My Twitter feed after games is often as mess. 90% of the people are respectful (even if they think I'm a moron) and most want healthy, topical debates. 10% harp on the same points over and over and over again. They yell. They scream. All. The. Time.
Alain Vigneault seems to be the center of these debates right now. The anti-stats crew used to focus on Dan Girardi, but even they’ve realized that was a losing battle, and since God-forbid they lose the war, they’ve picked another battle to fight.
I don’t hate Vigneault. I don’t think he’s a bad coach. I’m just not sure he’s the right coach — and that’s an enormous difference. With the Rangers in final negotiations to allow the greatest goaltender in organizational history (potentially league history) to go ringless, I think it’s a more pressing question than some people seem to want to believe.
Do I demand a lot out of Vigneault? Hell yes. The Rangers need a Stanley Cup parade, and they need one in the next three or five years.
Let's get something out of the way right now: Vigneault is a good hockey coach. His system is brilliant when properly stocked with the correct players, his regular season record speaks for itself and he's had that success with two separate teams.
It's also true though, that the Rangers have regressed every year under the helm (especially since he's gotten his hands on personnel decisions), he's had massive amounts of success with teams who have elite-level goaltenders and he was fired from one team where he had similar success. Those problems followed him to New York, like it or not.
Both of those opinions can exist at the same time. Vigneault is a good coach who is also his own worst enemy.
I think Vigneault's hands off approach to the locker room is a good one, especially with the amount of veterans in the room. His ice time distribution is brilliant -- the exact opposite of the John Tortorella style that runs his guys into the ground -- and makes a big difference come the playoffs. On top of that, the way he handles himself in the room from Tortorella was a welcomed change the team seemed to respond to.
Vigneault has a major issue with making adjustments though. See Girardi against the triplets in the ECF again and again and again in 2015. See the defense not getting adjusted last year despite the overwhelming evidence they weren’t going to be able to handle the better teams. See the continued lack of personnel choices to replace Glass for two years.
Vigneault has also become sort of passive-aggressive with the media. He calls out some players but not others. Certain players are never criticized while others are blasted publicly. When he does have to go after some veterans, he does it behind a shield of clues and leaves it to the media to put the pieces together.
After the game in Columbus Vigneault had a perfect opportunity to praise Adam Clendening thanks to a question about his two goals. He deflected it, used it to praise the veterans and then ignored it. Lundqvist, for what it's worth, praised the hell out of Clendening.
Is this something small? Yes. Is it insignificant? Maybe, I don't know, I'm not in the room. But it's absolutely frustrating.
There's something that remains so embedded in the minds of those who refuse to see criticism that this story was necessitated.
The insistence from the fancy stat crowd to play Clendening, or Dylan McIlrath or Emerson Etem is/was not born from a place of those players being total game changers.
Clendening has a power play QB skill set, can move the puck out of the defensive zone effectively and can control the puck on the power play. He is not Bobby Orr. He is not Brian Leetch. He is not P.K. Subban. Not one reputable blogger is suggesting these things.
The demand comes from the reality that Girardi and Kevin Klein simply haven't been good enough. Thus, Clendening is a better option than both and since the defense has been an enormous issue all year no stones should be left unturned to fixing it. Clendening should be playing. Not because he immediately turns the Rangers into contenders, but because he more than likely makes them better. Not that the bar is set high to begin with, but the goal should be to put the best team out there.
This is the same thing as in the past with Vigneault's insistence to use veterans over quality younger players. A road we're run down over and over.
It's not that McIlrath was an amazing defenseman, not one reputable blogger ever said that. It's that McIlrath sat in favor of not just a struggling Girardi but an INJURED struggling Girardi. (Struggling might be kind here. Overwhelmed might work better.)
Here's another one. It's not that Etem was a game-changing forward. Not one reputable blogger ever said that. It's that Etem sat in favor of Tanner Glass. It's that he got as much power play time in 19 games COMBINED as Jayson Megna did in his first game called up.
In the cases of Etem and McIlrath they're not even in the NHL anymore. But neither is Glass and Girardi shouldn't be. Not giving youth opportunities over struggling vets is not a good strategy -- especially in the salary cap era. Telling me Clendening has played for five NHL teams so of course he’s bad is an awful argument. Two of those teams (Chicago and Pittsburgh) had too much talent for him, the other two (Edmonton and Vancouver) are bad at talent analysis. The fifth team (the Rangers) are more the latter than the former.
The Rangers have a wonderful record, part of which is because of the man at the helm and part of which is because the Rangers have so much skill up front they can’t get out of their own way. It’s a good thing. A really good thing, actually. It’s what makes them so dangerous.
The common defense is his record. It’s always his record, and in a way it should be. Vigneault is winning games in the regular season faster than any coach in the organization’s history. His trips to the Stanley Cup Final backed by a trip to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final should be looked at as a golden age of Rangers hockey, despite the lack of the parade.
But here’s the dirty little secret when it comes to Vigneault: He’s never been the bride, he’s always been the bridesmaid. On top of that, Vigneault has a history of being an incredible regular season coach who often sees his team flop in the playoffs.
The same people who defense Vigneault to the death are the same people who want Rick Nash’s head on a stick because he doesn’t score enough in the playoffs. It goes both ways.
I find myself being very tough on Vigneault. Maybe it’s because he was supposed to be the guy to take the Rangers over the hump and he hasn’t. More often, though, I think it all traces back to the summer of 2015, when the Rangers blew up their own Stanley Cup team and brought in Vigneault guys instead. (Argue against this all you want, there’s no way Glen Sather didn’t sit down with Vigneault and ask him what changes he wanted. He might have enabled him by allowing some of them, but they had that conversation.)
No matter what: Vigneault does exist in those two lights. He’s a very good coach who often hasn’t been good enough. If you’re alright with the Rangers being a “well see if they get hot and if Lundqvist can carry them” team then that’s fine. I happen to be in that camp.
But Vigneault wants more because he has to. He has to know that another flop in the playoffs would see his leash get tight enough that it chokes him if not ends his tenure in New York.
So he has to be better, and he can be. The only problem is he might not be able to get out of his own way to do it.