Every site you go to, every poll you read, most Rangers fans wanted Alain Vigneault over any other coach on the job market. Some wanted Mark Messier. A few wanted Dave Tippett. Maybe three people wanted Guy Boucher or Lindy Ruff. But for the most part, AV has been the guy from fans and media alike.
I understand the appeal. He’s the most winningest coach available (except for Torts, oddly enough). However, based on comments I’ve read on this site and on Twitter, it’s interesting how little people know about Alain Vigneault other than his win-loss record. Since the whole “Alain would have won a Cup, if it weren’t for Luongo” is pretty much the extent of anyone’s analysis, I figured today would be a good time to break down the positives and negatives of having Vigneault as our new head coach. Personally, I would have preferred an AHL coach, or maybe an assistant NHL coach, instead of the same old hat. Oh well.
It’s hard to argue against success. Under Alain’s leadership, the Canucks missed the playoffs once in seven seasons. He left Vancouver with a 313-170-57 regular-season record, and a 33-32 record in the playoffs. You don’t win that much by just having a talented roster. You need a coach who can get the most out of your players, otherwise you’re just good on paper.
Alain also reinvented the wheel a bit with zone matching. He was one of the first coaches to deploy his first line almost exclusively in the offensive zone (after a whistle), while starting his checking line almost exclusively in the defensive zone. Although this limits your offensive balance, it does give your top line the best chance at succeeding.
Speaking of getting top players to perform, Alexandre Burrows, the Sedin twins and Ryan Kesler never really had a bad season under Alain’s watch. That’s pretty impressive considering how many top players in this league **** the bag at least once in a while.
The final positive is Alain had a much better relationship with the media in Vancouver than Tortorella had in NY. While filling reporters note pads isn’t any coaches job, it certainly helps to have the media on your side. Had it not been for this site you are reading right now, I’m not confident too many people would have had a firm grasp on what Tortorella was trying to do here.
I think most of you are aware I didn’t agree with many of the complaints a certain segment of this fan base had against John Tortorella. What’s interesting though is most seem unaware many of their complaints were quite similar to the ones Canucks fans had for Alain.
For example, many argued Tortorella over relied on Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh and that he gave those two way too many minutes. However, during this year’s playoffs Girardi and McD played 25:58 and 25:52 per game respectively, while Kevin Bieksa played 25:50 per game and Alex Elder played 26:57.
After my post about why coaches frequently line juggle, our readers seemed to stop complaining about Torts’ propensity to do so. Still, you should know that other than the top line of the Sedin twins and Burrows, Alain didn’t keep any lines together more than 5% of the time at even strength this season. Meanwhile, other than the Hags-Stepan-Cally line, Torts actually kept three line combos together at a frequency above 5%. So this notion that Alain doesn’t tweak his lines with great frequency is pretty unfounded.
According to some, Alain is going to be a godsend for Kreider and JT Miller, who Tortorella supposedly FUBAR’d. Ask Canuckleheads who’s to blame for Cody Hodgson being shipped out of town. Compare how many times 1st round pick Jordan Schroeder had been bounced back and forth to the AHL vs. Kreider. Alain’s recent history of dealing with rookies may not be up to some fans’ expectations.
Then of course there’s the whole “defense first” complaint, and how being good on the defensive side of the puck somehow suffocates a team’s ability to produce offense. Well, Alain Vigneault ran a 1-2-2 forecheck and would drop guys back to trap up the neutral zone with a lead. This strategy is actually what gave man birth to the term “defense first,” not shot blocking. I’m not sure how well a return to Renney-era hockey is going to go over with this crowd.
Overall, I don’t think these negatives are all that bad. The point is many considered these same negatives as reasons why Torts held the team back. While I’m not worried about a lot of this, there is one glaring issue which has me skeptical about his hiring. This team is built to play Tortorella hockey and now Tortorella is gone.
Is Alain going to continue with the same type of system Torts had in place, but just be a different personality? I wouldn’t bet on it. If we are going to become a finesse team like the Canucks, how does our current makeup fit into a new identity? Is Alain going to bury Callahan with 20% zone starts? Are we going to keep Richie? How useful will Hagelin be if we’re not going to try to be a strong forechecking team? Will Nash mesh? Will our defense?
These are honest questions, and at this point I don’t have any answers.