NEW YORK (AP) — Alain Vigneault brought a whole lot of experience and success into his interview with New York Rangers general manager Glen Sather.
However, his most appealing attribute might be that he is so different than former coach John Tortorella — on and off the ice.
That was clearly evident Friday when Vigneault was named as the feisty Tortorella’s replacement during a news conference 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 4½ seasons with the Rangers.
Vigneault brings a welcoming demeanor 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.
That often left many players dealing with multiple ailments.
“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.”
Just more than four weeks after he was fired by the Vancouver Canucks, Vigneault already has a job. He edged out former Rangers captain Mark Messier, longtime former Buffalo coach Lindy Ruff and others.
Vigneault was given a five-year deal, and his first day featured his name on the famous marquee outside of Radio City.
“I was thinking about the opportunity to coach the New York Rangers, one of the Original Six teams,” the 52-year-old Vigneault said. “There is not a chance I could pass that up. Honored and privileged I feel.”
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. “I interviewed two in person and four over the phone. 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, now a special assistant to Sather, will remain with the Rangers. Messier, a Hall of Fame player, lacks the coaching experience that Vigneault is loaded with.
“It was a difficult decision. We’ve both grown up with each other,” Sather said 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 ironic 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. “He’s the kind of guy who pushes to win. A.V. is a pusher, as well.”
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.”
Speculation that Vigneault was about to be hired by the Rangers increased greatly last weekend, especially after he removed himself from consideration to become Dallas’ coach.
“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 Sather 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.
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.
His final two seasons ended in disappointment as Vancouver was knocked out in the first round in both years — including a sweep by San Jose last month.
The Canucks hadn’t been swept in the playoffs in 12 years. The early-round exits when they were the higher-seeded team, and losses at home at the starts of the series, were cited by Vancouver 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. “We’ve got a lot of great pieces here and we’re going to try to improve so that we all get to where we want to be.”
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.”