‘Rangers Inside And Out’
By Sean Hartnett
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Alain Vigneault is about to trade the serene, picturesque environs of the Western Canadian port city, Vancouver, for the booming metropolis that is New York City.
Multiple sources reported on Tuesday that Vigneault and the Rangers agreed to a five-year contract worth $10 million. An official announcement from the Rangers confirming the hire is expected in the coming days.
Once general manager Glen Sather opted to pull the plug on John Tortorella and his overbearing methods, it became abundantly clear that the Blueshirts needed to turn to the polar opposite of Tortorella. His abrasive coaching style and stubborn philosophies had run their course.
It was the right time for the Rangers to wash their hands of Tortorella and obtain a head coach who can maximize the collective talents of a largely youthful and talented roster — rather than one who tried to strip his roster of their natural instincts by forcing them to play an unforgiving, defensively-emphasized system.
When examining Vigneault’s resume, it’s clear that he’s not only the ideal man to transform the Rangers into an offensively-expressive team on the ice, but also an immediate upgrade over Tortorella in countless ways.
Let’s get this straight: I’m not bashing Tortorella’s tenure in New York by any means. Torts definitely pushed this team a huge step forward in his four-and-a-half years behind the Madison Square Garden bench. No one is arguing that.
$2 million-per-year is a lot of coin for a head coach in the NHL. That being said, what the Rangers are getting in Vigneault is an absolute steal of a coach. He never should have paid the price for the Canucks being eliminated in the first round in back-to-back playoff appearances.
On the surface, firing a coach who had not delivered the Stanley Cup in seven seasons is understandable. Yet, in Vigneault’s case, it was the failure of general manager Mike Gillis, who didn’t equip Vigneault with deeper offensive talents to lessen the reliance on the Sedin twins and Ryan Kesler, that really stands out as the root cause of Vancouver’s inability to make it out of the first round in consecutive seasons.
VIGNEAULT IS READY TO REBUILD THE RANGERS’ CONFIDENCE
When Vigneault takes charge at his new address in the busy and bustling epicenter that is “The World’s Most Famous Arena,” he will be charged with transforming a team whose confidence waned in the final days of Tortorella’s reign. Tortorella choked out the natural decision-making of the majority of his talents by mercilessly being in their ears.
You only need to observe the timid, self-doubting player that is now Brad Richards, who metamorphosed in the power play during Tortorella’s final year. It’s difficult to turn a gifted, renowned playmaker into one who was unsure of himself while possessing the puck at the point on the power play.
Vigneault is a very different character. The 52-year-old Quebec native is relatable with his players. He’s a natural communicator and prepares his players in ways that they can grasp. If I can borrow a baseball term, Vigneault is a “captain video” kind of guy.
He is also someone who embraces all the information in front of him to make decisions and uses advanced statistics to get an edge in matchups. Vigneault implemented in-house stat-tracking in Vancouver, and he’s not afraid to use numbers to expose an opponent’s weakness.
Under Vigneault, the Rangers will know their roles. Both Tortorella and his predecessor, Tom Renney, couldn’t resist chopping and changing their lines. It never allowed for the Rangers’ stars to develop natural chemistry.
I think Vigneault will bring a lot of calm to the locker room. His methodical approach will be a breath of fresh air for a group of players who became jaded through Tortorella’s insistence on playing demanding, all-effort hockey every night.
VIGNEAULT CAN HANDLE THE PRESSURE OF NEW YORK
In Montreal in 1997, Vigneault was baptized under fire as a raw, 36-year-old head coach. After making the playoffs in his first year in charge with the Canadiens, Vigneault suffered two back-to-back playoff-less seasons before being fired halfway through his fourth year.
The impression that I get is that Vigneault is the type of coach who continues to learn from his experiences, whether good or bad. He was able to form his own identity as a coach in two highly-pressured hockey markets in Montreal and Vancouver, and like Tortorella, he did not allow the media to influence his philosophies.
Vigneault’s thick skin is probably the only thing that he shares in common with Tortorella. I’m betting that he’ll turn out to be the remedy that this Rangers team requires.
You can follow Sean on Twitter @HartnettHockey.
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