The New York Rangers have a pretty big list of problems right now. We've been through them enough in this space that I don't have to list them out for you one by one. Needless to say, this year has been a roller coaster, and doesn't look like it's going to be slowing down anytime soon.
But now you can add another problem to the ever-growing list: Alain Vigneault has fostered an environment that lacks any true accountability.
Before Monday night's game against the Boston Bruins it was announced Oscar Lindberg would indeed be the healthy scratch for the returning Chris Kreider. Yes, that Lindberg, who in the three games prior to the scratch recorded a 57.5% corsi, a goal and an assist. The reasoning behind him sitting?
On Lindberg scratch, AV says Oscar is playing well but he likes fourth line chemistry and he has a LW (Kreider) that needed to be in.— Andrew Gross (@AGrossRecord) January 11, 2016
Not really much of an explanation, no?
The Rangers have been going through a pretty big identity crisis this year. The veterans are not getting the job done all across the lineup, some kids aren't showing the growth they were expected to and other kids haven't been given a chance to blossom at all. In some cases the situation ends a player's tenure in New York, and in other cases it means being a healthy scratch so a Hartford callup can play in the top six while a possession black hole (who happens to be a coach favorite) plays instead. P.S: This is not a knock against Jayson Megna who was fine until the matchup against Boston when he got his lunch handed to him.
See that comment in the parentheses? The "who happens to be a coach favorite." That's starting to play a pretty big role in a lot of these decisions.
Here's a fact about Vigneault's tenure in Vancouver: His refusal to move on from veterans who he was leaning on to play critical roles, even though they showed the inability to handle said roles anymore, was a big knock against him when he left. That fact followed him here, to New York, where players like Dan Girardi and Tanner Glass never run out of leash while others can't even get off the front porch.
Vigneault talks about accountability a lot. He follows through a lot, too. Like the Etem situation, benching Kevin Hayes for two games, sending Tanner Glass down to Hartford and the never-ending merry-go-round of healthy scratches in the bottom six based off a one or two-game sample size.
There's another side to this coin, though. Glass was called back up, and after a few weeks of solid possession play, has regressed back into the red and hasn't come out once since. Marc Staal has had major issues for long stretches this year and continues to play over Dylan McIlrath.
As does Girardi -- despite an entire year's worth of evidence (plus) he is not a top-pairing player anymore -- who continues to lead the Rangers in even strength ice time. After his horrendous game against the Capitals, Vigneault not only defended his statement that Girardi was a better all around option than McIlrath but also turned around and kept him in the lineup for Monday's game against the Bruins. To then tell Lindberg "hey, you're going to sit for a game because I like the fourth-line's chemistry and Kreider needs to play" is an insult to both Lindberg and to the players who are being punished while others sit untouched.
If you love the fourth line that much, give Kreider Megna's position in the top six. If you want Megna to play then put Lindberg -- who is a fantastic defensive player -- on the fourth line (for Glass, preferably) and improve it. The answer shouldn't be "sit Lindberg who was just started to get going."
Etem Trade Shows NYR Have An Evaluation Problem
The New York Rangers sold low on Emerson Etem because they had to. They had to because they tanked his value. They tanked his value because, well, we don't know. What we do know is this situation doesn't look good for the Rangers at all.
I am not in the locker room and thus cannot speak on the state of things inside of it outside of speculation. I have no idea what the environment is like, good or bad. I do, however, know that hockey is not a video game. Players are self aware, especially younger guys who are trying to soak in the atmosphere and figure out how to succeed there. If I was a young kid in that locker room who was sitting for no real reason while veterans got free passes on countless mistakes I wouldn't be thrilled.
That ideology, obviously, can have some pretty big long-term effects. Or it can turn into nothing. The problem isn't about what Lindberg is thinking when he walks into the negotiating room -- at least it isn't right now -- it's about the environment this creates now. Until the time comes that he starts to negotiate (if this even comes up).
Why were Hayes, Etem, Lindberg, Jesper Fast (way back in the beginning of the year), Brady Skjei (when he was sent down quickly) and currently McIlrath punished when Girardi, Staal and Glass (2.0 since he was sent to Hartford) are immune? Where is the consistency with these decisions? Would you have any respect for a coach who scratches you for mistakes and then allows another player (who is having a far more negative impact on the team) to keep moving forward as though nothing has happened?
Why is it that Hayes and even Henrik Lundqvist can be called out publicly while Vigneault protects other players by simply saying: "No doubt we have a few players playing sub-par, not naming anyone, it's pretty evident for those who follow us closely?" Where is the consistency in his coaching decisions?
Accountability is a big part of hockey. Players can be benched or demoted to lower lines during the game itself. Strategies can remove players from bigger roles (look no further than Keith Yandle being demoted to the second power play unit -- permanently it seems). They can also be sent down to a lesser league or they can sit in the press box for eternity. If that doesn't work, the coach can always use the feeding-frenzy that is the New York media to give them a public kick in the ass.
The number of tools in a coach's inventory to make sure he's not only getting the best out of his team but keeping them motivated is almost limitless. Some coaches utilize too many of these tools and end up overstaying their welcome (think John Tortorella). Other coaches hardly use these tools and simply run with what they have for long stretches and only change when something forces their hand.
Vigneault has usually danced along the line of the coaches who don't come down on their players unless it's necessary. Although Vigneault seems to find it necessary for some rather than others. When the cracks do appear in these foundations of trust you usually never hear about it until it gets really toxic. I have my doubts the room will get like that, especially with the way Vigneault handles internal conflict (note: he's a "let the players figure it out" kind of coach) but these antics can't help things.
I'm not calling for the man's head. I'm not demanding the team gets blown up. As we've talked about a lot here, questioning Vigneault's decisions shouldn't be look at as a mutiny or as us gathering the pitchforks for a riot. It's simply part of the deal when it comes to covering the team.
That doesn't mean the above is acceptable, though. And it's something that's been going on for a long, long time. It's sunk Vigneault ships before.
The hope is it doesn't do the same thing now.