The New York Rangers have won 192 games during head coach Alain Vigneault’s watchful eye, but his job could be on the line this season.Alain Vigneault has brought the New York Rangers to a place where no Rangers head coach has brought them in 20 years. However, since that failed 2013-14 Stanley Cup run, things have trended downhill and his job could be in jeopardy this year.
Vigneault has transformed this Rangers team into one of the premier teams in the league in his four years manning the helm for the Blueshirts. Upon his arrival, he turned a defensive-minded team into a team that can move the puck and generate scoring chances.
But for all of the success, Vigneault’s Rangers have yet to win the Stanley Cup and the team needs to get off to a good start if he wishes to remain in New York throughout the duration of his contract.
The Rangers have transitioned themselves into a young team in a matter of one season with the trades of Derek Stepan and Antti Raanta, leaving their depth with more questions than answers. It is up to Vigneault to find those answers when it comes his to lineup full of young veterans.
Vigneault has emphasized that he is looking for leadership from J.T. Miller, Kevin Hayes, and Brady Skjei who have all worn an “A” in preseason games this year. It is ultimately up to them to perform, but Vigneault needs to put them in a position to succeed by not immediately benching them the minute they get into trouble on the ice. This was the case in the playoffs last season, where there were times Vigneault had Skjei or Miller on the bench for extended periods of time. That ultimately ended up costing him the series.
Over the last two seasons, the Blueshirts’ penalty kill has turned into one of the worst in the NHL. Vigneault hasn’t been able to find the solution to the lack of effectiveness from a group that was once top-five in the league.
The team brought in Lindy Ruff, who they hope can get things back to the team’s standards when playing a man down. Ruff is the Rangers’ third assistant coach in the last three years and is replacing former Ranger defenseman Jeff Beukeboom behind the bench.
Having a longtime NHL head coach behind the bench to be a part of Vigneault’s staff also points to Vigneault being on the hot seat regarding his position next year. Should the Rangers get off to a poor start, you have to ask how long general manager Jeff Gorton will stick with Vigneault now that he has another accomplished head behind the bench.
Along with Ruff, Scott Arniel returns as the team’s associate coach. Arniel also has experience manning the bench, as he was the head coach in Columbus for two seasons. Both Arniel and Ruff are serviceable options as replacements should the Rangers feel it is necessary to make a move midseason.
Vigneault’s handling of Marc Staal and Nick Holden will also go a long way in determining his fate this season. Should Vigneault use Staal and Holden as a top-four defensive pair like he did last year, the Rangers will not be in a good position. Staal’s play has slowly declined and Holden isn’t the same player he was when he arrived early last season.
Vigneault is a loyal coach and with that, some of the decisions that have come based off of loyalty have hurt the Rangers in the past. Should Vigneault’s loyalty get in the way of winning games again, Gorton will have to look closely at the situation and address how much of a problem it might be.
The only time in Vigneault’s tenure that the Rangers have gotten off to a slow start was in 2013-14, Vigneault’s first year within the organization. The team wasn’t going to make a move due to the fact that he was a new face. This year, however, the Rangers cannot afford to get off to a slow start with the firepower in the Eastern Conference, we all saw what happened to the New York Islanders last year.
If the team isn’t clicking out of the gate, it could be the end of Vigneault’s time here in New York. And rightfully so.