It seems as if the Rangers will have a change behind the bench after all. No, the team didn’t suddenly reverse course and sack head coach Alain Vigneault, but one of his assistants is moving on. On Tuesday Ulf Samuelsson agreed to become head coach of the Carolina Hurricanes AHL affiliate in Charlotte.
At the conclusion of the season Vigneault suggested changes were coming, and that those changes could potentially affect his staff. After a few weeks, however, it became clear his coaches would be welcomed back. That didn’t mean those assistants couldn’t choose to leave for other opportunities, and Samuelsson elected to do just that. His coaching resume is only lacking experience as the head man and now he’ll get to run his own bench in the AHL.
Obviously it’s a great opportunity for Ulfie, but it also presents the Rangers with the chance to add a new voice to their coaching staff. The team has had the same direction for the last three years and maybe the message had grown stale. A fresh, outside perspective might be just what this team needs.
Fair or not, the play from the Rangers back-end left a lot to be desired this season. Part of the responsibility for that has to fall at Samuelsson’s feet.
Ulfie was also tasked with running the club’s penalty killing efforts. After back-to-back top-six finishes in 2013-2014 and 2014-2015, the Rangers fell all the way to 26th overall in the league. That drop off likely had as much or more to do with the personnel, but Samuelsson still bears some of the blame.
With Samuelsson off to Charlotte, the Rangers have a fairly deep pool of potential replacements. Here’s a small sampling of that group.
If They Stay in the Family
The Rangers may well promote from within, and if that’s the case they have a guy who might be a perfect fit. Steve Zipay of Newsday (via Twitter), Brett Cyrgalis of the New York Post and NorthJersey.com’s Andrew Gross all immediately identified former Ranger defenseman and current Hartford assistant Jeff Beukeboom as the likeliest in-house replacement.
Beukeboom also has close ties to Rangers President Glen Sather from their days in Edmonton. He’s worked closely with young defenders Dylan McIlrath and Brady Skjei when both played for the Wolf Pack, and has earned praise for his work with the club overall. As a member of the Stanley Cup winning team in 1994, and his place among the toughest players in the league, Beukeboom is one of the most popular Ranger players in recent memory. The team could certainly do worse than promoting Beuk to the big club.
There are a couple of experienced coaches that are either currently out of a job, or who may soon be, that could appeal to Rangers management should they elect to go outside the organization for the hire.
After competing for parts of 11 seasons in the NHL, Shaw entered the coaching ranks in 1995-96 as a player-assistant with the Detroit Vipers of the IHL. Following a one-year run as an assistant with the Tampa Bay Lightning, Shaw would earn his first opportunity as a head coach by returning to the Vipers in 2000. Overall he has six-plus years of experience in the NHL as an assistant coach and another four with the St. Louis Blues as their associate head coach. He also served a 40-game stint as an interim head coach with the Islanders during the 2005-06 campaign. Shaw evidently turned down a one-year deal to return to the Blues as associate head coach, presumably to search for opportunities that afford more security.
The Blues have had one of the league’s stingiest defenses over the last three seasons, ranking fourth in each of the two previous campaigns and third in 2013-14. That’s despite the Blues circulating through several goalies over the last few years with Jaroslav Halak, Ryan Miller, Brian Elliot and Jake Allen all seeing significant time between the pipes.
Technically still employed, Yawney waits in limbo until the Anaheim Ducks decide who will replace outgoing head coach Bruce Boudreau. Yawney was thought to be in line for the promotion earlier this season with the Ducks off to a slow start, prompting rumors Boudreau’s job might be in jeopardy. Boudreau ultimately righted the ship, but following another first-round playoff loss the Ducks decided to pull the trigger and make a change.
Yawney, like Shaw, has plenty of experience, both in the AHL and the NHL. He spent a little more than a season as head coach of the Black Hawks from 2005-2007, and has seven additional campaigns running benches in the AHL. Yawney also has six seasons as an assistant with the Chicago, San Jose and Anaheim organizations.
Given the team’s struggles defensively and on the penalty kill, and with the organization still targeting a Stanley Cup run next year, hiring a quality assistant coach to replace Samuelsson is key. Fortunately for the Blueshirts, there are several good candidates to choose from.