There's plenty of places for one's opinion to be heard in the New York sports sphere.
There's cynical, scornful back pages. Talk radio shows will deride players, coaches or owners until they're run out of town. And even journalists, or blogs like this one will opine and offer up their own formulas.
For nearly three months, the ruling was in on Alain Vigneault, and the verdict was guilty.
Vigneault was guilty of not making good on his mission to resurrect the Rangers' anemic offense. Guilty of somehow stripping the Rangers of their defensive identity. And maybe most arcanely of all, guilty of Rick Nash's concussion history, Henrik Lundqvist's early season struggles, and an arduous nine-game road trip against some of the league's elites to start the season.
Now it's time to proclaim Vigneault's innocence.
What we learned through the Rangers' first 38 games—nearly half of the team's schedule—is the team had trouble dealing with adversity. With injuries, and under-performing topflight players, and a group adjusting to a new system, the Rangers were 18-18-2. Pedestrian by all accounts, and by some of those accounts, the fault of their new head coach.
Fast forward to today. The Rangers are 11-3-1 in their last 15 contests. The team is doing what Vigneault's system was supposed to produce on paper: The power play is better, the offense is more consistent through an increased tempo, and the holdovers from the John Tortorella era—the grit, the penalty kill, and the work ethic—are still hallmarks of the franchise's identity.
So if Vigneault was to blame before isn't it now the time to praise him?
Let's start with the obvious: Indicting a first-year head coach 38 games into his first season, while he's trying to install a vastly different scheme, with all of the exterior elements Vigneault had to deal with on top of all that, was moronic. It was a storyline contrived by a headline-seeking, page view hunting media contingency. And this is not meant to be an audit of all media, but to question whether or not a coach 38 games into his first season under the circumstances Vigneault was in needed to be uninstalled lacks any elements of sense or rationality.
Through it all, Vigneault has stayed the course. In the last 15 games, the Rangers offense has improved to score 3.26 goals per game. The power play, once a point of weakness and embarrassment is now converting at the seventh-highest click in the NHL.
Some wondered if Vigneault's hire in New York was trying to fit a round peg into a square hole. Could a coach that operated in a more offensive-minded system simply take a stellar defense and improve its scoring? Well, through a 38-game sample size, not even enough games to cover last season's lockout shortened campaign, the Rangers have had highs and lows, but sitting in fifth place and sniffing at the top four of the Eastern Conference has to be considered a success by all accounts.
Of course, everyone knows how success in a sports town like New York is really measured: In championships. Whether or not this Rangers team as it's constructed can win a Stanley Cup right now is up for debate, but what's clear now is that their new head coach is not only fit to lead, he's innocent until proven guilty.