Rangers final grades: Coaching

Needs improvement
Needs improvement

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

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  1. Suit,

    A very interesting and thoughtful assessment. Given that, I think your grade may be a shade too high. Will you guys be grading Sather and Co? If so, I can hardly wait!

    1. How can a coach that got a team to game 5 of the SCF in his first season as coach of that team? I agree that he could have been better during the game at mixing up lines or just changing 2 players. Daryl Sutter did it ad nauseam in this series. He had everyone of his top 9 with different players at some point. Why wouldn’t AV do the same. At home or on the road. Make it harder on him.

  2. Assessment is fair. Winning makes good coaches great and losing makes good coaches poor. I think the team performance and approach to games was better than under Torts. I think his use of 4 lines was commendable, but his in-game adjustments left much to be desired.
    No one here knows the actual health and resiliency of the players over the past 2 weeks; AV should have and should have made adjustments.
    He had what other coaches desired – 4 good lines. He also had super-stars who went into hiding. Is that coaching? I think a coach puts players in a position to succeed or fail; Nash failed and needed a change that didn’t arrive until game 4. That’s on the coach.

  3. Food for thought, nice article!

    Agree with the knock on AV for not adjusting as the game progressed. On many occasions I thought we were out coached by Sutter, who showed he could make changes on the spot.

    I like AV, but he has been too loyal at times, riding the same horses, at the expense of other players who would have performed better, given a chance. You sited cases that drove me nuts, especially BR on the PP. He was a liability at the point, and was way to preditable with his passes. That is not going to be the case next season, as we all know Brad is history!!

    Grade should have been C+, B-, but I could live with your grade just the same!

  4. I think you hit the nail right on the head & I agree with everything you said. Mike Keenan is a coach who was fantastic at those in game adjustments which is why he is successful(just brought home a KHL championship). Darryl Sutter did this in the playoffs as well and he was a big part of the Kings success.

  5. I agree with much of the assessment, though I think the grade is too low (and I’m a college professor). Frankly, I didn’t think AV was outcoached until the SCF. Yes, against the Kings I thought he could have done a better job of making adjustments. At a certain point, though, coaching only gets you so far. The Rangers were not as good a team as the Kings. End stop. The Kings were bigger, stronger, and more skilled lines 1 to 4. All the OTs shouldn’t confuse the fact that the only reason the scores of most of the games were so close was because of Lundqvist.

    As I see it, AV did a marvelous job of transitioning the team to a new style of play. The goals per game may not bear it out–because one of the things this team continues to lack are great finishers–but the difference was obvious to anyone who watched. Had the Rangers managed to hold on to even one of the 2-goal leads in the first two games, we might be talking right now not only about Lundqvist as the difference maker, but the Rangers’ speed.

    I also credit AV with having a great feel for the pulse of the team and modeling how to keep focused and not get distracted by the silly stuff. I don’t like hypotheticals, but it’s not hard to imagine Torts easily taking Therrien’s bait in the Habs’ series and knocking the Rangers off their game. Not saying that’s why we lost to the Devils in 2012, but it didn’t help.

    In the end, unless you feel the team has made the SC Finals despite and not in part thanks to the coaching, hard in my book to justify a B grade. AV didn’t just do a “good” job, IMO–he did a very good job.

    1. Dan S is absolutely right. In my opinion AV deserves an “A+” for the coaching job he did this season. Here is coach who took a team nobody, and I mean nobody, thought would compete for the cup and brought it to the cusp of winning it. And people complain? What nonsense, claiming that he didn’t provide enough “adjustments” during games, as if such “adjustments”, taking X off one line and putting “Y” in his place, is the magic formula for winning games? Scotty Bowman rarely did so, and became one of the games most successful coaches. Where is the evidence that tinkering with lines and defense combinations during games does anything more than provide rinkside commentators with something to talk about. With a couple of lucky bounces at the right time, the Rangers might have won at least two of the overtime games, and if they did and won the seventh game everybody here would be praising AV as a veritable genius. Ranger fans, I think, that downplay AV’s contribution and marvelous personality — funny, insightful, calm — have lost a sense of perspective and are looking through a glass darkly. Get out in the sunlight and smell the roses, please.

      1. Suit I think you might be letting AV off too easy. The guy said himself that he didn’t talk to the team when they were down 3-1 against Pittsburgh. We won that series because of MSL & the team rallying around his personal tragedy. If that doesn’t happen AV gets this team no farther than previous coaches and no one here is handing out any A grades.

  6. You’re spot on with being critical of his lack of in game adjustments. Sticking with the plan is only a good move if the plan is ultimately a good one (or the best one we have). If improvements can be made, they should be.

    Still, with all that considered, I don’t believe a B does AV justice. Maybe I’m nitpicking though, as I would push for a B+.

    Nice write-up.

  7. Hank displayed his mettle in this series.

    He played extraordinarily in Game 4 and Game 5, after the series was all but over.

    In the first three games, he was outplayed.

    Unless Hank finds himself on a team like the Kings or Blackhawks, a team on which he is just another player, he will never win the Stanley Cup.

    1. I understand the sentiment that our goaltender can’t steal 16 games in the playoffs and we need support around him, but I don’t think there is a team in the league (including the Kings and Blackhawks) where arguably the best goaltender in the world is going to be “just another player. “

      1. Hank was mostly responsible for three consecutive lost games in the Eastern Conference Finals in 2012 and in the Stanley Cup Finals in 2014. When the stage is the biggest, he crumbles.

        How many Stanley Cups have been won by goalies that have willed their team to victory? Khabibulin and Tim Thomas are just two of the many.

        1. This is confirmation bias at its finest. Hank is one of the most solid goalies in the league, and his record in elimination games is ridiculous.

          I think you’re still angry he didn’t steal the series. We were outplayed, and expecting any goalie to make 40 saves per game and will a win every game is incredible.

        2. I am one of those who thinks Lundqvist gets too much credit and I previously expressed the opinion that Hank wasn’t a Cup-winning goalie. However, I was wrong then and you are wrong now. Lundqvist only stole 2-3 games, but he never lost any and he gave the Rangers a real chance to win some games in which they were outplayed.

          You actually blame Lundqvist for the Game 3 loss?? Yes, the Rangers out skated the Kings and Quick stole the game, but the sac ore was 3-0 and those goals were two deflections and a bad bounce on a 2 on 1 – not preventable goals.

          1. The save by Quick on Zuccarello with the open net was also a “not-preventable” goal. Quick found a way to prevent it.

          2. That was a spectacular save, but Quick had nothing else to do at that moment except try to make it. Deflections are different. The goalie is actually busy trying to stop a shot and suddenly it changes into a different shot.

        3. Either you’re trolling or you legitimately are watching games in a K hole.

          Tim Thomas “willied his team to victory??” He gave up 5 goals THREE TIMES in the Eastern Conference Finals in 2011, and was outplayed by Luongo for a good part of the 7 game series they won in the finals. You want to know the difference between the 2011 Bruins and the 2014 Rangers? It’s the 81 goals the Bruins scored in the same number of games the Rangers scored 64.

          The Kings are an absolute powerhouse of a team when it comes playoff time. They’re big, they’re fast, they’re deep and they have a great goalie. I’m so sick of us pointing fingers and laying blame on players and coaches. The better team won. Our team kept it as close as they could, and our goalie had 4 games with out least 39 saves trying to keep our team in it. The Rangers just weren’t good enough. PERIOD.

          1. ^^^^^^^^truth here.

            Solid stat comparing the ’11 Bruins and the ’14 Rangers. That, my friend, says it all.

            Lunqqvist was a force, and for someone who has been in his corner for so long, I can honestly say I have never been a bigger fan, or more enamored with his play, than I am after this season.

            Last summer I opted for a Richter name plate to be put on the back of a blank white Rangers jersey I had. If it was still blank this summer, I think I’d be stitching on Lundqvist and a big number 30.

          2. Tim Thomas allowed 8 goals in 7 Stanley Cup Finals games.

            Hank allowed 8 goals in the first 2 games.

            ^^^^^^^^^^^^truth here.

          3. I’m not getting into it with you. I’m not sure I’ve ever disagreed with things said more so than I do with your posts.

            Corey Crawford beat Tuukka Rask in the finals last year. Crawford has a cup, Rask doesn’t. I’m betting you will crown Crawford as the better goalie of the two, hands down.

  8. Hank blew the first two games after the team in front of him gained four two-goal leads.

    Is it reasonable to ask Hank to make 15 saves in game three, what amounted to a must-win game? You know, the game in which the Rangers controlled from start to finish while Quick stopped all 32 shots on goal.

    1. It’s an absolute joke when people start blaming goalies for a loss when their team is shutout in a game. I don’t care if we are talking about Lundqvist, Rask, or Rick Depietro. You probably blame pitchers for a loss when they throw 9 innings and lose 2-0 right?

    2. Which of the three goals should the King have stopped?

      The first, when the puck deflected off the skate of Girardi as he was sliding in front of Lundqvist?

      The second, which deflected off of McD?

      The third, a 2-on-1 where M. Richards pass bounced right back to him off of McD’s stick?

      None of the three were bad goals. Your ‘analysis’ is weak.

      Replace Lundqvist with Quick, an outstanding goalie in his own right, and the Blueshirts wouldn’t have gotten past Pittsburgh.

  9. His reactions to bad incompetent penalties by the refs improved a little but not enough. Why doesn’t he know when to call a time out?
    I hated him but he proved me wrong so now I just dislike him a little. He has a good system though.

  10. At what point does the Rangers completly changing their game with a lead fall on AV?

    I understand wanting to stay fresh but the 30 second shifts killed this team and any momentum they built up.

    It was not the sole reason Kings came back but it is a huge factor in why NYR looked like a different team anytime they had a lead late. The players were more concerned about getting a fresh line on then forechecking and making LA Kings go a full contested 200 feet to score.

  11. Excellent analysis, Suit. The fact that one comment said good analysis, but grade is too high while two others said grade is too low suggests you were pretty close.

    Most coaches don’t get this team to the SCF, but if AV had out-coached Sutter, the Rangers might have raised the Cup despite the apparent superiority of the Kings. The best team doesn’t always win after all. It’s not absolutely clear that the Kings were better than any of the teams in the West that they got by.

    1. Agreed. IMO I thought Sutter managed the bench perfectly and was involved in that win. He’s got a good system, even temperment, and made the adjustments he had to. Dude deserves a lot of credit.

    2. At first, the line stability was such a breath of fresh air after Torts could not keep lines together for longer than two shifts. But a bit more of line adjustment would have been nice.

      I don’t understand anyone who criticizes him on lack of temperament, as if he really needs to go full psycho torts mode to show that he cares.

      Otherwise, I think he pushed all the right buttons. Needs to focus more on finishing (as if that’s an easy task), and purge some of the unnecessary shot blocking from the system. Let Hank see the shot, he’s more likely to stop it than have it redirect off a defenseman.

      Lastly, try something drastically different on the PP. Perhaps not having Richards on point would help.

  12. Convenient to exit the conversation after you realize that using Tim Thomas as an example was spot on.

    8 goals in 7 SCF games for Thomas and 8 goals in 2 SCF games for Hank.

    That was a very nice strawman, by the way. I did not label Goalie X as better than Hank based on number of Stanley Cups.

    1. Its just not the place for it here. I’m not trying to derail Suit’s thread on AV’s report card.

      Justin will write one up on Lundqvist later this week at which point in time I will jump back into the debate with you without hesitation, as I still could not disagree with you any more.

      1. That is a fine decision. I am on board with that. No disrespect from my end. Cheers, mate.

    1. That would be my grade as well.

      As for Lundqvist, I will try to hold my fire until the post with his grade. But I find any attempt to deem his performance wanting compared to other goalies who have won a SC laughable. The fixation on the number of shots in Game 3 is absurd. Save percentage is a revealing stat regarding goalie performance over a certain number of games (and, obviously, the more the better). You can’t just say, Hank gave up 3 in 15 in one game, and that proves he’s not an elite, money goaltender. In any one game you need to look at the quality of the chances, at whether the goalie had any real hope of making the save without a good deal of luck, etc. Let’s put it this way–the only series in this playoff run where Lundqvist wasn’t outstanding but simply very good was the PHI series. His performance in every game save Game 4 of the PIT series and Game 5 of the MTL series was simply superb. If I have any criticism of Lundqvist, it’s only with the tone of some of his postgame comments Friday night, which sounded at times as if he were pointing fingers (however indirectly) at the inability of his teammates to score in any of the OT games. I understand where it’s coming from, and given how devastated he was it’s hard to fault him. But it would have been better to focus on the fact that the team competed as hard as they could and came up short.

  13. Nice write up, Suit. It was more then fair minded. The one thing you didn’t address that I would like you to comment on is AV’s approach when the team gets a two goal lead early or holds a one goal lead with 30 minutes left. Apart from the obvious, which is he has the team sit on the lead, would you explain what specific changes he makes tactically and what system he used in those situations during the playoffs? Did he change his approach in the playoffs vs the regular season? Do you believe the Rangers inability to effectively play with and hold a lead a tactical problem, the players not executing the system properly or the opposing coaches out coaching AV in those situations?

    Thanks in advance. 🙂

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