deal? This is the GM who has one conference finals appearance as his “success” in New York over 12 seasons we’re talking about here. Since I started writing this, John Tortorella was hired by the Vancouver Canucks. If they rioted for losing the Stanley Cup, what are they going to do for this? Just burn the city to the ground?

5. Tom Renney – Renney is an assistant with the Red Wings now, but maybe Sather realized he messed up when he got rid of Renney in the first place for Tortorella because of Tortorella’s misleading 2003-04 Cup in Tampa Bay?

6. Mike Keenan – Keenan was a lot like Tortorella and there’s a good chance the 1993-94 Rangers would have won the Cup without him and probably would have won it in easier fashion. But Keenan has been able to hang around the organization and MSG Network for quite some time. Good luck in the KHL.

7. Pierre McGuire – McGuire hasn’t been a head coach since 1993-94 with the Whalers, his only stint as a head coach in the league. But you know that McGuire thinks he is capable of returning to lead a team because he can rattle off any player’s hometown, local youth hockey program, junior team, home phone number and Social Security number at will. What? You wouldn’t want McGuire getting the Rangers fired up by telling them to “Enjoy themselves!” and to “Go have some fun!” minutes before a game?

8. Pat Leonard – John Tortorella told the Daily News beat writer to “stop coaching” when he asked Tortorella a reasonable question last season, which technically meant that Leonard was coaching. So maybe Sather took notice and thought about going a different route with his decision.

9. Bryan Trottier – Brian Cashman didn’t think Javier Vazquez’s miserable second half in 2004 and a certain Game 7 disaster were enough to not bring him back for a second time. So why would Sather not bring back the man he gave his first coaching job to and who went 21-26-6-1 (remember when the NHL decided to have four categories in the standings thinking it would be a good idea?) before being fired and replaced by the next man on this list…

10. Glen Sather – The man himself. Why would Sather make himself head coach of the Rangers … again? (He coached 90 games combined over the 2002-03 season and 2003-04 season.) Better question: Why wouldn’t he? Nothing Sather has done during his time as GM when it comes to selecting a head coach has made a whole lot of sense, so why would this?

But Sather chose Vigneault despite these 12 candidates and chose him while every free-agent coach had the Rangers at the top of their list. Sather could have had any coach in the world and he chose Vigneault. That tells us that either Vigneault was the best possible candidate or that Sather still doesn’t know how to correctly pick a head coach. I’m hoping it’s the former, but history tells us that the latter is the more likely option according to statistics.

Back to the press conference…

I just realized “Hey, Soul Sister” stopped playing.

“It’s an Original 6,” Vigneault says about the Rangers. “It’s got a chance to win. It’s one of the elite teams in my opinion in the NHL.”

“It’s?” Are the Rangers a horse? An elite team? Sure, they made the conference semifinals and were essentially a Top 8 team this season and reached the conference finals a year ago and were essentially a Top 4 team then, but elite? Hmm, I’m not sure after the way the Bruins series went if we can call the Rangers elite right now. Let’s call them a “good” team for now.

Vigneault makes a joke about getting hired by saying, “I did find out it’s a lot easier to negotiate a contract when you got two teams after you instead of just one.” Sather doesn’t like this and tries to joke back. Dolan really doesn’t like this and throws his lollipop in the trash.

Why does AV think he was fired by the Canucks?

“Well that’s a question you should ask them,” Vigneault says. “I do want to say though that I enjoyed my time in Vancouver.”

Here’s the real answer why he was fired, which could save you time if you were planning on asking the Canucks like AV instructed: AV was fired because he didn’t win the Cup. He won five division titles, two Presidents Trophies and lost in the 2010-11 Final, but he never won it all and that’s why he was fired (this is the “success” part I said we would talk about later and there’s a reason “success” has quotations around). Pretty straightforward.

Someone asks Glen Sather whether he expects either Mark Messier or Brad Richards to be part of the organization next season.

“I don’t think this is an appropriate place to talk about player decisions,” Sather says. “It’s a day for AV and I think we’ll stick to the coaching.”

I didn’t expect Sather to actually give a real answer to that question and the person who asked it should have realized they wouldn’t get a real answer either and they should have saved everyone time by not asking it. (Beat writers! Reporters!) I don’t think Richards will be back even though I think he should be back, but that decision has most likely already been made.

As for Messier, it’s a weird spot. How is he supposed to continue to serve as a special assistant to Sather when Sather didn’t hire him and he would have to work with AV and make decisions about AV’s team when AV was picked over him? I would have been happy with Messier as the head coach and wanted him to be the head coach, but it looks like his time with the team might end (for now) the way Don Mattingly’s did.

The press conference went about as well as it could for a coach who won’t coach his first game for a little over three months. Vigneault said all the right things and answered every question the way you would have wanted him to and maybe New York (his third head coaching job) will turn out to be what Chicago has been for Joel Quenneville (his third head coaching job) and what Boston has been for Claude Julien (his third head coaching job).

If it works out, Vigneault will lead the Rangers to their first Cup since 1994. If it doesn’t work out, well at least he’s not John Tortorella.

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