Thoughts about Alain Vigneault, apparently

Happy Friday, BSB community!  I started writing this as a “thoughts” post, since it’s tough to do actual analysis at this stage of the season, with the sample size being so small.  My first thought started with Alain Vigneault, and just never really left that topic, so I guess this post is about the head coach now.  So, maybe it still is a “thoughts” post, just a “thoughts about Alain Vigneault” post.  Sorry about that.  I hope you enjoy.

This season has a very small sample size of data to this point, but for the head coach, we have four seasons worth of data to draw from.  I think, and I’m going into speculation mode here, that we ended up feeling a little bait and switched from what our initial expectations of what his coaching philosophies were.  Remember when Torts was let go and we were sold on Vigneault based on his “progressive” approach to data and matchups?  He tried to leverage zone starts and seemed to be more open-minded to data-driven deployment, so we all felt that we were getting a “Moneyball”-type coach who would maximize the information available to try to gain an edge.

From the data we have over his tenure in New York, he clearly leans on an old-school philosophy that each defensive pair needs a “shutdown guy” to go with any riskier puck-moving-type defenseman.  From what I have observed, this extends to other facets of the game, as well.  However, it manifests itself in different ways.  For example, it seems that he feels that a hybrid-overload system in both the offensive and defensive zones are the only real way to gain the systemic advantage.  Otherwise, why not adapt the system when your players are clearly struggling to implement it year after year?  I think for all our hand-wringing, he is a combination of new and old school that tends to frustrate both camps.

That said, I believe he has a tendency to get too cute with his lineup decisions in an attempt to find lightning in a bottle.  It would be easy to hypothesize that he needs to be the smartest guy in the room and say “look, I took a washed up Marc Staal and paired him with journeyman Steven Kampfer and created a shutdown pair that no one else would have put together”.  However, I don’t necessarily think that is what is going on.  I think like any veteran professional working in a changing environment, he is not comfortable putting all of his eggs in the analytics basket and trusting the results coming from the pretty obvious combinations that possession stats recommend.  He clearly still believes in the human element of coaching decisions; lineup chemistry, veteran leadership and all that.  He gets nervous when a Tony DeAngelo-type throws caution to the wind on a pinch or tries a zone exit to lead the rush.

This has been compounded by a number of front office decisions that have lead to a strange mix of players for AV to tinker with.  Clearly, with Filip Chytil struggling to start the season, the Rangers’ forward depth has been further compromised.  I know that the return of Jesper Fast will lengthen the lineup a bit, but I don’t think any of us concerned about losing Derek Stepan’s production or consistency in the top-6 have any reason to feel any better.  I certainly applaud Jeff Gorton’s work in re-tooling the blue line, but it’s kind of like a guy who fixes an engine, gets it running, and leaves the floor of the garage covered in spare parts and tools.  I understand you want to have depth in this league, but when the front office objective was to add mobility, speed and youth to the blue line, why are you keeping Staal, Holden and Kampfer around when you know AV feels more comfortable with guys like that in the lineup? When the chips are down, AV has shown himself to be risk adverse (to the extent he believes his lineup stalwarts are less risky, for right or for wrong).

Personally, I am to the point where I see someone managing not to screw up, rather than to succeed.  There are too many players on the team that he doesn’t trust, and as a result, he is leaning on the wrong guys.  Until the deployment is fixed, we can’t objectively judge the state of Henrik Lundqvist’s game, either.  I know, I know, we can see performance and all that and make observations from it.  Speaking as a goaltender, however, when you feel like dangerous opportunities can come from multiple places on the ice during a single play, you hedge.  It’s just a fact.  It’s not good, and it’s not the optimal response, but if a goaltender is hedging and getting caught between options on the play, it tells us nothing about whether his skills are eroding or whether can continue to play a high-level.

At 1-3-0, there is certainly plenty of time to let the organization work out the struggles to start the season.  However, Jeff Gorton needs to be actively looking for another center and a trade for Nick Holden.  Vigneault needs to accept the reality that the blue line is now populated with guys who can move the puck, which may not sit well with his defensive philosophy, but it necessary to succeed in the NHL today.  Hopefully, things will mesh as they did in 2014-2015, but there is still work left to be done.  On the plus side, at least the power play looks good.

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    • I agree. This was a well written post. I wish AV would adjust his philosophy and systems more so his players feel more comfortable. A happy player is a good player and AV has leaned on the wrong players the last 2 or 3 years now.
      I think this will work itself out in the long run but AV has already dumped on the work that Jeff Gorton put in the last 2 summers. We cannot win until we have a coach that works with what his GM gives him.

  • Excellent perspective Justin. One thing to mention is that Lindy Ruff is coaching the defense. I wonder if he also has a lot of influence on that side of the house. He may not be comfortable with run & gun defense either.

    We all need to relax a bit.

    • Not buying it, Sal.

      Last year Beuk was running the defense; before that it was Ulf.

      There’s really been no change and the one constant is AV.

      • Absolutely. It is highly unlikely that all three of these men shared/share pretty much the same exact philosophy. Especially in the case of Beuk, where he did not employ similar tactical decisions in Hartford. It is also highly suspect that Beuk was gone after just a season, and not really to greener pastures. Did he have enough with AV disregarding his input? Did AV have enough with Beuk fighting him? One of these two things, simply put, seems to be the likeliest reason – if not a bit of both. It’s not rocket science, to me – to me, those are simply the odds-on favorite for reasons as to why a previously very highly regarded coach in the organization, who played the game as a defender and certainly was no slouch, did not return to the defensive post after just one season on the staff.

        • If you can spin one fable I can spin another: Neither of the two former D coaches had the chops to run the back line with the autonomy and effectiveness that AV prefers. When you look at the benches during a timeout next time, watch who is talking to the units. For other teams it is usually the head coach talking to either the offense or defense. With the rangers it is always Arniel talking to the O and the defensive coach talking to the D. Same with the lines. AV doesn’t send the lines and pairings over the boards. He prefers his assistants to do this.

          As I say, I believe my observations and you believe yours. What makes mine a fable is that you disagree, I don’t believe your fable, either.

          • Then exactly what is the coach doing?
            It’s been noted that he’s a hands off coach in the locker room too, letting the players handle it.
            So if the Assistant coaches handle line deployment and adjustments what exactly is AV doing other than chomping on his gum?
            Clean house.

        • Ulfie is back coaching in the NHL under a guy who has actually won something. Had his team in Charlotte last year 10 games over .500 and in the playoffs.

          What’s the one constant with diminishing results?

  • ” Vigneault needs to accept the reality that the blue line is now populated with guys who can move the puck, which may not sit well with his defensive philosophy, but is necessary to succeed in the NHL today”.

    Now here lies the problem, the man is too thick headed to adjust, won’t let the kids make mistakes, while learning his system, and will continue to play the diesels, while everyone else is looking to get, and play their Porches. What are we to expect from a guy who took Patrick Roy’s endorsement of Holden, and wants to prove him right.

    It’s ironic that when he played, he was marginal at best, as pointed out by another yesterday, but demands perfection from the kids. AV’s act has indeed gotten old!!!

  • I’m so sick of doing this year after year. It’s like oh look at the new toys AV has, maybe he’ll change this year and use them. But 2 games in and he’s already thrown them in the trash. I think the best thing that could happen at this point is he’s fired. That’ll light a fire under everyone. Hopefully Ruff or Arniel won’t be named coach but that’s something to be seen. On the bright side, if we keep losing, we get closer and closer to Dahlin. #AllinforDahlin

    • DC

      While I agree with you, I suspect that AV wouldn’t know what to do with Dahlin, maybe put him on the fourth line to be a checker!!!!!!!!!!

      • I honestly thought about including that in my comment, what you said or he’d bench him all together but the thought made me nauseous.

        • “av” doesn’t give the players a chance to succeed. he makes them fearful of making mistakes and being taken out of or moved in the lineup. he’s not doing his job and is far from being a motivator. you know what should happen to people who don’t do their jobs, right ?? as far as chytil struggling to start the season comment, how was he even given a chance to struggle ? you have to have playing time to struggle !!! this is a very sad situation, in 57 yrs following the rangers, i’ve never been so discouraged,let’s either s**t or get off of the pot !! now it’s up to gorton !!! i was always a torts fan ,even though i knew he did have to change his coachig style in certain ways, so now i wonder how many of us would like to have him back right now . i would .


    Check out this post from Suit (where is he???). Basically he points out how Shattenkirk needs to see o-zone deployments in order to maximize his skill. He also points out that this is very different than the deployment Mcdonagh has seen. I, along with several others voiced our concern (check out the comments) that if you pair them together that 1 of 2 thins would happen. You either cut down on Shattys o-zone deployments and get him to play more in the defensive zone or you do the opposite for Mcdonagh. Well through 4 periods this pair was a tranwreck and they were broken up (yes there is the argument that it was only 4 periods). Yesterday AV was directly asked about why he broke them up. Basically he said Shatty was still getting accustomed to the team and he hasn’t seen as much top six matchups as he was getting with Mcdonagh (wasn’t it raised over the summer that Shatty has never been deployed as a top pairing defenseman?). So AV wants Mcdonagh out there against the other teams top players and he doesn’t feel Shatty is ready for that yet. This is exactly what myself and many others were concerned with over the summer and we were told not to worry about it!

    And for the record no I don’t think Mcdonagh and Holden/Kampfer is the answer.

  • Wow that’s a lot to digest and think about. Maybe your speculation is right about thinking not to screw up rather than thinking to succeed. Whatever it is there might be too much thinking, too many stats and facts and too many theories about one shutdown D with one offensive D etc etc. Me thinks this; When Torts was criticized for having his team block shots, ( I hope people recall that) and wanted more of the stay at home D the thinking was AV would change and allow his D to become more offensive and he wanted a more speedy and more skill set team. He has certainly been given those tools. All the fwds with few exception are fast and skilled. The problem as I see it is that its okay to some guys who are not fast but bring something else to the party. Frankly , I don’t see anything that identifies those few players. They are just there. The lower end of the depth chart of fwds has no bangers, no agitators , no forecheckers and no PK specialist. The exception is Fast who is presently not in the line up. We then overthink that we need a good forth line center.
    Lets go to our D
    We have Mac, Shat, Brady and Tony D as offensive minded as anyone. The only real throwback to D is Smith who had a couple of bad games , granted. There is this tendency to say we need a top 5&6 D pair to make us whole. We tend to blame a lacking of a 4th line center, and a 3rd quality pair on D or we blame the line combos or D pairing or who gets ice time. I think that’s looking for a perfect situation which doesn’t guarantee anything. Look at the Pens the last two years and Last year with #58 out their D barely had , what ranger fans would consider, a bonafide top paring. Same for their depth on the forth line center, Matt Cullen wasn’t good enough for us. My point is for 4 years the players have heard the same song on how this team should play. The most emphasis has been on going fast and using skill to focus on offensive. We are in search of that 1 or 2 pices that gets us the cup LOL .When other teams bang us around and take away lanes and our speed we have little offense and spend too much time without the puck. WE are not a forechecking team and we love the long stretch pass that wind up being loss possession 45% of the time. So without overthinking this its simple, WE CANNOT be one dimensional and we must be willing to change. The problem is that the message has been the same and the players have bought into the on the rush pretty play. That’s great but its not the whole package. They have not heard in my opinion nor have they been made to play it any other way. The head guy sets the tone period ,and he does not have #11 to help set it straight in the room. So its on AV to change up and not just with combos but with a system that is not one way. It seems like he’s bent to make it work or self destruct.

    • AV is accused of being the guy with the hammer who sees every problem as a nail. Maybe something to it, we’ll see as the season progresses. I must say, though, that the teams blogs are DEFINITELY in their own right the guy with the hammer, and the nail they see is “fire AV.”

      • Blaming the coach is always the easy answer.

        Getting 12 forwards to perform is not only the coaches problem, but the players too. Very easy to push off responsibility all on Coach AV. While much of the criticism is warranted, he is not the whole creator of doom.

        • At the end of the day, coaching is a big picture profession. The small details that tend to win or lose games depend on player execution.

          And thus far, player execution, or lack thereof, is losing us games.

    • Dan Boyle brought us checks and balances for the top 9 and top 4. It didn’t matter how much a team would take away during the 5 on 5, he would make those stretch out a passes tape to tape even when he tossed them up over the other teams. Klein as well as him brought a forecheck that Shatty, Skjei and Smith need to be able to pick up on during the forecheck. If it was ever a line change then those two would chip it in and give chase to regain the possession back or for the worst the other team would skate it out into the neutral zone with blue sweaters all around from the recent line change. The bottom 4 has to be skilled enough to work with DD, Vesey, Grabner, Fast and maybe JT if he’s still down there. My whole point of my comment is to say that AV doesn’t need to switch stuff up but instead to keep working to get EVERYBODY on the same page because the skilled D with vision is still there.

  • Flatbush

    Great post, every issue you mentioned is spot on, but until we have a coach who makes the necessary adjustments, well it’s going to be the same old, same old I’m afraid!!!!!!!

    • Walt, I see some don’t like that assessment. I ask if not the head man than who? Lets see if he can get past himself. The last D coach was a fall guy. He gets the big bucks. its on AV

  • Such a need to psychologize AV. This is the how manyith post since the season began?? It’s a long season. Fans get tired of the same coach. The team blogosphere is super tired of him. We’ll see. Management will decide if and when his shelf life is past. Yes, Ruff wasn’t brought in to dust off the artificial flowers in the locker room. Also not to do nothing while AV fails. That’s not how the bench works. He is a seasoned coach who is implementing his own process with the back liners.

    Meanwhile, the team plays Torts’ team tonight. Guess which coach has a team with REALLY skilled young players to work with?

    • The fish stinks from the head down. Drafting anyone? NMC and NTC for who? Same breakout, same PK anyone? As long as they continue to do the same I’m sure things will not change. And for all the small sample users, how many years should be enough? There has been no cup and this team is not ready to compete for it. Just watch them and put the stats to the side. I am a NYR fan like everyone here…..and I’m just so disappointed in the way this team plays. I personally can’t blame the players….they have to listen to the coach or snack in street clothes as games are played.Team chemistry…wish I could see some. Yuuck!

  • I think this team is doing about as well as I thought they would. Forget the NYR PR machine. The D is better, but there is a huge hole down the middle. I believe the results are going to stay mixed this way until they fix the C position. It’s too big of an issue.

    They are a team desperately in need of a trade. We all just may not like the trade they eventually make…

  • So let’s sum it all up. They traded their #1 center center despite already losing their 4th and the fact that center was not their strong point to begin with, in order to add an elite power play QB who has never seen 1st pair duties in his career. They shifted one of their better wings to center, who’s better as a wing, and added desharnais. So 4 games in to the season this team sucks 5v5 but have a really good power play.

    Who saw that coming.

    • I’ll never understand why Gorton didn’t trade Stepan before the draft so he could protect Lindberg.

      It was long predicted that out of Grabner, Lindberg, and Fast, Lindberg would be the likely candidate to get plucked by Vegas. Knowing that to be a real possibility, and with intentions to deal Stepan, Gorton knew there’d be a huge hole at center well before that hole ever actually materialized.

      We could have managed the loss of a winger like Grabner or Fast much better than we could absorb the loss of both Stepan and Lindberg. Everyone understood this. And yet, Gorton protected Stepan, knowing full well Lindberg would likely be the victim of that move, only to turn around and deal Stepan.

      The smart move would have been to make that Stepan deal before the draft, and subsequently protect Lindberg. Now, it is entirely possible that Arizona was adamant about doing the deal after the draft, though I’m pretty sure they had room to protect Stepan, so I’m not sure that’s the case.

      A smart Gorton wouldn’t have slept until he unloaded Stepan before the draft.

      • I completely agree. But we don’t know if that offer was on the table before Vegas claimed their picks.

      • Chris,
        I am unapologetically a Gorton fan. But I do agree with you. If he intended to trade Stepan at all, he should have made the move before the expansion draft.
        I just don’t know what demands the ‘Yotes made as far as timing.

      • Then Arizona would have had to protect Stepan and Raanta. The trade value of the Ranger players was higher after the draft.

    • I see most of the offseason as one big move:

      Exit: Stepan, Girardi, Raanta
      Enter: Andersson, Shattenkirk, Smith, DeAngelo, Pavelek

      Stepan and Girardi were removed to clear cap space to sign Shatty and Smith. Gorton did two things with these moves (or three if you are cynical). First, he shook up a team her did not believe could win as constituted. Second, he made a move that would pay off in the out years. Andersson and DeAngelo are first round talents whose entire careers lie before them. Girardi, like him or not, is clearly aging and Raanta was gone after this season.

      When you make a move that enhances your chances from 2018 on, it can be a good move even if it hurts you in 2017-18, especially if you didn’t think you could win then anyway. If the kids mature ahead of schedule, you try to make a run. If not, relax.

      As you say, Spozo, this was all predictable.

  • The teams defense looks brutal so far and you want to applaud Gorton. And yes they do miss Steps down the middle as their offense is anemic.

    Btw..Staal is our best defenseman right now, Shattenkirk not so good.

  • No doubt AV’s coaching is suspect.

    I can’t recall if it was 2 or 3 years ago but didn’t our defense have similar issues out of the gate in picking up the system. Granted 4 out of 6 Defense are returning Rangers but I would think that if one partner does something wrong then it creates a domino effect on other Defensemen and Forwards during a play in order to compensate. I also remember AV making an adjustment back then to make it a bit easier on everyone. He needs to do it again quick.

    If McDonough is going to be our shutdown Def then you can’t put Shatty or DeAngelo out there with him (not that anyone has suggested the latter). Did Skjei ever partner with Mac last year? Staal obviously isn’t the answer either. Then that leaves Smith which is a bit scary since he didn’t come into this season ready. Otherwise we have a bigger hole at 1st Defensive pairing than we do at Center and that is real bad news for this season and certainly the playoffs.

  • They need to play defenseman that can get involved in the offense e.g. Deangelo keep the puck in the zone and forecheck. If you put out one offensive defenseman on the ice the other one can stay back to defend. We need speed on the back end to help generate offense. We don’t have dynamic forwards so we need to deploy d men that can get involved in creating offense. This is the key to getting the team going.

  • I’ve mentioned this a few times recently, but it bears repeating: within the flow of hokey your best defense is a good offense. That is why possession (the right kind) is so important. It’s not simply shots. It is offensive zone time so that the other team cannot threaten your goal if they do obtain possession, because they are worn down and need to dump in for a line change.

    The philosophy of goal rushes is all well and good, but if you miss the net or fail the opposition has a good opportunity to do to you what I described above. If the Rangers were a team of sharpshooters I would say, keep at it, but they are not. They would do better with a patient offensive style, using their size and stamina to win the possession time battle every night, making it easier on the defense in the process. If they win 1-0 on a power play goal then so be it.

    Also, all the teams (with a couple of exceptions) have gone to speed these days. The Rangers no longer have the clear upper hand here.

  • Hockey being a business with today’s league imposed accounting, it could be that the use of spare parts on D is intended to increase their market value and potential return at this early point in the season. This certainly might apply to the use of Staal as a 1D and to the deployment of Holden. While 2 points is 2 points, it is not historically unusual for the better teams to start slow. Real hockey begins around Thanksgiving.

  • For the good of the team it is time, has been time to clean house. As the ship is sailing we will never be anything other than average to slightly above average and on this path we will see the Oilers, Ducks, Leafs, Blues and Bluejackets winning the cup before we will.

    No I am not kidding.

    Time has come to get rid of AV, Nash, Leaky, McDonagh, Staal, Holden, Zucarrello. Zukey is one of my favorite players. Bottom line is we need to go through the growing pains and developing a team.

    The players unions have ruined sports just like they are doing in construction. The unions took a great idea and changed to stupidity. A coach has to have absolute power, not the player. As I look at sports today it just is down right pathetic with a bunch of primadonnas. This being said, AV also has to go, Sullivan was a coach here fellas,,,,remember…eh…yeah 2 cups.
    AV just doesn’t bolster enthusiasm as a fan or a player. I see no growing pains with this guy. You can’t just hope for something and get it.

    NY must embrace a time of being awful and drafting high…Top 3 to 5 for at least 3 years. Maple Leafs did it and they are on a faster pace to the cup than we are.

    The good news is we have a ton of solid players to build around. It won’t take as long to do so. No more going after star aging UFA’s

    Build from within.

  • This is how you critique.

    Great write up, Justin. I really appreciate the thoughtful and tempered criticism. Far too many seem to react emotionally to this coach and his decisions and that colors their criticism in a way where they always assume the worst and attribute frankly ridiculous motivations to AV.

    It’s refreshing to see a write-up in which you take a less belligerent approach to understanding a coach with whom you don’t fully agree with.

  • Great job, Justin.

    I don’t know whether AV is doing the right things or not. I also don’t know if he is the coach you thought you were getting. I will point out a few things though.
    First of all, in the Fall, it isn’t just about winning. You want to figure out what works and also build a team dynamic.

    As for blending newfangled and old school hockey ideas, that’s not what AV critics want. They want a true buy-in to the new ideas. Yet I see no evidence whatsoever that a full commitment to “new hockey” works. Consider the 2016-2017 Edmonton Oilers. They had a history of poor performance despite lots of top draft choices. They rebuilt their defense. How? giving up too much for Larsson in the view of the moderns and absurdly signing Dan Girardi-clone Kris Russell, a stat freaks nightmare. Talk about not buying in to “new hockey”.
    Yet it worked. Meanwhile a successful Florida team signed Yandle and fell off a cliff.

    What should work – if you can pull it off – is to train talented offensive defensemen like Yandle, Shattenkirk, DeAngelo to be defensively responsible. Obviously they have the tools to be better than Dan Girardi ever was. And such things have been done. Before Justin’s time, but in a time many of us can remember, the Knicks had a pure shooter named Dick Barnett who never heard of defense. Red Holtzman got him to make himself a good defensive player and likely the Knicks don’t win the NBA title in 1970 without his contribution.

    Now I don’t know about Shattenkirk; it’s tough to teach an old dog new tricks (but Barnett was an old dog!). However, training DeAngelo should be do-able (if he has his head on straight). Critically, Gorton needs to either trust AV and Ruff to train DeAngelo or get a new coach. Of course, AV should listen to people at BSB since we know zero about the exact situation and few of us have any experience in this direction (ignorance leads to the best decisions).

    What we do know, BTW, is that DeAngelo has given lip service to playing better defense (which is a good sign if he is sincere). What is also obvious is that to force a player to fall into line, a coach has relatively few arrows in his quiver. One thing AV can do is to tell DeAngelo that he needs to play better defense or he will sit – that frankly AV doesn’t give a damn whether DeAngelo is better than Staal, Holden, or Kampfer right now, that what he needs from DeAngelo is to play at the level of a second pair defenseman on a Stanley Cup winner – and if he doesn’t do that, he isn’t going to play. Of course, when the commitment is there and he has learned the techniques, he will need to play – in NY or Hartford – to get the polish.

    Finally, the hard part. Dick Barnett started by playing close to his man. He was almost pretending to play defense. It did take him a year or two to actually become good. Will AV be patient? Just as there are situations where playing a lesser player ahead of DeAngelo is right, so might there come a time when it is better to play DeAngelo ahead of a player he trusts more.

  • I’ve never seen a coach who loves the combination and square peg and round hole quite like AV. As much as I would love to see him have an epiphany and get it together the smart money is that DeAngelo plays less than 25 games and Nick Holden gets promoted to Girardi status by AV.

  • LOL on the subject matter. No comment. I’ll just let the line ups and player deployment speak for themselves.

  • Chytil struggling. For what, 8 minutes in one game. AV loves garbage. Cracknall. Carey. Holden. Completely outcoached by Torts.

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