New York Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault has been heavily criticized this season, and rightfully so, but should this be his last year on Broadway?
The New York Rangers have had nothing but success under head coach Alain Vigneault. However, this season has been different and has resulted in more than a few people questioning Vigneault’s future in New York.
Coming into the season, we all knew that Vigneault and the Rangers were under immense pressure to get off to a good start. The team didn’t get off to that strong start going 4-7-2 in the teams first 13 games. Rumors swirled that Vigneault was on the hot seat but nothing ever came of them.
The Blueshirts would overcome that slow start and turn into one of the best teams in the league from the start of November until the end of December. The team went 16-6-3, seventh-best in the NHL in that span, and the pressure on the 56-year-old head coach lifted.
Since that 16-game span, though, something changed with the team and Vigneault couldn’t get them back on track. In the 15 games after that hot stretch, the Rangers went 5-10-0 and slowly moved out of the playoff picture. As a result, the front office—specifically team president Glen Sather and general manager Jeff Gorton—decided that the team needed to move in a new direction.
The announcement that Vigneault’s squad would not remain intact throughout the end of the season was the final nail in the coffin. The team was never able to recover as Vigneault couldn’t seem to get them to focus on just hockey. You have to wonder how much of an impact that had on this team. How much of a distraction was it? Did it impact their play on the ice?
The answer to those questions appears to be yes. For once the trades were made, Vigneault’s squad looked and played like a different team. Key players in Ryan McDonagh, Rick Nash, J.T. Miller, and Michael Grabner moved on and Vigneault was forced to turn to a direction he was hesitant to go earlier in the year.
This is where the Rangers dilemma surrounding Vigneault comes in.
The team has played better since the trades and some of the credit does belong to the fifth-year Rangers coach. He has shown that he can play his young players, like Pavel Buchnevich, who is seeing more ice time than he was earlier this season.
He has relied heavily on rookie goaltender Alexandar Georgiev, who made his eighth appearance—seventh start—this season against Philadelphia Thursday night. Brady Skjei has seen minutes as a number one defenseman along with Neal Pionk and John Gilmour.
It looks like Vigneault has adapted to the roster he has been given. That’s something that he hasn’t shown in the last two seasons. Is that enough for the Rangers to seriously consider bringing him back? Maybe not, but there is a twist involved here.
In the middle of the 2016-17 season, the Blueshirts extended Vigneault through the 2019-20 season. It is believed that he will be making between $4 million and $4.25 million per year over the duration of his contract, according to NHL.com’s Jon Lane, so why should the Rangers pay him to do nothing?
Now the clear argument here is that the Rangers have gone taken steps backward over the last three seasons after taking five steps forward in Vigneault’s first two seasons. The front office might not see it like that, as he has led them to two Eastern Conference Finals, a Stanley Cup Finals appearance, and out of the first round four times.
If the Rangers go into the offseason and make major acquisitions, like adding Ilya Kovalchuk, Vigneault might be the right guy to lead that group. He would continue to serve as a calming voice in a season where the pressure would be off the Blueshirts following a disastrous 2017-18.
What if the Rangers decide they want to continue this rebuilding process? That they want to continue to add and develop young talent? Who else would be better to lead a team to the bottom of the standings then one who is already doing it now?
One final thing to consider: What kind of message would firing Vigneault, with two years left on his deal, send across the coaching world? Making moves like that sends a bad message, as opposed to firing your coach with one year remaining.
While some may have their heads wrapped around the idea of Vigneault not coming back in 2018-19, don’t be surprised if he does, because it honestly might just happen.
You’ve been warned.