Since he's arrived on Broadway Alain Vigneault has been seen as a savior. The Rangers were marked as a good to very good team that needed some help getting over the hump when they needed a new coach. John Tortorella had overstayed his welcome, was revealed to have lost the room and wasn't the guy the Rangers thought could get the team to where they needed to go.
So Vigneault waltzed into the room like a cowboy in the Old West. There was a level of mystery to his hire -- Vigneault admitted he and his team collected and utilized specific internal statistics -- and he promised to bring a changed environment to the locker room and the ice. His resume in Vancouver spoke for itself. And the failings in Canada seemed to fall on a set of top guns that simply couldn't get the job done.
Vigneault was going to change things in New York.
Which he did. All the way to the Stanley Cup Final where the Rangers lost in the closest five game-series you'll see in his first year at the helm. That was enough to allow Vigneault to walk on water last year, even when Tanner Glass was getting playing time over guys like Anthony Duclair, Oscar Lindberg, J.T. Miller and Jesper Fast. Those problems manifested themselves in bigger matchup issues (like Dan Girardi going up against top talent) and ended costing the Rangers their lives against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
This year was supposed to be different. The Rangers had a few more pieces in the machine to help make things work. A savvy offseason helped pave the way for higher expectations -- which reached insane levels as the Rangers lucked their way through the first two months of the season despite unsustainable hockey.
No one really questioned Vigneault on any of this -- fans included. Most of the time when Vigneault does something quirky he's given the benefit of the doubt because of his pedigree. So the Rangers kept winning despite poor play, and no one said much of anything negative.
That feeling needs to be evaporating, though.
Last night Vigneault put Glass on a line with Mats Zuccarello and Kevin Hayes -- and also used Glass on the power play. He routinely plays Ryan McDonagh and Dan Boyle on the power play over Keith Yandle -- who was brought in to fix that very problem and cost the Rangers one of their best prospects. Chris Summers was killing a critical penalty in last night's game because McDonagh was tired from playing 90 seconds on the power play.
At this point that screams panic to me. Vigneault doesn't seem to have any answers even though this has been going on all year. I wrote the below on 11/25 (not only a month ago but also when the Rangers were still winning game like crazy and deemed "one of the best teams in the NHL"):
I've been attacked a lot of late about how I'm being nit picky and how I'm looking at the Rangers with a glass half empty approach. My problem -- and really the Rangers' problem -- is that good isn't good enough anymore. And right now the Rangers are not playing hockey that will win them a Stanley Cup, let alone a single seven game series. That's the end goal, and this play is not sustainable. Sustainability wins Stanley Cups more than anything else.
Lundqvist, for as good as he's been, will not be able to keep up this pace. The Rangers will not keep scoring on so few shots and when both of those things regress the sky will fall. Hell, the Rangers have been so lucky that they may actually play better and still lose a lot of games. That's how far into this territory they've ventured.
I'm not a psychic. I am not a fortuneteller. I don't know tonight's lottery numbers. But I sure as hell know unsustainable play when I see it, and I do expect my coaching staff and general manager to know it, too. Maybe Vigneault and Jeff Gorton saw the signs but thought this group could ride it out. Maybe they thought with the right tweaks they could get things going with this group. They were wrong.
Pedigree should earn players and coaches some leeway with judgement calls and gut feelings. The key word there, though, is some.
Yes, Vigneault is a two-time Stanley Cup finalist (another key word right there) and has won five playoff series in his first two seasons in New York -- which, to be fair, can be categorized as unprecedented success in the scope of recent memory.
What pedigree shouldn't do is allow the media -- which an unnamed beat reporter will be more than happy to tell you I am not a member of -- and fans to give long-term passes on bad decisions. And that's exactly what's happening on Broadway (with the exception of one or two beat reporters).
The biggest failings of this coaching staff are (and always have been) 1) an over-reliance on veterans who have clearly lost the ability to play in their current roles and 2) a lack of real adaptations to deep-rooted problems.
Dan Girardi replacements Brady Skjei and Summers have made the Rangers better and not really all that worse respectively. That's an enormous indictment on Girardi's value to this team and his catastrophic contract. Marc Staal is working himself into this conversation, too.
That contract allows Girardi to be afforded opportunity after opportunity when it should actually be a reason to jettison him to a team that wants his services. While Girardi, Staal and Glass have enough leash to hang the entire team with, Lindberg, Emerson Etem, Dylan McIlrath and Skjei need a fortunate string of events to even get a chance to play let alone proper usage.
This is a problem on two fronts: The first is, obviously, the on-ice situation that's currently unfolding. And the second is that the Rangers won't have the cap flexibility to keep their key RFAs this summer or, more importantly, do anything to fix the problems right now. The latter is an issue that falls on the old regime, but that doesn't mean Vigneault needs to be shackled to playing the two of them in crunch time like he has been.
Doing the same thing over and over again while expecting different results is what was going on when Tortorella is in charge. And it's the mark of a coach who doesn't know what to do anymore and keep trusting his own process because it worked once and it's bound to work again.
The argument isn't -- and shouldn't be -- that Vigneault is a bad coach. He's not at all. But when a team is this close to the top of the mountain the question isn't whether or not a coach is "good" but if he's the right guy for the job. There's nothing fundamentally wrong with questioning Vigneault's impact on this team; good and bad. Sitting and nodding your head is not journalism or being a "good fan", and if we're to be indicted for not bowing at Vigneault's feet blindly after every move he makes then so be it. Logically questioning your surroundings and looking for deeper answers is not something to be ashamed of.
It's something good writers should be doing.
Same goes for the organization, too. Good coaches question themselves and look for answers. The best dig deep into their psyche to make sure they're getting the best out of themselves and their team. It's uncomfortable and it's embarrassing. Admitting you've made a mistake as a head coach is a very public event since everyone can see the lineup decisions and matchups you're putting out there. There are millions of eyes on every move they make and very few things unfold behind closed doors anymore. It can get ugly and nasty, especially when dealing with tenured players who are leaders in the room but aren't working on the ice.
That's OK. It's not Vigneault's job to be friends with everyone and keep everyone happy. It is his job to make sure he's getting the best out of what he has -- including dropping and adding players to make sure the unit, as a whole, is as good as it can be. To this point that hasn't happened organically (i.e: when injuries haven't forced Vigneault's hand) and that's a major problem.
I do not think Vigneault is on the hot seat but he should be feeling a significant amount of pressure to fix this problem. Even if that means things need to get ugly to do it.
Quite frankly, that should have been happening for a while, now.