The curtain will rise at Radio City on Friday morning, and Alain Vigneault will step forward as the face of the Rangers’ immediate future, with several players expected in attendance to welcome and show full support for their new coach on day one.
Vigneault, 52, will shed light on his plans to turn this team’s hopes of raising the Stanley Cup into a reality, and by all accounts he will demonstrate just by being himself how different the franchise’s new culture will be from the occasionally successful but overbearing one John Tortorella cultivated.
But this day is about more than his long-anticipated introduction to New York. It is also about discovering what Vigneault’s arrival means for the future of the organization, and how various pieces will fit in the Garden’s new plan.
While the Rangers couldn’t keep their hiring of Vigneault a secret, as of Thursday night no one had officially confirmed whom he would choose to be his assistant coaches. The two names leading the pack are ex-Rangers defenseman Ulf Samuelsson and former Vigneault assistant Newell Brown, with former Blue Jackets coach Scott Arniel’s name also having come up in connection to the job.
Then, of course, there is the matter of which players they will be coaching.
The buyout period begins 48 hours after the Stanley Cup Finals conclude, but the Rangers undoubtedly already have spent long hours at their organizational meetings discussing whether or not to use their remaining compliance buyout on center Brad Richards. The center, 33, has seven years remaining at a $ 6.67 million annual cap hit on his original nine-year, $ 60 million deal.
Richards is well-respected, and the Rangers would not put him in the position of standing at Radio City endorsing a head coach he never was going to play for. His presence, or absence, will shed significant light on what general manager Glen Sather has decided.
That brings us to Mark Messier.
Sather declined on Wednesday in Boston to talk about his difficult decision to choose Vigneault over Messier as coach, but it remains unknown whether the captain of the 1994 champion Blueshirts, who is an adviser to Sather, intends to remain with the organization.
Messier’s presence or absence at Vigneault’s introduction could reveal his intentions, though it’s not a certainty that he’ll leave, given what he told the Daily News one week ago in Chicago — a day before The News reported Vigneault had agreed to coach the Rangers — about Sather’s difficult decision with Messier, his friend, as a candidate.
“I have a lot of respect for Glen, obviously with the amount of years we’ve been together,” said Messier, who won five Stanley Cups in Edmonton with Sather as GM. “I know. . . he would never jeopardize making the right decision because of friendship or past experiences we’ve had together. He will do what he feels in his heart is his right decision, and for no other reason than that he thinks it’s the best fit for whoever he hires. So everybody can have complete confidence in that.”