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?
A former professional coach and mentor of mine once told me that coaching is not just about results, it’s about the process. Sadly that’s not how fans, the media, or even management often evaluate coaches, but that is how coaches often reflect upon themselves, so that is what I build my thinking around.
To be 100% honest, Alain Vigneault has a process that I don’t fully identify with. That isn’t to say he isn’t a very good coach, he is, but in order for him to become what I view as a great coach, there is still room for improvement.
Now don’t think this is about bitterness for failing to lift the Cup. It’s not. He deserves a lot of credit for getting us back on the right path after a disastrous first half. But as I’ve said before, there’s a small but critical difference between being very good and being great.
Let’s start with the positives.
From a systems perspective, there is a lot to like. His quick strike breakouts, overload offensive and defensive zone strategies, helped transition this team from heavy forechecking, meat and potatoes hockey to a puck possession style with a little more speed and finesse. I think sometimes this team got a little too reliant on neutral zone traps and countering other teams mistakes rather than dictating and setting the pace. However, for the most part this new ideology was effective.
Given, we didn’t produce more offense. The team netted 2.61 goals per game this season, which was flat with 2012-2013 and actually down from 2011-12 (2.71 g/g). The power play, while improved, is still not a team strength. However, I view some of this as a byproduct of the roster rather than anything related to systems. In the end, it’s about execution.
Vigneault also gets high marks for his calm demeanor when under fire. Some see it as a lack of caring, but there are different ways to motivate. Sometimes being quiet and methodical can be just as effective as constructive criticism or delivering a passionate speech. AV’s hands-off personality seems to be what the doctor ordered for this particular group.
Where AV needs improvement are with his in-game management skills. In my opinion, there were games throughout these playoffs that could have been won if changes were made on the fly. All too often, it seems that he sets the table before the puck drops and won’t make any adjustments until after the game. This needs to change.
McDonagh got pushed around by Chris Kunitz and other Penguins to the point where everyone thought Ryan was injured. Girardi was awful against Los Angeles. AV couldn’t get John Moore away from Justin Williams. Richards was inconsistent throughout the playoffs and handcuffed our power play…again.
Where were the adjustments? Why not swap Stralman and Girardi? Why not bench Richards on the power play for MZA who had 40 fewer minutes of time on the advantage? In many cases, adjustments were not made until after games were over, if they were made at all.
Ultimately, I think AV just gave these guys way too much rope. When Pouliot is taking double-digit offensive zone penalties and Kreider is barreling over goalies — which will get called more often than not — you have to hold players accountable. In my opinion, the pendulum swung too far in the other direction.
Looks I’ll never be an AV fan, but I’m past that. Hopefully, after a season of getting to know these players, AV and his staff will be more equipped to knowing how to push this team’s buttons a bit better.
Final Grade: B