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Mark Messier, New York Rangers head coach?

Greg Wyshynski
Puck Daddy

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Nostalgia’s a hell of a drug.

It can soothe pain or distract one from a dire situation with the warm blanket of happier times. Do you think teams retire numbers during the season just to fill space in the rafters? Of course not: It’s a masturbatory night of self-contentment designed to overwhelm current emotions with the idealized ones of yore.

Sometimes teams go beyond a commemorative night and decide to make every night a nostalgia trip.

The Colorado Avalanche are the latest team to dip into their glory years to reenergize the franchise, like Vince McMahon signing The Rock for sporadic TV appearances and two Wrestlemanias. Joe Sakic will build the team; Patrick Roy will coach the team (while doing his best tap dance on Sakic’s toes in making personnel decisions).

Will the New York Rangers become the next one tripping down memory lane?

When John Tortorella was fired on Wednesday, the candidates to fill the Rangers’ coaching vacancy were immediately identified: Alain Vigneault, Lindy Ruff and Marc Crawford among them.

Ruff has ties to the Rangers, as a former defenseman. But there’s another candidate synonymous with the team whose name evokes leadership, success and male-pattern baldness.

The candidate is Mark Messier, the most outlandish and intriguing man for the Rangers’ open job.

As Rick Carpinello writes in his roundup of candidates:

“The wildest wild card in the bunch. He’s Sather’s special assistant now, but not generally seen as Sather’s heir (Jeff Gorton is). He was interested in coaching the Oilers recently. Not sure he wants to do the full-time coaching grind, and no way of knowing if he’d be good at it. Most great players aren’t.”

From Larry Brooks of the NY Post, in a story explaining why the Rangers players mutinied against Tortorella:

A fresh approach will be sought by Sather. The Blueshirts require an individual with a constructive, positive voice who will maximize the team’s talent. They need a face who will represent the franchise and the fan-base with pride. There is no doubt that Mark Messier embodies those attributes, though it is unclear whether No. 11’s absence of coaching experience would rule him out of serious consideration for the job.

Messier’s coaching experience is … well, let’s just say he’s not exactly Scotty Bowman. Or Scott Gordon. Or Gordon Bombay. Messier coached the Canadian national team in the Deutschland Cup and Spengler Cup in 2010, losing in the final to SKA St. Petersberg in the latter tournament. That's it.

That lack of experience didn’t stop the Edmonton Oilers from approaching Messier about their coaching vacancy after Craig MacTavish was turfed as head coach in 2009. The Oilers considered it again when Tom Renney was fired.

It also didn’t stop Sather from asking Messier back in 2002 (!) whether he wanted to coach the Rangers after Ron Low was dismissed.

The common thread between the Oilers and Rangers for Messier is, of course, nostalgia. The idea that one of the greatest leaders in franchise history could transfer that skills set to a coaching gig, naturally commanding the same type of respect and effectively inspiring the team in the same way he did as a player.

Like I said, it's happened before. The Chicago Blackhawks turned to franchise legend Denis Savard in 2006, although he had significant coaching experience before that hiring.

Savard didn't work out. Does that mean it's a foolish idea? Not necessarily. In fact, in the Rangers’ case, Mark Messier as head coach isn’t that inconceivable.

What would be the antithesis of John Tortorella? How about a former Stanley Cup-winning NHL captain who would sympathize with the players and who has 1,887 career points as a premiere offensive centerman?

Whoever is hired by Glen Sather will be a reaction to what the players loathed about Torts, and will be a hiring that seeks to redefine Rangers hockey in 2013. Messier’s would be a fresh voice that also carries with it the gravitas of the Rangers’ greatest moment in the last 73 years.

Like we said: Nostalgia’s a hell of a drug. Let’s see if Sather can resist the urge.

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