Archive for Coaching
Back by popular demand, we’ve decided to kick start our annual player, coaching, and management report cards. As always, these grades aren’t just based on stats, but also the execution of each personnel or player’s respective role within the organization. Obviously there’s some subjectivity here, but that’s what makes this interesting and conversational.
Before I get started on AV and company, let me first say that grading coaching specifically is not easy. Many of the greatest coaches in this game have been fired multiple times over, and it’s never because they lost their ability to do what they do. More often than not, those decisions typically come down to politics.
So how does one evaluate a coaching staff?
During the early part of the season when the Blueshirts were regularly getting crushed by Western Conference foes, The King was not himself. And not coincidentally, during the second half of the year when the club came together, Lundqvist returned to his usual Vezina form. Now Lundqvist has raised his game again, to an otherworldly level that no other netminder alive can approach, and suddenly the team is on the cusp of the Stanley Cup Finals.
Lundqvist’s talent, focus and desire are obviously keys to his success and have never been in question. But how much of his recent run is due to coach Alain Vigneault’s insistence on giving his backups – first Martin Biron, then Cam Talbot – a larger workload this season?
Lundqvist has shouldered an absurdly high workload in recent years, especially now that he’s no longer a young pup. Including playoffs, he’s started 597 games and logged 32,945 minutes over the last eight seasons and has finished in the top-six in games played for a goalie in all but one of those years. (Lundqvist played a staggering 3,331 minutes in the condensed lockout-shortened season, and played 5,005, 4,353, 4,204, 4,533, 4,913, 4,746 minutes in his previous six seasons, respectively).
Picture it: it’s a beautiful late spring day in New York City, sundress weather, lunchtime in Midtown with tons of people relaxing in the middle of another work day. All of a sudden, you get a text. Then another. And another, followed by NHL alerts. Your coach has just been fired after a slaughter of an exit from the Eastern Conference Semi’s in five games.
If you’re a diehard Rangers fan, you respond in one of two ways: joyous applause or incredulous anger and questioning. If you’re this girl, it’s the second. Of all the things that came out of my mouth while walking to grab lunch that day, some examples are: How could they do this? Why is Sather’s job safe but no coach can get a break? Who the [expletive] will replace him? They’re gonna hire some scrub and the Rangers’ talent is gonna go to waste. I adored John’s passion and fire, and I thought his gritty style of coaching was #therightway. Maybe because my greatest coaches have been like that, maybe cause hockey just seems so hard.
When Alain Vigneault had some choice comments for J.T. Miller following his demotion back to the AHL, after being given a golden opportunity to take a critical role for the Rangers, many fans called for AV’s head. The arguments thrown out had nothing to do with his successes as the coach this year, but that he has “never liked kids and refuses to play the kids.” It’s a silly argument actually.
Let’s use AV’s recent history –his stint with the Canucks– as the barometer for playing the kids. He started there as the head coach in 2006-2007. Since the 2004-2005 season never happened, I think it’s fair to start with the 2003 draft as our cutoff for our little experiment, seeing how many kids were drafted by and played for the Canucks under AV. Technically, I can use the 2001 draft since Kevin Bieksa (5th round of 2001 draft) didn’t play his first full season until 2006-2007. But, let’s use 2003 as the cutoff.
Quick note: Last night’s goal breakdown will be posted this afternoon.
Back by popular demand, we’ve decided to resurrect our hotly contested player, coaching, and management report cards. For those of you new to the blog, the staff and I hand out ‘performance grades’ around the mid-way point of the regular season and just after the commencement of the playoffs. As always, these grades aren’t just based on stats, but also the execution of each personnel or player’s respective role within the organization.
Before I get started with AV’s grade, I just wanted to reiterate that we try to be thorough with these posts. Although most of us have played hockey at some level, we know we’re not experts. If we were, we’d be working in hockey ops. With that said, we feel we know the game better than others who cover it, so we hope you enjoy this series.
So that’s my preamble, let’s move along.
If any conclusions can be drawn from the apparent goaltending ‘drama’ that has been going on in New York it is that Alain Vigneault is still getting to know his team and he’s still learning which buttons to press with which players. Henrik Lundqvist is usually harder on himself than anyone else could be; such is his will to win. He won’t have been happy backing up Cam Talbot for Monday’s depressing defeat against the Jets but if the result is a hot streak from Lundqvist who are we to second guess the decision?
While some prefer to focus on a controversy, Cam Talbot is someone that has clearly grown with every start and you can see his confidence grow with every save – despite the defeat last night. It appears that Vigneault may be flirting with a goalie controversy but is it just a coach still familiarising himself with the assets at his disposal? Could it even be a message to the rest of the team rather than the star goaltender?
For those paying attention, Vigneault has prodded countless players over the past few weeks and months and given the middling results so far this season that is exactly what he should be doing. The Michael Del Zotto situation has been one where the coach has been unafraid to publicly challenge a player to be better. Vigneault has publicly expressed his opinion on Benoit Pouliot while players such as Mats Zuccarello, Carl Hagelin and John Moore have been asked for more from the coach publicly. With the inconsistent and at times disappointing performances from numerous players on the roster this season it stands to reason that the coach will look to coach and prod his players for better performances.
Before the already numerous Alain Vigneault haters get their tail feathers ruffled, remember that we are only SEVEN games into the season, so none of this means a whole lot yet. However, Vigneault was brought in to implement widespread changes to the team’s tactics and approach to the game, so we are understandably keeping a close eye on the new bench boss in the early going. So without further ado, here are several of the things we expected from Vigneault when he was hired, and how they’ve actually turned out in the infancy of the 2013-2014 campaign.
Less line juggling – Not so much. To be fair, Vigneault would be much better able to keep his preferred combinations together if the Rangers hadn’t been ravaged by the injury bug, but so far Vigneault has shifted his players around as much as John Tortorella ever did. Taylor Pyatt on the first line? Come on. Read More→
Dan Rosen at NHL.com had an interesting nugget of information this morning, noting that “Brian Leetch was prepared to move back to New York to join Mark Messier on the New York Rangers’ coaching staff” should Messier win the head coaching job in New York. Leetch would have been one of Messier’s assistants, likely –my assumption– working with the defensemen and the powerplay.
Instead, Alain Vigneault was named head coach, and Leetch wound up working in Brendan Shanahan’s Department of Player Safety office.
This past offseason Glen Sather kept this roster pretty much intact in hopes that Alain Vineault and his new coaching staff would be the difference makers to get this team over the hump. With that said, any time a team changes coaches there’s always going to be some roster turnover that follows.
At this point we don’t know what system AV has in store for the Rangers, though Nash vaguely remarked “defense first” which obviously can mean a lot of different things and Girardi mentioned “four man rushes, same as Torts”. However, we do know that AV has a starkly different personality than Torts and will certainly bring a different approach to dealing with his players one-on-one. More often than not, it’s personalities and TOI that generally cause players and coaches to gel or jive, not the x’s and o’s. After all, most players at this level can adapt to different systems and formations.
So turnover is inevitable. And to think that every current Ranger is going to fit is a bit naive.
New assistant coach Ulf Samuelsson will likely be in charge of the defense, much the way Mike Sullivan was in charge of the defense last season. A noted tough guy/fighter during his playing days, Samuelsson was also incredibly sound defensively and a reliable top-four defenseman for the Whalers, Penguins, and Rangers. Samuelsson spent five years as an assistant with Phoenix, where he had a profound impact on the young defensemen.
Among those that Samuelsson tutored in Phoenix (that are still there): Keith Yandle, Zbynek Michalek, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, and David Schlemko. Yandle has already solidified himself as a top pairing defenseman, and OEL might turn into one of the best defensemen in the league (at worst, he’s a top-four guy). Other guys to pass through Phoenix during Samuelsson’s tenure: Ed Jovanovski, Keith Ballard, and Derek Morris. That’s some track record for a five year assistant coach.