Published September 27, 2013
NEW YORK – John Tortorella took the New York Rangers to the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. Four days after their ouster, the blustery coach was on the outs, too.
Alain Vigneault owns more wins behind the Vancouver Canucks bench than any other coach (313), yet that wasn't enough for him to keep his job, either, after seven years.
In an odd twist of fate, Tortorella and Vigneault have traded jobs and will look to improve where their predecessor couldn't.
An American coach in Vancouver. A Canadian coach in New York. Maybe that is the recipe for these two franchises that met in the 1994 Stanley Cup finals and combined for one appearance since.
"I really want everybody to come in with a clean slate," Vigneault said at the opening of his first Rangers training camp. "I don't want to come in with any preconceived notion. I want guys to have a legitimate chance."
That included putting the message on t-shirts: "Clean slate ... Grab It."
Direct and to the point, but that is likely where the similarities between Vigneault and Tortorella end.
Whether Tortorella's voice had been tuned out by the Rangers by the time they were eliminated by Boston is open for debate, but general manager Glen Sather received a clearer picture that a change was needed after exit interviews with the team.
"I loved working there," Tortorella said Thursday before the Canucks beat the Rangers 5-0 in a preseason game. "Did I want to leave? No. I was told to leave, and I left. It's part of the game. I'm knee-deep in it here, trying to get this team ready to play."
While Vigneault's tone is much less abrasive than Tortorella's, his approach and message seem to have grown tired, too, in Vancouver.
A culture change might be exactly what is needed in both places.
"When you meet players, sometimes (they say), 'Oh, I know I can do more, and I know I can do this,'" Vigneault said. "Well, let them have the opportunity to show me and the rest of management and the rest of the coaching staff."
Tortorella might be looking for a bit of a clean slate, himself, as he takes over a Canadian team for the first time in his coaching tenure that includes a Stanley Cup title with the Tampa Bay Lightning.
"When you do make changes, you're looking for a dynamic," NBC Sports analyst Eddie Olczyk said. "When coaches go into certain situations, you have to make sure that you are flexible."
On the day he was introduced in Vancouver, Tortorella recognized that his infamous temper has caused him trouble.
"This is the mess I put myself into, and this is the mess I'm going to get myself out of," Tortorella said. "When you lose your job, you crawl into a hole a little bit, you reassess yourself, you try to learn. I have certainly gone through that process.
"Have I made mistakes? Absolutely. I make my own bed in this type of situation with the perception of myself in the media."
If both men can win in their new jobs, any flaws or faults will become quieter conversation pieces.
"I don't think changing the culture of a team happens overnight," Tortorella said. "I don't want to put any negative on Alain, what he's done with the team."
While Vigneault had the chance to go back to Vancouver this week and offer thank yous and goodbyes, once the regular season begins, he will have his attention squarely on the Rangers and the tough, new Eastern Conference.
"It is strange," Vigneault said Thursday upon returning to his former home arena. "Coming in and saying 'Hi' to the staff that worked with me for a long time. It was special.
"As much as this might be strange, you've got to turn the page. Maybe getting this out of the way in exhibition and moving on is a good thing."
The Rangers and Canucks will meet twice in the regular season: Nov. 30 in New York and April 1 in Vancouver.
"I do know that Alain did a hell of a job here," Tortorella said. "He's a very good coach and was very successful."
Vigneault reached the playoffs in six of his seven seasons with the Canucks, including a seven-game loss to Boston in the 2011 Stanley Cup finals.
Tortorella got the Rangers to the postseason four times in five years, advancing to the conference finals in 2012.
"It was a team crying out for a breath of fresh air," said NBC Sports analyst Pierre McGuire, a former NHL coach. "Players were not having fun. It was basically 'Camp No Fun.' Now they have their chance at having a clean slate.
"(Vigneault) can come in with all the positive messaging that he wants."
Much has changed since Vigneault was let go as coach of the Montreal Canadiens during the 2000-01 season.
"I've been out (in Vancouver) seven years and we didn't get a chance to play against the East last year," he said. "I need to get a book and a read on that. As much as I hope Vancouver has a tremendous amount of success — except against us — I'm real focused on the Rangers and getting to know the East."
Tortorella has never coached in the West. He has spent a large chunk of training camp trying to get his new team to be more aggressive and in the face of opponents as he did with the Rangers.
Get set for the Canucks to sport various bumps and bruises as they learn to get themselves into shooting lanes and face the related danger that comes with that.
"It's coming along," Tortorella said. "There are habits one way, and we'd like to try it another way that we'll continue to work at. The biggest thing for me is the mindset, and that translates into playing the way we want to play, and that's just having an aggressive attitude."