The positives and negatives of Rangers new coach Alain Vigneault

Alain it is.

Alain it is.

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.

Positives:

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.

Negatives:

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.

Unknowns:

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.

44 Responses to “The positives and negatives of Rangers new coach Alain Vigneault”

  1. Jeff says:

    You wouldn’t consider the powerplay as positive?

    • The Suit says:

      Technically Newell Brown coached the PP, but I dont know how much input AV had so I cant form an opinion one way or the other. Though I dont know if a 15.8% conversion is really a positive.

      • Centerman21 says:

        Last year I read that AV deployed a more defensively sound strategy this past season and goals for and PP% took a hit because of it. I don’t get to see them play much in Van but I read the Sedins weren’t cemented on the pp as usual and even worked the PK this past year. I’ve heard AV has a knack for creating a strategy around his personnel. I don’t know a ton about him except that he likes speed up front and will try to Cycle you to death in offensive zone until a space in front opens up for a scoring chance. Suit do you think AV will want to tear up the roster and bring in 1-FA from Van 2- more skilled players up front because last year our top line of Hagelin-Stepan-Callahan are more 2way forwards. Good 3 zone players but maybe Brassard and Nash are the top line now? Or 2/3 of it. Maybe they should add an offensive forward? Thanks for the post. I was one of the 3 people that thought Boucher would be best here. 1-3-1 and our D. One year one Cup. Bam!

        • The Suit says:

          Great questions. Most coaches want to instil their identity on a team and have players who’ll fit their team concept.

          My guess would be he’ll first try to get these guys to adapt. If players don’t adapt, they’ll look to seek players who fit that mold. Maybe they’ll acquire a guy or two over the offseason, but a full scale makeover isn’t likely.

          • Centerman21 says:

            That is why I don’t like switching coaches now with the Cup aspirations this team has. I really hope this works out for the best. Do you think AV game will work for a Brian Boyle? Who I don’t mind in either end zone but in the neutral zone leaves much to be desired.

            • The Suit says:

              I’m with you. Hard to the hit reset button when you’re in your window to win. Time will tell if it’s a good move.

              As far as Boyle is concerned, he’s probably safe. AV depended on Malhotra to eat up those D-zone faceoffs. Boyle can be that guy.

  2. Dave says:

    The best coaches adjust their systems to the players they have. I would have to expect that Alain will recognize the north/south nature of the team and at least implement the middle ground 2-3 LW lock.

    • Centerman21 says:

      That could be a really good idea. Especially in the early going when the Rangers are getting used to a new system to start the season. The 2-3 can be switched to a 2-1-2 in certain instances to be a bit more aggressive. I wanna see AV have this team do some forechecking and not just sit back and trap for 1/2 the game. I’m not an expert on his tactics but I know he likes puck possession. Which is fine but you can win games without the puck too.

  3. agentsmith says:

    dave do you still consider the current group built for tort hockey? the 11-12 team yes. this squad as presently constituted im not so sure. not a north south team.

    • Dave says:

      Suit wrote this, not me.

      The current team, as is, is built for Torts hockey. Prior to the Gaborik trade, I wasn’t so sure.

      • The Suit says:

        Yea I mean it’s the same team plus Moore, Dorsie and Brass. All of whom fit right in.

        • Dave says:

          All three are the type that can adapt to any situation too. They all played a 1-2-2 in CBus before coming here.

  4. Sally says:

    Callahan showed this season that he has some nice hands and can score some really pretty goals. He can adapt. He will be fine.

  5. Walt says:

    Nice analysis, now let’s get the new season going! This team needed a change, say what you may, the entire team didn’t play with the same piss and vineger as the season before. Torts wore thin, a new coach is on the scene, lets see how the team responds. For the Rangers, and the fan base, I hope they play their hearts out for AV!!

  6. Czechthemout!!! says:

    The Canucks play the trap after about the ten – twelve minute mark of the second period if they have a lead. A stupid concept if you ask me. That is a glaring weakness in AV strategy. And it reminds me of Roger Neilson and what we used to do when he was coach here. Mess got rid of him then and for good reason. The Canucks led the league or were within the top 5 in scoring over the lastfour or five seasons. Hopefully, AV has learned his lessons with regards to sitting on leads by employing the stupid trap. If he has not, he will be gone quicker than Torts and be replaced by Mess. The window to win a cup is no more than 3-4 seasons in my opinion.

  7. SalMerc says:

    Lets see who are his coaches. I think it would be nice to see Mess behind the bench. It comes down to the 20 skaters, but attitude and confidence is important. I think some players felt that if they screwed up, they immediately went to the doghouse. Maybe (just maybe) AV has a tolerance for learning and not the tendency to put guys on the bench when they don’t play up to his standards. Time will tell, but the change is needed.

    • Frank says:

      Boy this sounds familiar.

      “Every time there was an injury, I’d play well. And when [the injured player] came back, I’d go right back to the bottom of the barrel. It’s tough to play in this league when you know if you have a bad night, you’re going to the press box. After two years, it was still the same thing. No matter what I did, I didn’t seem to stand a chance with that guy.”

      -Shane O’Brien

      • Justin says:

        In two seasons under AV (08-09, 09-10), he played 76 and 65 games, respectively. Not exactly relegated to the press box. Especially considering the guy was an 8th round draft pick (acquired for depth) and those ‘nucks team were loaded up on the back end.

        • Frank says:

          I think this probably stems from the time when AV through O’Brien under the boss to the media. Same article.

          O’Brien stressed that when his former coach “had a chance to bury me in the media, he did. He never seemed to have my back. I’d be lying if I said I thought I had a chance with him from day one.”

          • Justin says:

            I mean, it’s entirely possible that AV has a habit of doing that, but I can’t imagine he had the kind of success in Van that he did if that was his MO. More likely one stilted player feeling frustrated at his perceived lack of playing time. It’s not like he’s premier talent.

            Worth monitoring going forward, but I’d be surprised if it was an issue.

  8. Joe says:

    Nice analysis Suit, at least on the positives side. As far as the negatives, most of what you said is that he employs systems and strategies that are much like Torts. Thats not a negative! Torts was the negative! I know you refuse to believe that your coveted coach lost the locker room, but it may be time to open your eyes to the obvious truth. The players were no longer interested in playing for this overbearing jack***, it wasn’t his systems they detested it was the man. Hopefully they will enjoy their time playing for Alain and we will all be enjoying watching them lift the Cup soon. LGR!

    • SalMerc says:

      here here

      • The Suit says:

        Never once have I said I refused to believe Torts lost the locker room. I wasn’t in the locker room. No way for me to know that one way or the other until he was fired. Keep up the good work Joe.

        • Joe says:

          I am not sure if that is sarcasm, but based on our past history I’m guessing it is. I don’t have a problem with that.

    • Dave says:

      I’m the one that has a hard time believing he lost the locker room.

    • HARLEMBLUES says:

      Well said Joe.He’s gone Suit,Dave he’s gone.Turn the page and move on.He loss the room.I’d said in prior posts his style wheres guys out.He through Hagelin under the bus while the kid was playing with a busted shoulder for him.The players wanted him gone,the players,the MEN in that room.I welcome the AV era 13-14 lets get to work.

    • Hatrick Swayze says:

      Joe, based on your insight I’m inclined to believe your last name is Micheletti…

  9. Justin says:

    Great post, Suit. I’m with Dave in hoping he adopts a hybrid 2-3 lock or something similar, rather than using a 1-2-2. Although, I don’t think it would be the worst thing in the world, because they would be trying to clog the neutral zone with the lead as opposed to collapsing around the net and granting the opposition free reign around the perimeter for whole shifts at a time.

    • Dave says:

      I’d assume it’s going to be a bit of a hybrid, where they will switch to a 1-2-2 with a lead late in the game. Most teams do that, I think Torts was the rare exception.

      • The Suit says:

        Eh off the top of my head, Bylsma, McLellan, Boudreau, Sutter, Quenneville, all want constant pressure on the puck regardless of lead.

  10. Randy says:

    I think that the transition to a more east/west team may be perfect for the Rangers. When a team makes a transition like that, you must remember that it does not mean the team will completely stop going north/south and hard on the forecheck. I think we will see the same dump, chase, and cause a turnover from the guys who play that game (hagelin, callahan, dorsett, boyle) but we will see more of an east/west creative approach to create offense that we aren’t used to seeing by the skilled guys (stepan, nash, zuccarello, brassard). This leaves us with a perfect mix of guys crashing the boards and making the defensemen keep their heads up and the other guys slowing the pace down, possessing the puck, and coming up with some creative offense to make plays and put the puck in the net. I will be interested to see how the team responds to AV behind the bench, and what kind of hockey we are in for for next season. All in all, I am pretty excited for next season already!

  11. Erixon20 says:

    I’ve read that he is more likely to adapt his gameplan to the players he has and likes to roll four lines = upgrade. Would love to have a ’94 Ranger on the bench with him.

  12. Hoggo says:

    “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.”

    I think you have to take that with a grain of salt, considering that Ryan Kesler, Derek Roy, David Booth, all top-6 players, each played less than 20 games. Line combinations would then get switched around accordingly depending on who was in the lineup at what time.

    “Torts actually kept three line combos together at a frequency above 5%.”

    The Left Wing Lock combos can be deceiving… what you really see there is that Stepan was played mostly with two of either Nash, Callahan, or Hagelin (http://stats.hockeyanalysis.com/showplayer.php?pid=1352&withagainst=true&season=2012-13&sit=5v5) and those 4 of the three lines that are above 5% contain some combination of Step with at least one of those guys.

  13. upstate tom says:

    sorry all, i still want torts back. the players should have in put but never control !!!!

    • Sally says:

      Everyone is speculating that it was the players, including the media, but no one other than Glen Sather and the people he talked with, really know the reasons Torts was let go. Glen isn’t saying. Maybe Jim Dolan had a lot to say and he does have a right to be in control.

  14. Mikeyyy says:

    Lockerroom or not the finality is that sather lost faith in torts.

    I can’t wait to see who the assistants are.

  15. Barry says:

    The only real question in my mind is how to pronounce the guy’s name. Other than that, my feeling is that it’ll take a while to really get this team going, even with a full preseason. Just takes a while for a team to get used to a completely new set of coaches and systems.

  16. paulronty says:

    Although I fervently hope he succeeds as Ranger coach, I have my doubts about AV. Everyone assumes there will be an increase in Ranger offensive prowess, but I think that would have been more likely under Messier.