In a somewhat surprising bit of news, the New York Rangers extended Alain Vigneault through 2020.
This fanbase does tend to divide itself like oil and water on key subjects. Dan Girardi. Henrik Lundqvist. And, of course, Vigneault.
I’ve been highly critical of Vigneault in this space. It’s not that I don’t think he’s a good coach (the numbers speak for themselves), I’m just not convinced he’s the right coach. There’s an enormous difference there some refuse to see, but I think there’s plenty of evidence that shows Vigneault probably isn’t the right coach.
Even with my reservations about him being the right coach, this extension is not worth getting worked up over on the surface.
You want to know who takes on the biggest risk with this extension? James Dolan’s wallet. That’s it. There’s no salary cap for coaches, no buyouts needed and no penalty. The Rangers could fire Vigneault today, if they wanted, and all that would change would be them owing him more money. We talked about this extensivley on Wednesday night’s podcast.
It’s not your money. It’s not my money. It’s Dolan’s money. He can spend it how he wants, and it doesn’t change a damn thing about anything.
Below the surface, it does have tremors that should make you somewhat uncomfortable. There was a belief that Vigneault was on a short leash this season because of last year’s playoff disaster, but obviously that’s not the case.
Sitting in the fourth of a five-year contract, the timing here is peculiar. Why not allow Vigneault an opportunity to right last year’s wrongs? His regular season success has always been a big talking point for his supporters, but the Rangers have regressed from Stanley Cup finalists, to Eastern Conference finalists to playoff embarrassments in his three years. He continues to utilize the same traits that got him fired from Vancouver, has yet to realize he needs to adjust his defense, will not deviate from his trusted veterans and has taken a more public approach to the few players he does call out.
These problems and complaints aren’t new. These problems and complaints feel very similar to the things we saw (and warned you about) last year. And yet the Rangers felt that, no, Vigneault needed to prove nothing, that he’d done enough already and he was good to be extended.
And his regular season success is worth celebrating. But in a world where the final matter is the bottom line (winning the Stanley Cup) he’s been close but not close enough more often than not. Maybe the Rangers don’t think there’s a better option out there (which could be defended) but even so you’d think if that were the case they’d wait until next year to make that decision. They didn’t.
Again, who cares about the physical extension. It’s money and money alone, and not yours or mine. But the message and the timing is strange.
There’s another party to add to this mix, and it’s the guy who made this call: Jeff Gorton.
To this point Gorton has remained ominously silent about this New York Rangers team — a group that looks good but not good enough. He hasn’t made any moves nor has he spoken to the media — although he did pick up Matt Puempel on waivers and trade Dylan McIlrath; both moves were minor. In fact, this extension for Vigneault represents the first concrete thing he’s done all year with this team.
Ultimately it’s up to Gorton to structure and put together this team. We’ve seen Vigneault unable to avoid playing with his favorite toys, but Gorton buys them for him in the first place, so he has the control.
I maintain that Vigneault is a very good coach with a very good system. His biggest flaw is a flaw that can be removed from him entirely, and that’s his poor personnel choices. Look at the offense, as an example. When forced to play actual skill he can’t go too wrong.
Then look at the untouched defense and he can’t go too right. Because he either can’t help himself or doesn’t want to. I’m unsure which is worse. The goaltending situation is, sadly, unknowable. Vigneault seems willing to cast shadows on the very man who happens to have an enormous say in what earned him the extension in the first place, but so be it.
We’re (hopefully) going to see a seismic shift this summer one way or another. Girardi isn’t going to get claimed by Vegas in expansion (even if he waives his no trade clause) and the Rangers don’t have any option other than buying him out. Gorton will most likely make a run at Kevin Shattenkirk if available, and has decisions to make about who to keep up front.
The Rangers are poised to be a very dangerous team in the future — which is why it’s so frustrating to see them stick with the status quo — but it will require Gorton to do some work. This contract extension for Vigneault just signals that they’re OK with what he’s done to this point.
Which, to be honest, would have been fine next year. But for this vote of confidence to come this week is peculiar to say the least.