So, GM Glen Sather finally got to show off his guy.
On a beautiful New York City Friday just after 11am, Alain Vigneault was introduced as the 35th head coach of the New York Rangers.
From the first question he fielded, he will definitely be a major culture shock from the fire and brimstone, black and blue John Tortorella. He began his Q and A session giving a cerebral answer about high percentage plays and unlocking creativity among his high skill players.
After four and a half seasons of defense first, you can almost feel the weight being lifted off of the surgically repaired shoulders of Ryan Callahan and Carl Hagelin, among others.
In an incredible change, Vigneault intends to have multiple assistants, maybe as many as five. One coach will be in charge of the power play, one for the penalty kill. He will be using advanced statistics and other analytics to assist in tweaking his team from game to game. Gone are the constant “on the fly” and “hope it works” mid-game line shakeups. He speaks carefully and thoroughly about his style and intentions, and commands respect through his stature as opposed to fear.
Gone is the complete focus on defense first. Vigneault will be installing a more offensively creative system, whereas using defensive responsibility to generate offense; something the former administration could never quite achieve. He acknowledged the fact that the Rangers lineup contains a great deal of talent and depth, and he intends to use it.
Vigneault has been brought in to win. Whereas there are no sure things in the NHL, with the tools he has on his bench, in his head, and through the system he teaches, Vigneault will win. He will win often. And he could very well be the piece that pushes the Rangers over the hump that they have faced over the past four seasons with Tortorella at the helm.
Alain Vigneault, just from a personality standpoint, has a much more casual demeanour. He even joked at the podium today about his contract negotiations with Glen Sather and the Dallas Stars organization. He shows passion when he needs to, but leads his teams with a steady hand. There will be no coach suspensions as there was with John Tortorella, when he lost his cool with a Washington Capitals fan during a playoff game a few years ago.
His gregarious personality should not be mistaken for running a loose ship, though. When he was hired by the Vancouver Canucks, he inherited a franchise that had become completely undisciplined. He instilled a sense of purpose and pride into his team, and Canucks management added pieces that, as a group, became very hard to play against. Now Vancouver is looked at as one of the elite franchises in the NHL.
Vigneault has inherited Torts’ locker room. He has taken the mantle of a coach who has been brought in for one specific purpose – to win a Stanley Cup. In the salary cap era, it is incredibly hard to keep a team nucleus together over a long period of time, and the Rangers will need every trick in their CBA book to resign their four major RFA’s – Derek Stepan, Hagelin, Mats Zuccarello, and Ryan McDonagh. You get the feeling that AV has been brought in not only to win, but also to make the organization more attractive to its players, and a viable free agent destination.
Consider for a moment Vezina runner up Henrik Lundqvist’s comments on Rangers’ break-up day. He was positively vague about his impending contract negotiations. They were words that put the chill down the spines of every single Rangers fan. Whether or not those comments were sincere or all part of a negotiating tactic, clearly Vigneault’s hiring was part of a plan to make New York a nicer home for its players. Even Sather’s claim that no player outright complained about John Tortorella’s coaching, to go with such a distinct switch in philosophies make the GM’s words seem hollow.
In stark contrast, a report has come out today that John Tortorella will be named the next Canucks bench boss. Whereas Vigneault’s presence in front of the New York media today made all the reporters happy as larks, Vancouver media should prepare themselves for the scarring that comes with a Tortorella presser.
That said, welcome to the New York Rangers, Alain. You won’t have that long to get comfortable.
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