Former New York Ranger head coach Mike Keenan meets with the media prior to the Rangers game against the Carolina Hurricanes at Madison Square Garden on February 08, 2019

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Hartnett: Ranking The Top 10 Greatest Rangers Coaches

Sean Hartnett
August 29, 2019 - 12:28 pm
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Thirty-five men have stepped behind the bench to guide the Rangers across 93 years. Some reached hockey’s mountaintop by lifting Lord Stanley, while others missed out on championship glory by narrow margins. Here is my list of the Top 10 coaches in franchise history.

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Note: It is too early to include current head coach David Quinn on the list as he spent season one implementing his style on a youth-focused roster. Season two will reveal more about Quinn’s ability and tendencies.

PREVIOUS LISTS: Top 10 Rangers goaltenders | Top 10 Rangers defensemen | Top 10 Rangers forwards

#1 LESTER PATRICK

The only head coach in team history to win two Stanley Cups; Patrick guided the Blueshirts to championships in 1928 and 1933. Though Conn Smythe was originally hired to be the Rangers’ first coach and general manager in 1926, a disagreement over the playing roster led to his firing before a single game was played.

Patrick inherited a team that was mostly built by Smythe and steered the burgeoning Blueshirts to a first-place American Division finish and a playoff semifinal appearance in the club’s inaugural season. From 1926 to 1946, Patrick served as the team’s GM.

Following his resignation as coach in 1939, Patrick’s front office decisions helped the Rangers earn their third Stanley Cup in 1940. In all, the Rangers won three Stanley Cups, reached the Stanley Cup Finals six times, captured two division titles and qualified for the playoffs in 15 of the 20 seasons Patrick was involved as coach, GM or a combination of the two.

Famously, a goaltending crisis forced Patrick to don the pads in Game 2 of the 1928 Stanley Cup Final at age 44. He was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1947. 

#2 MIKE KEENAN

After missing the 1993 playoffs, the Rangers hired a ball of fire in Keenan and the combustive bench boss and his team embarked on the ultimate rollercoaster ride. Keenan wasn’t afraid to bench star players and push them harder than they’ve ever been pushed before.

That level of intensity and scrutiny came to a head during the 1994 Eastern Conference Final when captain Mark Messier stood up for his teammates and got into a shouting match with Keenan over how hard he was riding the players.

Yet, Keenan’s abrasive style and the accountability of his players worked wonders – 52 wins, a then-club record 112 points and finally – the ultimate prize as confetti dropped from the Madison Square Garden ceiling and Messier received the Stanley Cup from NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman.

After one unforgettable season, “Iron Mike” had ended 54 years of waiting – then walked out the door under stunning circumstances, resigning weeks after lifting Lord Stanley after disagreements with GM Neil Smith and a contract dispute.

#3 EMILE FRANCIS

Francis holds team records with 342 regular-season victories and 34 playoffs wins. His talented rosters led by Rod Gilbert, Jean Ratelle, Brad Park, Vic Hadfield and Ed Giacomin were unfortunate not to lift the Stanley Cup, having been bested by the Boston Bruins and Montreal Canadiens dynasties.

He was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1982. 

#4 FRANK BOUCHER

Following an exceptional playing career, Boucher captured the Stanley Cup in his first season behind the bench in 1939-40. Boucher’s Rangers were weakened by World War II enlistments and missed five consecutive playoffs after he initially reached the playoffs in each of his first three seasons coached.

He was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1958.

#5 ALAIN VIGNEAULT

Vigneault served as the perfect tonic to soothe the Rangers and build back their confidence following John Tortorella’s turbulent four-and-a-half-year tenure. His fast-paced, offense-generating system allowed several Rangers including Ryan McDonagh and Mats Zuccarello to realize their offensive potential.

Immediate success arrived in a trip to the 2014 Stanley Cup Final. The 2014-15 roster that followed came within a period of reaching back-to-back Finals, won the Presidents’ Trophy and set franchise records with 53 wins and 113 points.

Vigneault’s downfall came with curious lineup decisions, struggles relating to young players and a failing defensive system that was left unaltered.

#6 JOHN TORTORELLA

Following the laid-back regime of Tom Renney, Tortorella instituted a culture change and a fierce commitment to defense-first hockey. His hard-edged teams wore their hearts on their sleeves. When the Rangers bought into his grind-it-out ethics, they were a tough team to beat.

Notably, Tortorella fought bitter battles with several players. The very public shaming and fourth line demotion of Marian Gaborik at a March 2013 practice in Ottawa was a low point. As was his verdict that Carl Hagelin “stinks” on the power play during the 2013 playoffs.

Tortorella became preoccupied with his lineup playing with “jam” and no amount of shot blocking could satisfy his demands. His decision to scratch team leader Brad Richards for the final two games of the 2013 Eastern Conference Final – leading to a Game 5 elimination – was a bizarre, self-inflicted wound.

Tortorella was known for not letting his players breathe on the ice, in the dressing room or away from the rink. The strangest revelation from Sean Avery’s book: Ice Capades: A Memoir Of Fast Living And Tough Hockey was that Tortorella suggested that Henrik Lundqvist pull out investing in NYC bar-restaurant Tiny’s because of a goaltending slump.

Over time, Tortorella’s defensively-obsessed leanings and fire and brimstone ranting wore out the Rangers’ bodies and minds. Had Tortorella dialed back his tendencies – as he would later adopt in Columbus, it may have resulted in the Rangers’ first Stanley Cup glory since 1994.

#7 FRED SHERO

Known chiefly for leading the Philadelphia Flyers to back-to-back Stanley Cup titles in 1974 and 1975, Shero steered the Rangers to the 1979 Stanley Cup Final and knocked the Flyers out along the way – but the Blueshirts lost out to the Montreal Canadiens in five games.

Credited for being the first coach to study film and an early adopter of morning skates, Shero entered the Hockey Hall of Fame as a builder in 2013.

#8 TOM RENNEY

The Rangers reeled off three consecutive playoff appearances under Renney following the 2004-05 lockout. Previously, the Blueshirts had missed the playoffs for seven straight campaigns. Known for constantly juggling of lines and his optimistic tone, Renney found himself in a tailspin in the spring of 2009 and was replaced by a polar opposite personality in Tortorella.

#9 ROGER NEILSON

Though Neilson guided the Rangers to the Presidents’ Trophy in 1992, he made a grave mistake by questioning Messier’s leadership a year later. Neilson blamed Messier for teammates not committing to a defensive system. Messier countered that Neilson failed to adjust his strategies and unsurprisingly – teammates sided with the captain and Neilson was dismissed.

Neilson entered the Hockey Hall of Fame as a builder in 2002.

#10 HERB BROOKS

After leading the United States to gold at Lake Placid in 1980 Olympics, Brooks joined the Rangers after a short stint coaching HC Davos of the Swiss National League A. Brooks was unable to replicate his international success in the NHL.

He was posthumously elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame as a builder in 2006.

Follow Sean on Twitter: @HartnettHockey