The New York Rangers fired coach Alain Vigneault hours after they missed the playoffs for the first time since 2010.
General manager Jeff Gorton announced the firing Saturday night, a full day before the end of the NHL regular season but long after New York’s playoff hopes were gone.
The Rangers will begin searching for his replacement immediately.
The Rangers made the playoffs in four of Vigneault’s five seasons as coach, including a 2014 trip to the Stanley Cup Final. They went 226-147-37 in the regular season under Vigneault, who is third in regular-season and playoff wins in franchise history.
New York’s front office decided in the middle of this season to go young, sell at the trade deadline and begin a rebuilding process in the hopes of becoming a title contender again. Vigneault repeatedly said he believed the Rangers would have made the playoffs if they didn’t go in that direction.
"I believe and some other people also believe that we would have gotten in, but a tough decision was made for the long-term future of this organization and you have to respect it," Vigneault said recently.
After a 5-0 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday afternoon, the veteran coach said he expected to be back next season.
"I think my staff is the right staff for this job," Vigneault said. "This is just my opinion, but I think one of the strongest assets of this organization is its coaching staff. They’re experienced, we’ve been able to do it with veteran players, we’ve been able to do it with younger players, our development record."
It’s unclear if assistants Lindy Ruff and Scott Arniel will return or be considered as head-coaching candidates.
When Gorton announced the Rangers’ pivot toward a youth movement, he said Vigneault’s future would be decided after the season. Before being fired, Vigneault made a passionate case to keep his job.
"I’ve gone through every facet, whether it be a young team, an old team, once we know the team, every year is the same thing," Vigneault said. "Once we know the team we try and put in a system, it maximizes their talent and their potential and try and mask and work on the areas that we need improvement."
Because of that track record, Vigneault should be a candidate to coach in the NHL next season, which would take the Rangers off the hook for his contract, which was extended in early 2017.