Lindy Ruff Isn’t The Answer

The New York Rangers are in a tailspin. A 1-5-2 start has not only prompted the national media to begin questioning whether or not Alain Vigneault should still be around, but it’s also left the Rangers in a real danger of missing the playoffs.

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With the warning lights flashing and the Rangers dying on the vine, the natural thought is about life after Vigneault. If Jeff Gorton decides he can’t wait much longer to do something (and in reality, he can’t), then what comes next?

Lindy Ruff’s hiring this summer raised eyebrows. Adam discussed how Ruff’s hiring was basically because the former head coach had so much experience with Vigneault and Scott Arniel, and that there was a comfort level there. From his story:

But again, what coaching staff has been doing the last few years on defense has not worked. This summer could have been a great opportunity for the coaching staff to do some soul searching. They’re clearly missing something, fine. The game changes and everybody can learn and improve. They could have cast a wide net, learning different perspectives from European coaches, junior hockey coaches, and data specialists. Unfamiliar people outside their school of thought who might have ideas that they haven’t considered.

Instead, the Rangers zeroed in on someone convenient and familiar. Someone in-network. To be fair, we don’t know what other ideas were floated and people were talked to. But it’s easy to infer that there wasn’t much consideration of other options. Instead of a far-reaching search of diverse backgrounds and ideas, they immediately resorted to continuing a circle of mutual back-patting. There are very few degrees of separation between the people who are tasked with coaching the Rangers.

With all that in mind, right now, the expectation is to have to be Ruff replace Vigneault if he’s hired. Why? Because he’s the easy option; here’s a guy who is already in the organization, and in the case of Ruff, someone with head-coaching experience. The reality is the Rangers didn’t hire him solely because they expected to replace Vigneault in the near future – but it probably factored into the decision.

And there lies the problem.

I’m going to be blunt: If Vigneault wants something, it’s not good for the team right now. If Vigneault was OK with someone being brought on board, they’re not OK for the team right now. Sorry.

If Gorton decides to fire Vigneault, he needs to burn the coaching staff to the ground. You might not want to hear that just three weeks into a season – a season in which we thought the Rangers could actually contend – but too damn bad. They made this bed and now they probably need to lie in it; doing the same old thing hasn’t worked.

The Rangers look exactly the same right now as they did three years ago. Tell me how Ruff – who is so similar to Vigneault in too many ways – would be any different? Another voice? A tougher guy in the room? Maybe. Systemically? Developmentally? Same thing, different name.

That’s not good enough. Period.

I would be disappointed if Gorton wasn’t quietly checking into exit strategies when it came to his head coach. Darryl Sutter is twiddling his thumbs on the beach waiting for a job. If the Rangers aren’t going full re-build (because at that point throw Mark Messier behind the bench, since he can be manipulated), then Sutter gives the team the best shot to win right now. Does he have flaws? Of course he does, all coaches do. But at least the Rangers would be getting a guy who has won before, and knows how important it is to build a team from the ground up; throwing his sins in the same category as the Kings’ horrific cap management isn’t fair.

If he wants to go in a different direction, there NCAA options out there might make sense. Guys who are young and coming up, and interested in trying newer, innovative tactics. (Perhaps I could throw a vote in for my boy Rand Pecknold from Quinnipiac?) At least these options could provide something different from what they’ve done in the past.

This team has a shelf life, like or not. Henrik Lundqvist isn’t getting any younger. Ryan McDonagh’s going to need a big ass raise that the Rangers may not be able to afford. The kids need to be paid because the Rangers elected to pay them more later to keep overpaid veterans around at the time. Well the clock is ticking, because after this season, the bills are going to start piling up between all of that.

So what happens now? What do we learn if the team goes for it and implodes? What do we learn if Gorton brings back more of the same? Nothing.

If the Rangers are blowing up, then they need to destroy nearly everything. Trade away Rick Nash and Michael Grabner for assets. Make a decision between Kevin Hayes and J.T. Miller and see if you can’t get a king’s ransom for the one you don’t pick. Throw Nick Holden anywhere he’ll be taken before the trade deadline, and try to unload Marc Staal even if you have to eat salary. Move David Desharnais to a contender at the deadline for a nice pick for a desperate team. Bring up Neal Pionk and Filip Chytil, and give the kids a real run.

But if that’s going to happen, Ruff shouldn’t be promoted to head coach. And if Gorton doesn’t want that to happen, then he needs to make a move sooner rather than later. The Rangers don’t have much time.

Whatever he decides to do, the only thing that’s clear it that Ruff isn’t the answer.