Alain Vigneault + The Big Apple = Stanley Cup?
On Friday, the New York Rangers unveiled Alain Vigneault as their new head coach, with a five-year contract that is widely reported as being worth $10 million and expectations of postseason success, even by the usual standards in New York, have immediately risen to extraordinary heights.
This post takes a look at what the Quebec native’s appointment will mean for his new organisation, identify the ways in which his approach will differ from predecessor John Tortorella and consider whether the Rangers’ roster has enough quality to deliver the ultimate prize.
Simple….a change of style on and off the ice?
The introduction of Alain Vigneault will not be one of those occasions in which the new coach simply steers the franchise through a transition period, allowing players the chance to adapt to his approach, the transformation is expected to be instantaneous and there is no doubt in my mind that we will see a more offensive Rangers from the get-go. A team too reliant on defence and struggling for production; an eerily similar situation as to when Vigneault arrived in Vancouver.
On a personality level, John Tortorella was a rash and passionate commander of his team, abrasive with the press and critical of his own team, whom he expected to compete with a defence-first mentality at all times. Although Vigneault is no less passionate about winning, the regular season pedigree, Jack Adams award from 2006 and the two President’s Trophies he brings from his time with the Vancouver Canucks, are allied with a charismatic approach to the media and attacking flair throughout games.
After juggling most of the intense goalie controversy in Vancouver with a supreme grace, I believe handling delicate matters such as Brad Richards and Henrik Lundqvist will be a picnic in comparison. This ability to dilute pressure with poise will be vital in an environment where the spotlight rarely dims and fans demand so much from their team.
Will we be watching Chris Kreider forced to spend ice-time hacking pucks out of his defensive zone?
OK, that may have been a deliberately extreme example, but it was something that happened far too often last season and puzzled me throughout John Tortorella’s reign. Although Tortorella’s approach carried with it a responsibility for the most talented players to perform in their defensive zone, at times, this was directly detrimental to offensive production and the persistence with ‘Dump and Chase’ definitely contributed to abysmal power-play numbers.
Then there were the clashes with players who began to show even the remotest sign of individuality, something that never went down well, Brandon Dubinsky and Marian Gaborik both burned too many bridges in this regard, and were promptly traded away.
Alain Vigneault’s system and style, although requiring four talented lines for rotation that the Rangers do not currently possess and may struggle to acquire in the near future, will cater for more expression in the offensive zone. His use of speed, tricky wingers and D-men stepping up were all prevalent in Vancouver, and this change of tactics should prove ideal for the likes of Chris Kreider, Rick Nash, Carl Hagelin, Derick Brassard and Derek Stepan (JT Miller?) (I know, who knew the Rangers had so many potential game-changers in their roster, except just about everyone.) Promising pairing on defence, Ryan McDonagh and Michael Del Zotto, should also flourish in the new approach, adding much needed production from the blue-line.
Fairy-tale of New York?
With so many positives, it would be easy to get caught up in the suggestion that Alain Vigneault will enjoy immediate success, a lengthy playoff run or even deliver a Stanley Cup in a few seasons. Before even considering this, there are too many questions that need to be answered and problems to be resolved. One will be whether Vigneault is really cut out to manage in the postseason?
Despite reaching the postseason in the previous two years, his Vancouver Canucks side, albeit aging and ravaged by injuries, have only won a single game since their Stanley Cup Final defeat to the Boston Bruins in 2010 and have endured miserable first round exits on both occasions. Whether this is an issue with his ability to motivate players, manage in a seven-game scenario or simple misfortune will certainly be revealed should the Rangers make the postseason next year.
Despite inheriting a roster with so many pluses, the problem of Brad Richards may well outweigh the talent. The veteran centre, scratched by Tortorella during the playoffs after an atrocious campaign, has a huge contract and ties up a wealth of cap space. Vigneault must decide whether this is a player disillusioned with his own performance, his coach and lacking in confidence, or a inevitable sign of decline. Whatever his choice, the situation needs to be resolved swiftly, so that he can get to work either inspiring Richards for a year in which he can rediscover his form or restructuring in his absence.
Although Alain Vigneault is a fine coach, Rangers’ fans may well need to air on the side of caution for the time being. They have a roster more than capable of competing in the Eastern Conference, particularly if they can get their offence firing on all cylinders and now have a coach who can deflect controversy when required, and who will certainly not add to it in the fashion of the previous regime. The factor that may define whether Vigneault will enjoy instant success however, will be how he chooses to monopolise and redefine John Tortorella’s ‘heavy fore-check and strong ethic’ legacy. For regardless of the many criticisms of ‘Torts’, these are aspects of the game that no fan is disappointed to see from their team.