Mon 24 Jun 2013
Alain Vigneault’s hiring as the 35th coach in New York Rangers history is being hailed as the greatest thing since sliced bread. The MSG Network analysts and the media rolled out le tapis rouge for the new coach who is viewed as the savior of a Rangers team that took “a step backwards” according to Captain Ryan Callahan.
We all know about the two President Trophies and the six divisional titles (five of them in a row). However, the divisional titles are not a huge accomplishment given the struggles Calgary, Colorado, Edmonton and Minnesota have had during the last few years.
If the Rangers took a step backwards this year under John Tortorella, how many steps back did Vigneault’s Vancouver Canucks taken posting a 1-10 playoff record after reaching Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals against the Boston Bruins – that includes two first round playoff eliminations?
Basically, the Rangers hired a coach who had more talent in Vancouver, and underachieved, rather than retain the coach who had less talent (and less a media-friendly demeanor) and overachieved.
The one thing you can always say about MSG’s teams is that they always put on good press conferences. Friday’s event to introduce Vigneault really wasn’t one of their finest hours. I guess you can chalk it up to the fact that it was a “road press conference” due to the unavailability of MSG due to the renovations.
Yes, the usual suspects were there with James Dolan and Glen Sather front and center along with Garden bigwigs Hank Ratner and David Howard; as well as Rangers Assistant GMs Jim Schoenfeld and Jeff Gorton.
Most telling were those who were not in attendance.
No one would have expected Mark Messier to appear Friday given that he was one of the finalists for the coaching job. According to Sather, the Rangers coaching list started with 13 candidates that was quickly whittled down to nine. Sather admitted that he conducted phone interviews with four candidates and had to two in-person interviews.
We know that Vigneault and Messier were the two in-person candidates. As for the phone interviews, we can guess that Lindy Ruff and John Stevens were two of the names because the Rangers did receive permission from Buffalo and Los Angeles to speak to them.
The other conspicuous absences belonged to the players themselves. Nary a Ranger was introduced at the press conference – and that is as telling as any statement Sather could make in reference to the players not playing a part in John Tortorella’s firing.
Sather went on record as saying that he thought about firing Torts during the regular season and again during the playoffs. Despite of all this deep thought, Sather still didn’t pull the trigger until after the exit interviews with the players. If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, then it works for Aflac.
In the end it really doesn’t matter how or why Tortorella was fired. Adam Proteau of The Hockey News probably described the life of a coach with the following tweet: “Twenty-five coaches have been fired in the last two years. We no longer should say a team has ‘hired’ a new coach. More like ‘rented’”.
I have written in the past that I thought John Tortorella was a good coach. Was he perfect? No. He needed to be a bit more flexible in letting his players play and he needed to modify his defensive scheme that placed too much of an emphasis on shutting down the shooting lanes.
Sather made several references to the way the game has changed over the last couples of years with the unsaid point being that Torts didn’t or wouldn’t change. Ironically, the same can be said of Sather – but that is for another day.
Rick Carpiniello of the Journal News wrote that Sather said he spoke with Tortorella about changing his style, but his former coach was “beyond stubborn” – which Slats did say helped make Torts so successful.
Brett Cyrgalis of the NY Post used the same “beyond stubborn” quote in one of his articles, but it was only in direct context to Tortorella being given a chance to change his ways. You get the feeling that each side has their point of view on this subject and that the truth lies somewhere in between.
Vigneault represents a “safe” choice for Sather. It is funny how the media roasted Torts for eschewing his “safe is death” mantra from his Tampa Bay days, but gives Sather a pass on making the safe choice here.
Then again, when Sather goes the non-safe route the Rangers ended up with the likes of crony Ron Low and the ill-prepared Bryan Trottier.
Unlike those fans who called for Tortorella to be fired and then are silent when it comes to offering up alternatives, I did have my own list of candidates and AV was not Plan A, B, or C.
My first choice would have been former Toronto Marlies coach and new Edmonton Oilers coach Dallas Eakins. The delay between the Rangers last game and the firing Tortorella cost the Blueshirts any chance they would have had at Eakins.
The new Oilers coach has NHL experience as an assistant coach with the Toronto Maple Leafs to go along with his time as head coach in the AHL.
Defenseman Mike Mottau, who played for all three local hockey teams, endorsed Eakins in a discussion with Cyrgalis.
“I played for a number of coaches over the years and I can say Dallas is one of the best,” Mottau explained to Cyrgalis.
“He was able to look at certain guys and let them play to their strengths and work on their weaknesses. Other coaches promote themselves and their system, but he was looking at the betterment of the group. He was just a breath of fresh air for me.”
Another non-safe alternative would be the University of Wisconsin’s Mike Eaves. In 2011, Eaves’ name surfaced as a potential candidate for the New Jersey Devils job – a position that went to Peter DeBoer.
Andy Johnson of Buckys5thQuater.com, a Badgers sports site, wrote about Eaves flirtation with the Devils.
“Another coach that has coached in the NHL before and I had him for a few international tournaments is Mike Eaves,” Zach Parise told Johnson in June 2011.
“He is now at Wisconsin and I’ve never been so prepared to face an opponent as when I was playing for him. It may be a little different in an 82-game schedule, but he did a great job of having players understand their role on the team and got them to do that to the best of their ability.”
“Great coach, great systems and gets his players to play. Very demanding.”
Eaves also gets high marks given the way Ryan McDonagh and Derek Stepan have been able to become impact players for the Rangers.
Truth be told, I might have decided to wait out Dave Tippett’s situation in Phoenix. Given his success with an unsteady Coyotes franchise, imagine what he could do with the Rangers talent and purse strings. Once Tippett re-signed with Phoenix, I would have moved on to the rest of my list.
A safer choice than Eakins and Eaves, but still one that would have caused some discussion, would have been Pittsburgh’s Tony Granato. Some fans and media members were hot for Dan Bylsma had the Penguins boss been canned instead or retained. Granato would have given a link to those who wanted a Pittsburgh flair, while providing the Rangers with someone who had head coaching experience.
Granato was 104-78-17-16 in 215 games in two coaching stints with Colorado. During that time, he led the Avalanche a Northwest Division title and a second place finish.
For the most part, Vigneault did not say anything out of place during his introductory press conference. He wants his team to play the “right way” and expects them to take calculated chances when the opportunity presents itself.
“I believe that your top-skilled players have to be given a little more latitude. They have to understand the game …. They have to be given the latitude to make something out of nothing,” Vigneault offered.
While he wants the Rangers style of play to mirror that of the Canucks, Vigneault realizes that Vancouver was not built in a day.
“If you look at Vancouver, how we evolved over the years, [when] I got there we were a more defense-oriented team because our skill-level wasn’t as high,” AV explained. “As soon as our skill-level started to evolve, and we started to develop it a little bit more, we became one of the best offensive teams in the league – and that’s what I intend to do here in New York.”
The Rangers coach will be bringing some new off-ice changes to the franchise. Vigneault is a believer in the new hockey metrics and numbers – an NHL version of “Sabremetrics” if you will.
Various Rangers beat writers detailed Vigneault’s use of numbers to study how many offensive zone faceoffs and offensive zone ice time his best players get and how many defensive zone faceoffs and defensive zone ice time his best defensive players get – which seems to contradict his willingness to run four lines on a constant basis.
As Larry Brooks of the NY Post pointed out, Vancouver forwards averaged between 12:35 and 19:20 minutes of ice time. Brooks did point out that the Sedin Twins did not kill penalties or their number would have been north of 20 minutes of ice time.
In addition, AV made use of “sleep doctors” as a means of studying the rest and sleep patterns of his players as a result of Vancouver’s travel schedule. This point was hammered home by the MSG analysts and members as a major reason behind the hiring of Vigneault with the new divisional realignments and increased travel schedule – especially in terms of balancing the need for practice time versus the need for rest.
Of course, NHL teams dealt with that balancing act this year due to the Lockout, but the media is not going to let facts stand in the way of a story.
The bottom line, in the media’s eyes, was that they got rid of a surly coach in favor of one who pretty much has been termed a “media darling”. This was a point that Al Trautwig made on MSG prior to the start of the press conference.
“His personality was liked by the Vancouver media. He, apparently, had a sense of humor that we’ll start to see today,” Trautwig opined.
The one thing that Tortorella never realized is that you can’t win a fight against the media unless you are as successful as a Tom Coughlin or Gregg Popovich.
Much was made on Friday about Vigneault selecting the Rangers over the Dallas Stars who reportedly offered him a similar deal. Again, that really wasn’t much of a fair fight given the Rangers roster in comparison to the Stars roster and when you factor in AV is that much closer to his grown daughters who live in Montreal.
In offering up his reasons for hiring Vigneault Sather said, “He knows the kind of system we’d like to have here. It’s the kind of system he had in Vancouver for the last seven years.”
That is all well and good, but the question to ask is: Do the Rangers have those type of players to play Vancouver’s system? There was a reason why Tortorella didn’t run four lines against the Bruins – he didn’t have four lines worthy of forwards – especially when injuries hit.
Rather than looking to play a high-risk, high-reward style of hockey, the Rangers need to take a page from the Boston Bruins and play a “four and three” style of hockey. That means you roll four sets of line and three sets of defensemen. From all indications, that is what Vigneault wants to do.
However, AV and the Rangers have to take that one step further. Whatever system the Rangers end up running in New York is the EXACT system they must run in Hartford with the AHL Wolf Pack.
There is a reason why teams like the New Jersey Devils are able to overcome injuries and player defections on an annual basis. There is a reason why a rookie like Torey Krug can jump from the AHL and into the fire of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The Bruins, and especially the Devils, are running systems that are followed in the NHL and AHL. When AHL reinforcements are needed, they are already attuned to the style they will play in the NHL – thus making the transition easier.
The Rangers need to get out in front of this idea and embrace it from day one. Not only should it be implemented, it should be well known so that future Rangers – be it through trade, free agent signing or draft – know what will be expected of them.
If Vigneault is the best way to accomplish this idea, then welcome to New York AV. Besides, it is cool to have a coach who pronounces organization as “organ-EYE-zation”.