Thanks to Charter making some type of scheduling error, the New York Rangers were not available on any channel for me in Connecticut. I managed to catch pieces of the game/highlights, but it seemed like the Hockey Gods smiled upon me to keep that torment away from me.
So rather than getting a notes story from what little I saw, I’m going to touch on a hot button issue surrounding these parts: Yes, you’re allowed to be frustrated with Alain Vigneault.
Last year, when we (among others) heaped blame and concern at the coach’s feet we were met with remarks focused around the Rangers’ record being good. Those same people threw their hands in the air at the end of the year, or blamed Henrik Lundqvist or simply called it a slump. This year, those same people are once again pointing at the record.
There seems to be a fine line people don’t want to or can’t cross when it comes to the bench boss. Criticizing Alain Vigneault doesn’t mean he’s a horrible coach, should be immediately fired or that he hasn’t done good things for this team.
But Vigneault’s career seems defined by certain things. For example:
Fact: Vigneault’s career behind the bench in both Vancouver and New York should be looked upon as the gold standard for a head coach. Two Stanley Cup Final appearances, three Presidents’ Trophies, he is the winningest coach in Vancouver history, has led his team to a division title seven times the past 10 years and won 100 games for the Rangers quicker than any other coach in franchise history.
Also fact: Vigneault has been blessed with an elite and in his prime Roberto Luongo (even Cory Schneider) and Henrik Lundqvist over those two years.
Fact: Vigneault led the Rangers to a SCF, an ECF and is tied for second among NHL head coaches in playoff series coaches (20) and playoff games coaches (117) over the past 10 years. (All the above came from the Rangers’ team page on him.)
Also fact: The Rangers have regressed every year under Vigneault.
Fact: Vigneault is a very good coach who has some serious flaws.
Also fact: Many of the same flaws that caused Vancouver to part ways with him have surfaced in New York as well.
The point isn’t to say Vigneault is a bad coach. That’s never been the argument. The argument is that Vigneault happens to be particularly frustrating because his systems do work very well when they’re actually stocked with the right players. His inability to see who fits where -- and his double standards — provide a ton of room for criticism.
Last night is just another example. So far this year Lundqvist has been worthy of public criticism and had to sit for four games in a row because another guy “gave the team the best chance to win.” Which, as I argued then, is fine. So long as it applies to everyone. (Which is doesn’t.)
After last night’s disaster against the Penguins Vigneault finally felt the need to address the defense. Only ...
Ryan McDonagh was the target. Which is fine, McDonagh was downright awful against the Penguins. Then again so were Dan Girardi and Kevin Klein, who happen to have been awful all year (and in the former’s case the past two years). To this point, neither of those two players have every been called out publicly. In Girardi’s case, he wasn’t called out all of last year, either.
On the podcast two weeks ago, Mike did a good segment about how he (and none of us) would have any idea what goes into who does and does not get called out publicly. I firmly stand by this, since none of us are in the locker room, at practice or behind closed doors in meetings and film. I get it, there’s an entire aspect to this game that we simply don’t see.
But it’s hard not to dig into some of his strategies. After the game he admitted to the fact that the schedule had caught up to the team and he knew the boys were going to be tired. From Steve Zipay’s recap of the game:
Coach Alain Vigneault, who had sarcastically described the recent schedule as “lovely,” said that he knew from the beginning of the season, certain games would be very challenging. “I knew this one was going to be one of those. The schedule caught up to a couple guys.”
Here’s a good example of his two sides: Starting Antti Raanta in a game where you think the team might not have a lot of jump is an incredibly savvy move. If he gets lit up, it’s the first time all year and there’s nothing to it. If Lundqvist is in and gets lit up, it creates even more controversy. Bravo to Vigneault for navigating that minefield.
But then why, if you know the guy are tired, is a fresh and rested Adam Clendneing still sitting in the press box? Wouldn’t you want a rested player to handle things in the event the team is tired from the schedule? Isn’t that the entire point of having a seventh defenseman?
How is that not a frustrating sequence of events? Why is it not OK to at the very least question exactly what it is that’s going on?
Vigneault’s system is brilliant. When working, it seamlessly allows the team to churn defense to offense quickly, forcing teams to both have to defend more and to keep themselves hanging back a bit on offense or risking getting crushed with odd man rushes. When the team was fully healthy, the Rangers did a wonderful job of both covering up the defensive issues and creating offense because of their skill up and down the lineup. The injuries have highlighted just how much the defense has relied on that makeup from the forwards. Lundqvist’s struggles at times have also highlighted this fact.
Which is where the lack of adjustments to said defense is frustrating. This isn’t a new thing, though, and it continues to be ignored by the media either because no one thinks it’s a problem or “that’s just the way it is so why ask.”
Again: The point isn’t to say Vigneault is a bad coach. But there are people, bloggers and media members out there who bring out the pitchforks and torches every time someone dares question him.
We treat this website like a beat reporters page (without the access of course). We try to be objective and fair, and I think we do a really good job with that. Vigneault is a hot button topic because there’s underlying concerns about this team that I can’t shake. The same feeling I got last year — although funny how no one remembers who was concerned back in November of 2015 at the end of the year.
I’m not patting us on the back so much as reminding everyone that thinks this is clickbait or us spinning crap that it’s not. There’s realistic, logical concerns about where things stand right now, and we’re trying to highlight them.
Vigneault stands at the forefront of that.
And you’re allowed to be frustrated with it.