We all know New York Rangers head coach is an uptempo, offensive NHL guru, but is he the right man to win a Stanley Cup?
Alain Vigneault, now grinding towards the end of his fourth full season in charge of the New York Rangers, is locked in. He’s going nowhere and substantive proof of this cold hard fact is evidenced by looking at the two-year extension he signed on January 30 of this year.
According to NHL.com, AV’s extension is worth $4 million in 2017-18 and 2018-19, and $4.25 million in 2019-2020. That’s a ton of money, and the ultimate question is whether his coaching abilities and style will help bring the Cup back to New York City.
Speaking of a hockey pirouette, when the Rangers decided to bring AV in from Vancouver, they did so as a direct replacement for the fierce, fiery and flamed out John Tortorella. Coincidentally, Torts found a temporary home with the Canucks, as AV settled down in Gotham to mend will of Rangers players with his up-tempo approach.
John Tortorella’s grind-it-out, dirty-the-waters hockey philosophy did result in some success, with Rangers players sacrificing body and soul for the sake of the greater good. Torts’ Rangers played ugly hockey that at times was truly hard to watch, but he did get his team to the Eastern Conference Finals and make the playoffs in three of his four seasons here.
Let’s be honest, AV’s system is (usually and theoretically) easier on the eyes, and is essentially the exact opposite of Torts’ teams. The recent Rangers have focused on speed and skill through the neutral zone, relying more on traditional ability as opposed to a hustle and bustle, dump-and-chase game. Part of the shift to AV was also his calm and cool demeanor, meant to re-establish life in a locker room full of grizzled, Torts-era veterans.
And I mean who doesn’t like a coach crushing packs of gum and cheesing throughout the course of a game?
AV won the Northwest Division in six out of his seven seasons in Vancouver, including his last five straight. His teams only advanced past the Quarterfinals once, losing that fateful 2011 Stanley Cup Final in Game 7 at home. In NY, AV, along with a seemingly perfect blend of talent, timing, and Henrik Lundqvist, got his team to the Promised Land in 2014, only to lose in five heart-wrenching games to the Los Angeles Kings. AV has never won a Cup despite currently sitting fifteenth on the NHL all-time coaching leaders list for wins, with 609 of them. As such, the question will remain whether he is the best man for the job.
As this team is currently crafted, Vigneault will surely be looking to return to the pure form his players possessed during the first month of the 2016-17 NHL season. They were scoring at a historic pace, gracefully finding the open man on every rush, and beating teams handily with the pedal to the metal.
The accelerator, however, is generally not meant to deal with horrendous injuries and aging players stuck on the Blueshirts due to contractual obligations. Further, AV will absolutely have to refrain from his traditional loyalty to “his guys,” and elect instead to put the best possible team out on the ice in a playoff series.
As far as the eloquence and fluency with which AV has used to become the poster-child for the entire free-flowing hockey philosophy, the ultimate result will dictate the system’s success. A quick look around the Metro shows the defending Cup champion Penguins right in the thick of it once again. Last year, they played with a skill level that was unlike the level this Rangers team can achieve. It’s just a fact when all of your superstars, including Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, play to the best of their ability at the same exact time.
As tempting as I’m sure it is for him, AV should not try to match it, because he cannot match it.
This means that he must mix in some grit and grind from the Tortorella days in order for this team to peak and find it’s top gear. After all, finishing the season in our current top wild card position would pin us up against the Montreal Canadiens, the same team that essentially dragged J.T. Miller around for 45 seconds and prompted the return of Tanner Glass. AV is going to have to adjust whether he likes it or not to truly compete this year.
Playing attractive, fast-paced hockey is good and well in the brisk winds of October, but April calls for a different brand entirely.
AV must balance his beloved style with the realities of the club built around him, and he best start the process about as quickly as he tears through new packs of Orbit.