On January 4, 2016, Alain Vigneault told the press: “We need Hank to re-become the Hank that he’s used to, for us, and from there, I think everything else should fall into place.”
That’s what we said.
In Vigneault’s defense, Lundqvist was coming off a disastrous couple of weeks. Before November 25, he’d had a near-remarkable stretch, with a save percentage of .946. Then he got pulled three times over five weeks, leading up to AV’s bizarre injunction.
Again ... WHAT?
These were the days of “riding the hot hand,” the hand — two of them, even — belonging to Annti Raanta. This phrase provided hours of glee for us on the podcast, but it also meant that Lundqvist was not permitted to work through his weak streak on the ice. The King sat on the bench because, as AV, suddenly a font of pithy phrases, announced, “I love Hank, but I love the team more.”
With this, the Rangers’ famously reticent coach took a logical deployment decision and made it personal. Not a crime ... unless, of course, you’re a fan of consistency, in which case one could argue that, by his own logic, Vigneault clearly loved Dan Girardi more than the team (and continues thus far this season to be deeply enamored with Marc Staal).
AV’s bizarre request was fully fulfilled on Wednesday, February 10th, when Lundqvist “re-became” himself with a vengeance to shut out the surging Pittsburgh Penguins. When I asked Rick Nash about it a week later, the expression on his face was priceless.
Lundqvist is the best in the world. For many of us, however, this moment stuck in our minds, representative not only of Alain Vigneault’s incomprehensibly inconsistent insistence on accountability, but also as a reminder that the Rangers are not a monarchy. For better or for worse, it is the coach, not the King, who leads them.