New York Rangers coach Alain Vigneault has been notorious for benching young players, but this time he went too far.
Throughout Vigneault’s tenure as Rangers head coach, he has never been hesitant to call a young player out during a game. He has done this with Miller, Pavel Buchnevich, Brady Skjei, and Jimmy Vesey the last couple of seasons. Vigneault has also demoted players from top-six roles, putting them on the fourth line as a wakeup call.
This practice that Vigneault has is understandable and most coaches use it when players simply just don’t have it. But taking into consideration what has been going on with the Rangers, Miller’s benching is a confusing one.
Vigneault is currently asking Miller to take the place of Kevin Hayes at the center ice position. Hayes has missed the team’s last five games due to injury. Playing center against the Ducks is a daunting task for anyone, let alone Miller. It wasn’t going to be easy, and it wasn’t. Miller clearly struggled defensively and the coach did not like what he saw.
This is fucking atrocious now. Rangers can't get control of the puck on the power play. J.T. Miller makes an awful turnover and Adam Henrique undresses Pavelec. 4-2 Ducks #NYR pic.twitter.com/2VGFTFBQ1g
— Fitz (@FitzyGSN) January 24, 2018
The answer to Miller’s poor play after 4:55 of ice time, was to sit the 24-year-old, not for just one or two shifts, but for the rest of the game. This is new even for Vigneault, who has made some questionable decisions of late. When asked after the game why Miller didn’t see ice time Vigneault responded, “seen enough”.
Hear from Alain Vigneault following tonight's loss to the Ducks. pic.twitter.com/i9v6SLWMpO
— New York Rangers (@NYRangers) January 24, 2018
The fact of the matter is that Miller is the Rangers’ third-leading scorer. He gives the team more of a chance to come back in a two-goal deficit than Paul Carey, who played 16:02. There is no reason for Miller to have been benched the rest of that game.
When fully healthy, this team had a hard time scoring goals. They are without their leading goal scorer in Chris Kreider and offensive defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk. In the game against the Ducks without Kreider, Hayes, and Shattenkirk, why would you put one of your most consistent offensive players on the bench when down two?
Now Miller was not the only player to feel the wrath of Vigneault Tuesday night. Jimmy Vesey only played 9:18, seeing one shift in the third period, on the power play. Vesey has been one of the hardest working players on the Rangers this year. He has been going in front of the net, trying to get to rebounds and doing the dirty work that other players haven’t. At one point on this road trip, he was the Rangers best forward. Yet, he sits.
This Ranger team has struggled mightily during their four-game West Coast trip; That is no secret. They have now fallen outside of the playoff picture in the Eastern Conference. They have a chance to fall four points out of the final Wild Card spot prior to their game against the San Jose Sharks. At what point does the desperation kick in? When does Vigneault realize that time is ticking on this Rangers team?
The only way this team has a chance is if they play their top players when healthy. Sitting Miller for two full periods is not a recipe for success on this team. The sooner Vigneault realizes that and takes him out of the doghouse, the sooner this team has a chance to regain that final playoff spot.
There are no excuses here: Vigneault went too far and the team suffered because of it. Chances are they’ll continue to struggle if Vigneault doesn’t change his ways.