Taking a closer look into the move by the New York Rangers to ink Alain Vigneault as their new head coach, did they make the right decision? Should the Rangers have fired John Tortorella? Tortorella coached the Blueshirts for four and a half seasons, taking over for Tom Renney in the middle of the 2008-2009 regular season. During this season, Tortorella found a way to lead them into the playoffs. As the Rangers’ head coach, he led them to the playoffs four out of five seasons. The only season the team missed the playoffs was 2009-2010. Although, they continually reached the playoffs, the rangers failed to jump the hurdle and make the Stanley Cup Finals in any season. They only made it past the second round once; last season in which they lost to the Devils in the Eastern Conference Finals. Under Torts, their defensive game was always in the top tier of the NHL. Largely due to their stellar goaltender, Henrik Lundqvist, their opponents only averaged 2.37 goals per game, which ranked them 2nd in the Eastern Conference during this span. In addition, they averaged 15.5 blocked shots per game, which ranked them 5th in the Eastern Conference. The players were sacrificing their body in all situations of the game. In particular, Dan Giradi and Ryan Callahan constantly did whatever it took to block a shot. Although their defensive game was very good, their offensive production struggled at times. They averaged 2.70 goals per game in this era, but struggled to produce goals in the playoffs. This past postseason, they had their troubles putting the puck in the back of the net against the Bruins. In the second round, they only scored six goals in the four games they lost. In the lone game they won at Madison Square Garden, they scored four in their 4-3 overtime victory. Even though they fell short of their expectations, it seemed coach Tortorella would be back for another season in New York.
After their early exit from the playoffs, Torts and the players took part in their concluding interviews with media. When asked about the progress of the team after making it further last postseason, Torts said he thought the team went sideways. He did not think they took a step backwards even though their earlier playoff exit says differently. The players had a different perspective, in particular, two significant players. The captain of the team, Ryan Callahan, used the term “underachieved” concerning the team’s results. The team’s cornerstone, Henrik Lundqvist had a similar view when he said the team took “a step back.” With one season remaining on his contract, Lundqvist was asked about his future and signing an extension sooner rather than later. It was not a good feeling for fans of the team when Lundqvist responded with “we’ll see.” Instantly there was a sense of panic amongst fans of the Rangers. Not long after this panic began, John Tortorella was relieved of duties as the head coach of the Rangers. In New York sources, there have been many reports that star players had a strong impact on this decision. One source even reported that these players went into management and said Torts had to go now. Many believe Lundqvist could have been one of these players, especially with his remarks in his postseason interview. Glen Sather, GM of the Rangers, said the players “didn’t impact” their decision to relieve Torts of his duties. Regardless of reason, Torts is out and the Rangers were officially in search of his replacement.
After beginning the search for a new head coach, a small list of candidates arose. The names on this list included Alain Vigneault, Mark Messier, Lindy Ruff, Dallas Eakins, Dave Tippett and Paul Maurice. Tippet and Maurice seemed to be extras on this list. The other four of Vigneault, Messier, Ruff and Eakins looked like the final four from the start. Despite not having any NHL experience as a head coach, Dallas Eakins has been successful with the Toronto Marlies (AHL affiliate of Toronto Maple Leafs). While coaching with an aggressive style, Eakins has done tremendous work in developing his young talent. This seemed like a great fit for the Rangers. His aggressive style would help to create offense, while maturing young talent including Chris Kreider and JT Miller. Unfortunately, for the Rangers, he was removed early from the coaching carousel after agreeing to terms with the Edmonton Oilers. With all the young talent in Edmonton, Dallas Eakins seems to be the perfect match. He has plenty of talent to grow on his team and a high ceiling of potential as a coach. The Sabres fired Lindy Ruff in this shortened season after a rocky start of 6-10-1. Ruff spent fourteen seasons with the team before his departure this year. He reached the playoffs in eight of these seasons. During this span, he only made it to the finals once and never won the Stanley Cup. It was hard to see why Ruff was a top candidate. Despite his success in Buffalo, he seems too similar to Tortorella and does not have the experience of jumping the hurdle and winning a cup. Bringing him in as a head coach would not have been the right move. The Rangers would have been going in the same direction. Although his name would have been Ruff and not Tortorella, the team would have had the same feeling as before. The next candidate was Mark Messier, an absolute legend in the eyes of any Rangers fan. He was a good candidate because he possesses the passion to win a Stanley Cup. His famous “guarantee” speaks for itself. Mark Messier is the leader this team could use. The only problem was his experience; he has never coached an NHL game before. Not only NHL, he has never coached a professional team at all. The Rangers saw this as too big of a gamble. With some pieces already in place such as Nash and Lundqvist, the window is too small to take chances on a couple seasons. They wanted a coach who they felt would not be a gamble and could make their impact immediately. As a result, the Rangers and Alain Vigneault reportedly agreed to a five-year deal worth $10 million.
Are the Rangers going in the right direction by hiring Alain Vigneault? AV spent the past seven seasons in Vancouver; his time expired after an early exit from the postseason this year. In these seven years, he made the playoffs each season except once. The 2010-2011 playoffs were the only time he reached the finals, where they lost in seven games to the Bruins. Besides that, they were bounced three times in the second round and twice in the opening round. The past two seasons saw them losing in their first round matchup. This year they were swept by the Sharks following their defeat by the eighth seed Blackhawks last season after winning the President’s Trophy. Many critics attribute Vancouver’s goaltending woes to their early departures. This seemed to be a reasonable excuse for their troubles in most years, but this year did not show the same signs. In their series against San Jose, they did not lose primarily because of their goaltending. After dropping the first two games at home, Luongo was not their problem. He looked very good, especially compared to past playoff performances. Schneider came in during game three and then started game four. Luongo actually had more success against San Jose. The Canucks played this series with no passion. They were thoroughly outplayed and deserved to lose. There is a point where it has to fall on the coach’s shoulders. Vancouver management agreed and sent AV packing after their early departure.
The word among Rangers’ fans was that AV HAS to be the next coach. When breaking everything down, many fans clearly do not know enough about him. AV’s playoff resume does not exactly fit a new direction for the Rangers. He has similar playoffs results that Torts had under the Rangers. Looking into his coaching style, he played a 1-2-2 forecheck in Vancouver. Under his version, one forward would heavily purse the puck while the other two forwards and two defensemen set up a trap in the neutral zone. The Rangers need help with their offensive struggles, not their defensive game. This style is not a very dramatic change from Torts. Unless he has plans to switch this style, the Rangers will have a similar looking game. Fans criticized Torts because of his treatment of Chris Kreider and JT Miller. Bad news for fans, sources say AV has played very comparable mind games with Cody Hodgson and Jordan Schroeder. The continual move back and forth between the minors and the NHL could still be in the cards for Kreider and Miller. Many sources contributed this treatment to the eventual trade of Cody Hodgson to Buffalo where he has submerged into a first line center. A huge positive about AV is his success with star players. In his short time in Montreal before Vancouver, he had success getting production out of stars including Mark Recchi and Saku Koivu. Then in Vancouver, he always received major production from the Sedin twins. This could be a very good sign for Rick Nash and emerging first line center Derek Stepan. It will be interesting to see if the Rangers buyout Brad Richard’s hefty and long-term contract or if they give AV a chance to turn him around.
It does not feel like the Rangers took a step in the right direction by choosing AV. Mark Messier may not have been the best choice either because of his inexperience. At least Mark Messier would have been a new direction with a passionate group. The defensive style, coaching experience and handling of youth talent of AV correlate too much with the rigid style of John Tortorella. The Rangers best direction would have been Dallas Eakins. Maybe they did not have enough time because Torts was fired late (because of playoffs), but they should have found a way to get to him. Eakins seems like the up and coming coach that a team will buy into and have success. The Eakins situation has shades of Bylsma in it. It will be interesting to see how Alain Vigneault does in New York. In his first press conference, he said, “I haven’t coached a lot of these guys…I am going into this with an open mind…there’s a clean slate. For Rangers fans and players including Richards, Kreider and Miller, this was a very optimistic comment. This press conference pointed toward a change of his demeanor with the change of scenery. For Rangers’ players and fans, there is a strong anticipation toward next season.
Leave a comment and let me know what you think, especially fans of NYR.