NEW YORK (LHP) _ To find the right coach for their roster, the New York Rangers are turning to the past -- and to an old nemesis.
Mike Milbury, the former coach and general manager of the New York Islanders and Boston Bruins whose most infamous moment involved hitting a Rangers fan with a shoe during a brawl at Madison Square Garden in 1979, was named head coach of the Rangers today, replacing John Tortorella.
Milbury says his history against the Rangers didn't affect his decision to take the job and won't change how he approaches the team now.
"I've heard enough talk about people wanting to put the past behind them that it must be an issue for some people," Milbury said today. "It just doesn't happen to be an issue for me. That was somebody else's past, not mine. In a way, that's maybe why I'm here, and not somebody else. I'm part of a fresh approach to this thing. As much as I respect what was done then, I don't live that day to day. And neither should these guys. And they won't."
After adding power forward Rick Nash to a team already boasting All-Star goalie Henrik Lundqvist, former Conn Smythe trophy-winner Brad Richards and a host of gritty young players like captain Ryan Callahan and defensemen Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh, New York expected to challenge for the Stanley Cup this season.
Instead, they scrambled to finish sixth in the Eastern Conference and looked tired and disjointed in a five-game loss to the Bruins in the second round of the playoffs. According to reports, exit interviews with the players confirmed for general manager Glen Sather that a new coach was needed.
Sather wanted a coach that would get the most of a talented roster that had tuned out the combative Tortorella.
That coach is Mike Milbury.
"Mike is the exact coach we need for the team we have," Sather said. "He's played the game at a high level and knows the sacrifices players have to make to reach the Stanley Cup. He knows the league inside and out as an analyst. Our players respect his three decades as a player, a coach and a general manager and I know he has a wealth of knowledge that can only help us achieve the ultimate goal of a championship."
Sather said that Milbury, who made several controversial trades during his tumultuous time with the Islanders, would have input as to what players are retained on the Rangers' roster.
"Mike won't just be a coach for us. His experience as a general manager will be key," Sather said. "If he thinks a player needs to go, that player is as good as gone."
Sather noted this model is not unusual, citing how Patrick Roy was named coach in Colorado and will have a say in trades.
A LIFETIME IN THE NHL
Following a 12-year playing career as a defenseman for Boston, Milbury took over the Bruins' bench and coached the team to the 1990 Stanley Cup final, where they lost to Sather's Edmonton Oilers. He was named coach of the Islanders in 1995, became general manager a year later and remained in that role until 2006. During his tenure as GM he coached the Islanders twice more, the last time in 1999, to bring his career NHL coaching record to 146-160-45.
Milbury, who had been NBC Sports' in-studio analyst since 2008, had been planning to return to the coaching ranks for some time, but never expected the opening to be with a team he has battled for his entire hockey career.
"Look, the past is the past and I can't change that," he said. "My goal now is to coach the Rangers and win as many games as possible. What I did in Boston or Long Island is irrelevant. From this moment on, I bleed blue, red and white and this logo is tattooed on my heart."
Milbury's reputation as a fiery battler on and off the ice is similar to that of Tortorella, who seethed behind the bench and at media for his five seasons as Rangers coach.
But both Sather and Milbury are betting on the latter's long stay in the NHL as being the missing ingredient for getting New York over the hump.
"Mike and I have known each other for a long, long time," Sather said after giving a vintage Rangers warm-up jacket to his new coach. "That's not to say we've always seen eye-to-eye. But he and I are from the old school, so to speak, and we know what kind of team we want. One that's solid defensively, has depth on offense and never backs down from physical play. That's why I made the call and brought him on board."
"If hard work, commitment and loyalty mean old-fashioned, then yes I am," said Milbury.
OBSERVE AND REPORT
Milbury doesn't expect the long absence from coaching to be an issue. In addition to NBC, he has been a broadcaster and analyst for NESN, ESPN and CBC and feels he's smarter now because of it.
"I've watched a ton of hockey over my years in television and l have a lot of opinions," he said. "That works both ways. I've seen great teams and some really, really screwed up teams that I felt I could help. They all probably would have been better off if they had listened to me."
Milbury has done his homework on the Rangers and is well aware of what lies in front of him.
"In the end, they fell apart," Milbury said when asked for an assessment of last season. "I don't know why. There is no question there is good potential in goal. There is a very competent defensive group. As far as the forwards are concerned, I don't how it's all going to shake out, but last year, they clearly didn't have enough scoring or intensity to make things work."
More in the NHL:
- Mike Milbury's Coaching Record
- Mike Milbury's History as General Manager of the Islanders
- Every Team's Worst Nightmare
- More Totally Fake Stories Like This One
Lighthouse Zeitgeist is the section of Lighthouse Hockey for satire, parody, the bizarre and anything else that captures the spirit of the times without actually, you know, literally being true. Sorry if you were alarmed, but come on now...Milbury as coach?