As The Season Opens Vigneault Puts Rangers’ Leadership On Notice

Things are changing in New York.

The New York Rangers start their season tonight against the New York Islanders in a season that feels like a wildcard. One on hand, the Rangers have potentially the most complete offense in the league with the best goalie between the pipes. On the other, the Rangers might have a top-five worst defensive unit. How the Rangers balance the two will go a long way to figuring out what exactly is going to happen this year, but almost everyone agrees the Rangers’ success will be a coin flip.

As if that wasn’t enough, Alain Vigneault opened up something of a wormhole when he made comments about expecting the Rangers to be more “professional” this year. From Larry Brooks’ story on the matter (bold is my emphasis):

“The coaches and management, since the beginning of camp, have gone out of our way to let players know what’s expected of them as far as their on-ice performance, off-ice demands, the way they’re supposed to conduct themselves in different situations.

“Once you know that, and know that’s being a professional, then you know that it’s up to you to go out and do it. We’ve asked our leadership group to make sure that when we’re not around that the players are conducting themselves the way they’re supposed to and that they’ve got their priorities in order. That’s what we expect from this group.”

Vigneault might not realize it, but this quote is just as damning to his effectiveness as a coach as it is to the players being “professionals.” An enormous part of the defense mechanism from both Vigneault and the main stream media was that guys like Dan Girardi, Tanner Glass and Marc Staal were good for the room. That quote above would actually indicate the Rangers had something of a leadership problem last year, something that was never really discussed.

I’m not sure if this is a knee-jerk reaction by Vigneault to defend himself or an actual belief. The Rangers, who have a ton of experience up and down their roster, shouldn’t be plagued by new leadership issues in the room. Especially since last year only saw three players — J.T. Miller, Oscar Lindberg and Kevin Hayes — play key roles as either rookies or sophomores.

The bolded part is somewhat astounding, too. The leadership group this year is exactly the same as it was last year -- unless you think Keith Yandle or Dan Boyle were on it, which I can pretty much guarantee they weren’t.

If this was such a problem last year wasn’t the leadership group, you know, not working? And if that was the case then why was there such a push to keep certain players in the lineup since that was part of the intangibles that made them valuable?

Also, isn’t it Vigneault’s job to make sure that he’s getting the best out of his team? Including being the hammer when needed? Beth talked about this on the podcast last night, but this does come off like a deflection where Vigneault is blaming the players for their lack of focus rather than himself.

Here’s the million dollar question though: Why now? Why say anything about this right now, literally 48 hours before the puck drops on opening night?

Brooks — to his credit — was also surprised. He went on to mention that Vigneault talked about the Rangers being in the right state of mind right now and how he wanted to put an end to last year.

All of those are reasonable things. But again: Why say anything about being professionals publicly?

We don’t know what goes on behind closed doors and, for the most part, the Rangers haven’t made Page 6 since Sean Avery was on the team. Now, players breaking curfew, staying out late drinking before gameday or not being “professionals” may not make the actual papers, but, with many media members and fans on social media, you would expect to hear about it from somewhere.

We’d never really seen the “call out players publicly” thing from Vigneault until the end of last year. It’s a side of him that simply hasn’t been very present during his coach tenure (not just in New York, but everywhere) but reared its head when the pressure started mounting.

While last year the public comments were more aligned with rookies and kids, this comment seems directly in line with the veterans, many of whom were firmly in the “under-preforming” category last year.

If you’re one to look at the glass half full, maybe that’s the answer. Maybe Vigneault’s comment is to make sure this year is going to be very different in terms of both the way he works the lineup and the way he holds players responsible. Glass being sent down -- even though it was basically a necessity with the talent in the lineup — would support this claim.

If that’s the case, then this is a good thing. If Vigneault is making a point that he’s not going to be giving out free passes this year, it would put everyone on notice. Towards the end of last year Vigneault tried to take this stance but his own roster decisions undermined him.

The Rangers need change. Their offense has taken a quantum leap forward, but might be held back by changes the team didn’t or couldn’t make on defense. We’re going to get a better idea of that reality soon enough.

All of these are guesses though. We won’t know more about the meaning behind this until later in the season -- if at all.

It just seems like a strange time to open the door to this aspect of the team.