When a team gets off to a slow start, it’s natural to look at the head coach, but the New York Rangers’ problems are rooted far deeper than that.
Alain Vigneault has done wonders for the New York Rangers in his five years manning the helm. This season, however, the team is off to a slow start and the fans want him gone.
Too bad they don’t realize that he isn’t the only one to blame for the team’s pathetic start.
Jeff Gorton is the man who is in charge of giving Alain Vigneault the players he needs to have success. In Gorton’s first year as general manager he did that: this season, he hasn’t. The team has gone from being one of the deepest teams in the league to a daily embarrassment. Some of this falls on Vigneault, but Gorton deserves to take some heat for his struggling roster.
In the offseason, Gorton traded two of the most important Rangers in Derek Stepan and Antti Raanta. In return, Gorton was able to snag Tony DeAngelo and the seventh overall pick (Lias Andersson) in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft. DeAngelo now finds himself in Hartford after a brief audition and Andersson could not break the Rangers’ roster out of training camp.
Gorton failed at bringing in a suitable replacement for Stepan as the Rangers continue to look for an answer at the center position. Mika Zibanejad has stepped his game up and David Desharnais has been a nice surprise for the Blueshirts but Alain Vigneault has been forced to dress 11 forwards and seven defensemen the last two nights because he can’t find a fourth line center.
The team is hoping that Cristoval “Boo” Nieves serves as an answer on the fourth line, but that’s asking a lot from a player who has the experience of one career NHL game.
Antti Raanta emerged as one of the games best backup goaltenders in the 2016-2017 season. His play allowed for the Rangers to give aging goaltender Henrik Lundqvist consistent rest as well as stretches to work on his game when he was struggling. Gorton capitalized on Raanta’s success and traded him with Stepan to replace him with an above-average goalie in Ondrej Pavelec.
This team is missing a voice in the locker room to help them get on the right track and that also falls on Gorton due to him parting ways with two leaders last summer.
Everyone in the organization knew that it was time to part with veteran defenseman Dan Girardi. The problem is that they haven’t been able to replace the leadership that he and Stepan brought to this team. Girardi is making a nice impression in Tampa Bay with the Lightning while the Rangers are still in disarray and no one seems to be filling the voids left this offseason.
Gorton did a great job at not mortgaging the future for Kevin Shattenkirk at the trade deadline last season. Instead, he waited for free-agency and came away with the All-Star defenseman but there has been one problem; he isn’t the top pair defenseman the Rangers need.
Gorton was counting on Shattenkirk to be a top-pair defenseman to complement captain Ryan McDonagh. That has yet to happen as Shattenkirk finds himself playing with Marc Staal on the second pair. Although Shattenkirk has made the Rangers power play better, they are still looking for a stronger defensive effort on a nightly basis.
The expansion draft also didn’t help the Rangers as they lost fourth-line center Oscar Lindberg to the Vegas Golden Knights. Lindberg provided the Rangers with consistency on the fourth line last season and his line might have been the Rangers’ best line in the playoffs at times. Once again Gorton failed at replacing another important part of this Rangers roster, which has now become a glaring issue for the team.
One of the reasons Gorton didn’t add another center is that he was counting on first-round picks Lias Andersson and Filip Chytil to make an impact on the roster this year. Chytil was given the chance coming out of training camp but only played in two games when the Rangers decided it was time to make a move. Counting on two teenagers to fill in an important hole on the roster is something that a top team in the league does not do but that’s exactly what the Rangers did.
So, when looking at this team as it has been constructed, yes Alain Vigneault deserves some of the blame. However, it isn’t fair to make him the primary scapegoat when other staff has made mistakes.