Alain Vigneault was hired to win a Stanley Cup. That’s not just a cliche that every coach says to endear himself to fans, it’s the truth of the matter. After John Tortorella followed up an Eastern Conference Finals appearance with a second round playoff exit last year, GM Glen Sather determined that a new head man was needed to push the Blueshirts over the top and capture hockey’s ultimate prize.
Vigneault, who came within a single game of winning the Cup in 2011, was viewed as the man that could get more out of the team’s offense to go with its trademark top goalie and stellar defense. But just six months after Sather made the coaching switch, his team is much further away from winning it all than when Vigneault arrived.
That’s not all Vigneault’s fault – the Rangers just don’t have the personnel to play his style, which has proven to be very effective in the past. Still, it’s the reality of the situation over 40% of the way through the season, and there aren’t any quick fixes on the horizon.
Sure, it’s still early enough that the club’s most important players could turn their seasons around and lead the team’s playoff push. But it’s probably more likely that the team’s struggles continue and the Rangers fall short of the postseason (that’s based on personal observation and a very convincing trend).
So what should be the team’s course of action should things continue like this for the next month or two? Some have suggested that Sather deal pending unrestricted free agents like Dan Girardi and Ryan Callahan to gather younger talent in return for soon to be very expensive veterans, several of whom are displaying concerning signs for their future anyway. The logic is that the Rangers still have several key core pieces and might not be terribly far off from their old trajectory, but the injection of a few more Vigneault-type players could make a huge difference.
That’s really not a silly way of looking at things, but it would be a surprise if Sather chose to go that route. Remember, Vigneault was billed as the missing piece, not a man the team would have to be rebuilt around. To rebuild is to fail, to give up to many fans, and Sather can’t afford to do that.
Not after the dark years at the beginning of his tenure, not after going all-in on Vigneault and declining to buy out Brad Richards. Sather has done an outstanding job in general in recent years and deserves praise for dramatically altering his team-building philosophy, but no matter what owner James Dolan has said about Sather’s future in New York, the pressure is building. This is New York, after all, and fans expect only the best. With the 2011-2012 club so close to the top of the mountain, Sather took a huge gamble by changing bench bosses.
It’s far more likely that Sather will desperately seek to add pieces on the fly this year to give Vigneault as many tools as possible to make that gamble pay-off. It could come at the expense of some youngsters and draft picks, but that’s the likely outlook. Desperation moves rarely pay off, but Sather has already gone all-in and it’s pretty unusual to push all your chips to the middle of the table and then back off."The catch-22 the Rangers are caught in",