Archive for Coaching
Regardless of their current record, the Rangers have a lot of passengers at present – quite a few players need to improve beyond just the four we discussed yesterday. If we were being critical, how much of the solid yet unspectacular record the Rangers currently have is the product of Rick Nash’s season (so far) and Henrik Lundqvist’s December hot streak? You can argue core players such as Chris Kreider, Ryan McDonagh, and others need to be better, but you can also reasonably suggest Alain Vigneault needs to change as well.
Most elite players (goaltending aside) around the league are ridden by their head coaches: Double shifted, out on the ice as much as reasonably possible. Sure, at times John Tortorella rode his star players too much, which can be counterproductive but consider this: Amongst the top-30 goal scorers in the league, Rick Nash sits just 19th in ice time. Nash is definitely not playing too much.
Those with less ice time than Nash included Tampa’s Kucherov, Gustav Nyquist and Tomas Tatar in Detroit, and Max Pacioretty of Montreal – players on clubs who, arguably, all ice more balanced and deeper line-ups than the Rangers do up front. All three clubs certainly have more than two settled lines, which is all the Rangers have at the moment. Given the way the Islanders fourth line outworked the Rangers on Tuesday, are the Rangers losing games because they haven’t got the depth they require?
It’s not exactly the midpoint of the season, but now is as good a time as any to begin our midseason grades. It also helps that I had writer’s block and no idea what else to write about, so this won. I’ll be covering the goalies and coaching this year, and I’ll be grading the coaching staff at the group level. I won’t be breaking it down into each assistant coach.
Henrik Lundqvist: 20-9-3, 2.31 GAA, .917 SV%, 5 SO
Hank had another very slow start to the year, allowing three or more goals in 11 of the first 20 games of the season. His numbers remained respectable due to four shutouts in that span, but it was the second season in a row where people wondered if Hank was starting to decline. Of course Hank turned it on in the next 12 games, allowing three or more in just two games.
Although the New York Rangers’ lines are in a state of flux due to injuries, we have seen enough games thus far to get a fair barometer on how Alain Vigneault will deploy his lines throughout the season. Earlier this month, prior to the start of the season, I took a guess at how AV would deploy his lines. The only thing that we knew for sure at that point was that the fourth line would get buried with defensive zone starts. That part at least remains true.
Before we get into it, we should note that J.T. Miller, Jesper Fast, Chris Mueller, and Ryan Malone haven’t really played enough for the zone start percentages to be a true barometer of where AV has been starting them. However, the latter three have spent most of their time on the fourth line, with Miller getting most of his time on the third line (one game on the fourth line). The numbers for these players may be skewed a bit.
Sometimes opportunity is about timing. Anthony Duclair, JT Miller and Kevin Hayes have made the Rangers at the right time because in Alain Vigneault they have the right coach to develop them into full time – and hopefully long term – Rangers.
Vigneault won over a lot of the fan base last year by staying patient amid early troubles, by being the Anti-Torts in allowing players to develop chemistry together and also by being able to acknowledge ‘hot hands’ and give players a platform to perform when their form deserved extra playing time (example: Cam Talbot taking over midseason for a short period).
There’s every chance Anthony Duclair goes back to junior this year and if he does, it will have been the right decision. If he sticks, he’ll have earned it. The Rangers Head Coach has earned everyone’s trust and whatever he decides will likely be the best course of action. Alain Vigneault has proven he’s confident in his younger players if they earn his trust and the even ice time distribution in the St Louis game (every forward had at least 11 minutes ice time) suggests Vigneault will continue to work the kids in to meaningful positions and give them a chance of growth.
In a bit of old news (sorry for being late on this one), the Rangers have hired ex-Vancouver Assistant Coach Daryl Williams to join Alain Vigenault’s coaching staff. Williams will replace the now departed Dan Lacroix, and will likely be AV’s “eye in the sky.”
The Montreal Canadiens have hired Rangers Assistant Coach Dan Lacroix to their coaching staff. Lacroix joined the Rangers last summer, watching games from the press box to give coach Alain Vigneault the “eye in the sky” view.
It appears that Rangers assistant coaches are in high demand. Just hours after the Hurricanes asked to speak to Ulf Samuelsson about their head coaching vacancy, John Shannon reported that the Canucks asked to speak to Scott Arniel. Shannon also noted that the Penguins asked to speak to Samuelsson.
Per Darren Dreger, the Carolina Hurricanes have asked permission of the Rangers to speak with assistant coach Ulf Samuelsson about their head coaching vacancy. Samuelsson has long been rumored to be on the list of candidates for multiple open positions, but teams were waiting for the Stanley Cup Final to end before speaking with him. It is likely Ulfie will land himself a head coaching job sooner rather than later.
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).