The 9 Best Coaches in Rangers History

What constitutes an outstanding coach?

By The Maven’s standard, it’s a bench boss who gets the most out of his players.

Nor does it hurt if he wins a Stanley Cup in the process, or reaches the Final as Alain Vigneault did against Los Angeles in 2014; or Lynn Patrick in 1950 for that matter and Fred Shero in 1979.

I have other criteria and they will be revealed with each choice, listed alphabetically. As always, some awfully good bench bosses were omitted but the limitation is nine, so here goes:

1 FRANK BOUCHER (1939-48)

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The beloved “Boosh” retired as a Hall of Fame center in 1938. His boss, Lester Patrick, groomed Frank as his successor by appointing him coach of the New York Rovers, the Blueshirts farm team in the Eastern League.

Afer a successful stint in the minors, Boucher was promoted to head coach of the Rangers in 1939 and was an instant hit. “Lester presented me with a marvelously talented group of players to work with,” Boucher recalled. “This was one of the great teams of all-time.”

Backed by ace goalie Davie Kerr and Hall of Famers such as captain Art Coulter, Bryan Hextall and Babe Pratt, Frank’s Blueshirts defeated the Toronto Maple Leafs in a six-game Stanley Cup Final in 1940 and continued to excel thereafter, finishing first in the 1941-42 campaign.

With his lineup decimated by World War II enlistments, Frank made a brief playing comeback in the 1943-44 season before returning to the bench. Boucher continued coaching until 1948 when he was promoted to Rangers general manager.

2 EMILE FRANCIS (1965-68, 1969-73, 1974-75)

MONTREAL, CANADA- CIRCA 1972: Head Coach Emile Francis of the New York Rangers follows the action from the bench Circa 1972 at the Montreal Forum in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. (Photo by Denis Brodeur/NHLI via Getty Images)

Nicknamed “The Cat” because of his catlike moves in the net as a goaltender, Francis broke in with the Rangers on the coaching side running the Junior team in Guelph, Ontario. Among his players were future Rangers and Hall of Famers Rod Gilbert and Jean Ratelle.

The road to the top of the Rangers organization was quickly traversed in the early 1960s. Spotted by Rangers General Manager Murray (Muzz) Patrick, Francis was promoted to the Blueshirts general staff, eventually becoming Assistant GM under Patrick. Early in 1964 Patrick was fired and replaced by his sidekick, Francis.

The next season Emile took over as coach, and his career was the most successful of any Ranger mentor. He was a strict disciplinarian, able to elect fierce loyalty from his players, but it just seemed his team could never win the “big one.”

One of Francis’ best clubs was the 1971-72 edition which reached the Stanley Cup Final against Boston.

That Bruins club was led by Hall of Famer Bobby Orr and wound up defeating New York in six games. It was noteworthy that the Cup-winning goal in that game at Madison Square Garden was scored by Orr.

3 DOUG HARVEY (1961-63)

Considered by Scotty Bowman as the greatest defenseman he had ever seen, Harvey spent his glory years with the Montreal Canadiens. Doug was a major element on the Habs dynasty club which won five consecutive Stanley Cups from 1955-56 through 1959-60.

By the early 1960s, the Habs high command believed that Harvey had lost his luster and dealt him to the Rangers along with Al (Junior) Langlois for Lou Fontinato. Rangers boss Muzz Patrick took a big gamble and named Harvey both coach and a regular defenseman.

At this point in NHL time, the dual job of player-coach was considered too burdensome which explains why Harvey’s position was so unique. As it happened, Doug was good at both challenges. Working on the back line with his Hab pal, Langlois, Harvey was voted the Norris Trophy as the NHL’s best defenseman.

No less wonderful was the fact that Doug took a previously floundering Rangers sextet and turned it into a Cup contender. True, the Blueshirts wound up losing the first postseason round to Toronto in six games but that was not Harvey’s fault.

4 MIKE KEENAN (1993-94)

MONTREAL, CANADA - CIRCA 1993: Head Coach of the New York Rangers Mike Keenan follows the action from the bench at the Montreal Forum circa 1993 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. (Photo by Denis Brodeur/NHLI via Getty Images)

Groomed in the American Hockey League with the Rochester Americans, the controversial Keenan coached the Philadelphia Flyers and Chicago Blackhawks before taking over the Rangers in 1993.

Nicknamed “Iron Mike,” Keenan was an exponent of the “Tough Love” coaching theory and treated his players in Captain Bligh (“Mutiny On The Bounty”) mode. The beauty part is that his stickhandlers respected Keenan’s capers and responded positively.

Following an excellent 1993-94 regular season, the Rangers proceeded to march to the Stanley Cup against tough opposition in the third and fourth rounds.

Known as “The Battle of the Hudson,” the third playoff round — against the New Jersey Devils — is regarded as one of the finest ever in Stanley Cup history. Down three games to two, Keenan guided the Blueshirts through a comeback seven-game victory. In the final round, they had to go the limit before ousting the Vancouver Canucks.

5 LESTER PATRICK (1926-39)

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Manager and coach of the Original Rangers sextet, Patrick not only helped stock the team — ably aided by Conn Smythe who was fired before the season started — but coached the Blueshirts as well.

In only his second season behind the bench, Patrick orchestrated a Final Round upset of the powerful Montreal Maroons. Not only that but Lester actually played goal in the second game of that round after his regular netminder, Lorne Chabot, was hospitalized after a puck struck him in the face and nearly blinded him.

The genius Patrick then found an able substitute for Chabot in Joe (Red Light) Miller and Lester returned behind the bench. His strategy enabled the Rangers to top Montreal and win New York its first Stanley Cup.

One of Patrick’s best coaching moves was uniting brothers Bill and Bun Cook — right and left wing, respectively — with center Frank Boucher. The Cooks and Boucher combined to pace Lester’s Rangers to their second Stanley Cup in 1933.

6 LYNN PATRICK (1949-50)

After a superior career as a left wing on one of New York’s finest lines — with center Phil Watson and right wing Bryan Hextall — Lynn retired to coach the Blueshirts. Running an outfit that had only made the playoffs once (1947-48) since 1942, Patrick steered them into the postseason in 1950.

That — in and of itself — was regarded as a marvelous feat. But, then, in the opening round his New Yorkers were challenged by a heavily-favored Canadiens club featuring Hall of Famer Maurice (Rocket) Richard. Patrick assigned his Finnish-born left wing Pentti Lund the chore of guarding The Rocket. Lund did just that — outscored Richard — and the Rangers won the series in five games.

The Final Round sent the Blueshirts up against the powerful Detroit Red Wings. As if that wasn’t bad enough, Madison Square Garden was unavailable to the Rangers for the entire Final. In the end, five games were played at Detroit’s Olympia Stadium and two at Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto.

Despite that hardship, Patrick’s blueprint to stop the Wings almost worked to perfection. Two sudden-death overtime goals by center Don (Bones) Raleigh gave the Rangers a three-two series lead. In Game 7, the New Yorkers took Detroit to double-overtime before Pete Babando won it for the Wings.

7 FRED SHERO (1978-1981)

Groomed from his teenage years by the Rangers,  Shero learned his hockey on the outdoor rinks of Winnipeg. Still wet around the ears Fred was imported to The Big Apple, playing first for the Brooklyn Crescents in the Eastern Amateur Hockey League and then the New York Rovers before graduating to the Blueshirts.

When his playing career ended, the cerebral skater turned to coaching with stints in the Rangers farm system before graduating to the NHL. His name was firmly established when he led the Philadelphia Flyers to successive Stanley Cups in 1974 and 1975, as well as the 1976 Final Round.

Hired by Madison Square Garden to re-organize the Rangers, Shero did just that. After reaching the 1978-79 playoffs, they successfully reached the third round, being confronted by a powerful New York Islanders team.

Utilizing marginal players such as Bobby Sheehan, a suddenly-hot goalie John Davidson and Swedish star Anders Hedberg, Shero managed to out-coach the Islanders Al Arbour at almost every turn. And when the ice had cleared, the Blueshirts had scored a monumental upset in six games.

That sent New York to the Final Round where the Rangers opened the series with a win over the mighty Montreal Canadiens. After that, the dynastic Habs took over and won their fourth straight Cup four games to one.

8 JOHN TORTORELLA (2009-13)

BUFFALO, NY - DECEMBER 05: Head coach John Tortorella and Brian Boyle #22 of the New York Rangers watch the play against the Buffalo Sabres on December 5, 2009 at HSBC Arena in Buffalo, New York. (Photo by Bill Wippert/NHLI via Getty Images)

The closest an NHL bench boss came to being a General George Patton of the ice lanes, Torts was more than that for the Rangers. He took a collection of Seventh Avenue Skaters and turned them into one of the hardest-working units the league has known.

Stressing shot-blocking as a technique never used as intensely before, Tortorella produced a highly-proficient team by the 2011-2012 season. The Blueshirts advanced through the first and second playoff rounds while John got the most out of his goalie Henrik Lundqvist.

Unfortunately for New York, the third round opponent, the New Jersey Devils, proved to be as determined and gifted as the Rangers. This produced one of the most gripping playoff series of the new century as the pendulum shifted back and forth until New Jersey took a three-two lead into the Prudential Center for Game 6.

Peter De Boer out-coached Tortorella in Game 6, mostly because Pistol Pete utilized four lines while Torts hung with three as the game drifted into overtime. One might also say that the likes of Dan Girardi were overworked. Still, taking the Blueshirts as far as the third round was impressive even if Game 6 was not for the Rangers.

9 Alain Vigneault (2013-Present)

NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 29: Alain Vigneault of the New York Rangers leaves the ice following a game against the Columbus Blue Jackets at Madison Square Garden on February 29, 2016 in New York City. The Rangers defeated the Blue Jackets 2-1. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

The man who likes to be called “A.V.” was hired as a stark contrast to Tortorella. The hope was that Vigneault’s more temperate and thoughtful handling of players was more suited to the roster at hand. The result is that boss Glen Sather could not have been more right in his choice.

Following Torts act was no breeze, but A.V. has been more than equal to the task. Furthermore, he has developed the Young Turks into potential stars. J.T. Miller, Chris Kreider, Kevin Hayes, Brady Skjei and Derek Stepan, among others, have improved their overall games under the Reign Of Alain.

Overlooked as part of Vigneault’s success story has been the ease with which he’s integrated new faces — Nick Holden, Mika Zibanejad, et. al.  — into the lineup. Not to mention the manner in which he’s fully cultivated the multi-talents of Michael Grabner, the surprise star of the entire league this season.

It was Monsieur Alain who coaxed the Blueshirts to the 2014 Stanley Cup Final and came within five unfriendly goal posts from winning The Mug. That’s why A.V. is A.O.K. in my book.