The Hank-Vingeault Era – A Tragedy in 3 Parts

Being a fan of star-crossed team can be one of the cruelest forms of self-inflicted punishment. Only the most masochistic of us can envision an ending for our favorite team that most likely will lead to heartbreak, and yet exacerbate it with the hope that “maybe this year will be different”.

The Past

“History is written by the victors” – Winston Churchill (maybe)

For example, by Emmanuel Perry’s WAR metric from, last year’s Washington Capitals were the 5th best team in terms of total WAR since 2010.  Despite the fact that last year’s Penguins were the top-ranked team in the same time frame, Washington outshot Pittsburgh by nearly 60 shots over the course of the seven-game series.

Yet when this series is remembered in 20 years, it will only be viewed as another instance in a long line of Washington’s playoff failures. No one will remember the dominant 118 point regular season campaign or the league-leading 81 goal differential. No one will remember that Braden Holtby, a Vezina winner the previous year and a .937 goalie in the playoffs prior to last year, put together an awful sub-.890 save percentage in the series.

All of this is to say, at the end of the season there are several teams who could have won the cup and came up just short in ways they had little control over. Those teams are often relegated to the waste bins of history if they don’t end up winning the cup, the also-rans who never made it over the hump. The 2013-14 Rangers threaten to become one of those teams, so let’s take a moment to appreciate the best team of the Henrik Lundqvist era.

Past – The King’s Merry Men

At the time when it was consummated, the marriage of Alain Vingeault and the New York Rangers was perceived as a match made in heaven. Following the tumultuous tenure of John Tortorella, Vingeault was initially received as a breath of fresh air. Finally, the Rangers had a coach who could supplement their all-world goalie with an offensive minded coach bearing Stanley Cup experience.

And what a magical first season it was. Although Vingeault’s tactics didn’t translate into many more goals, the coach was able to build upon Tortorella’s formula and coax a mix of timely scoring and stifling defense out of the group, as reflected in the WAR rankings by position from that season.

The high point undoubtedly came with knocking off Sidney Crosby and the highly favored Pittsburgh Penguins in the second round. In the series, the Rangers clawed back from a 3-1 deficit by holding Pittsburgh’s high-powered offense to 3 goals combined in the last 3 games of the series.

After eliminating Montreal in the conference finals (following a highly controversial injury to Carey Price), the Rangers made their first Stanley Cup final since their legendary Cup run in 1994. In any other season, the Rangers, would have been favorites, entering the series as with the 9th highest total WAR of any team since 2010. However, their opponents, the L.A. Kings, entered the series as the 2nd best team by WAR in that time frame, and had just knocked off the equally dominant Chicago Blackhawks in the Western Conference Finals.

After a spirited series that included 3 overtime losses, the Rangers bowed out in 5 and despite coming within a game of the finals the year after, they haven’t been back since.

The Present: A Pyhrric run of victories

The dirty secret of the NHL is that it’s actually quite hard to win a Cup and compete without multiple top ten picks. The Penguins (Crosby, #1 in 2005; Malkin, #2 in 2004; Kessel, #5 in 2006), Blackhawks (Toews, #3 in 2006, Kane, #1 in 2007) and the Kings (Kopitar, #11 in 2006, Jeff Carter, #11 in 2003 {close enough}; Doughty, #2 in 2008) all benefited from several years of awful play to infuse their teams with top prospects. Even the 2011 Bruins had a prime pre-injury Nathan Horton (#3, 2003), and pre-breakout Blake Wheeler (#5, 2004) and Tyler Seguin (#2, 2010).

The Rangers, on the other hand, have suffered both Glen Sathers’ (and to a lesser extent, Jeff Gorton’s) short-sighted “win at all costs” mentality, which saw the team trade picks and prospects for over the hill veterans in pursuit of a Cup. In addition, Lundqvist’s dominance between the pipes over the past decade meant the team would always win too many games to bottom out even for one year. As a result, the only top 10 picks on the team are an aging Rick Nash (#1 in 2002) and Mika Zibanejad (#6 in 2011).

Since that 2014 cup run, the team has not been able to replenish the talent in front of Henrik Lundqvist as the Hall of Fame goalie hits the downside of his career.

Since the start of the 2016-17 season, Lundqvist has posted a .909 save percentage, and the list of goalies to improve their save percentage after their age-35 season is small and uninspiring.

So as a fan, are you lured by the prospect of making the playoffs in an Eastern Conference without a clear-cut favorite? Or do you view the team’s most recent winning streak as a stay of execution of coach who may not know what he’s doing and could have just been riding aging curves and John Tortorella’s system to a Cup Finals appearance?

(Note: I ran a very simple regression on the expected number of playoff wins based on the total WAR of the team. Vingeault has won 5.16 more playoff games than expected in his Rangers tenure, so interpret that as you may.)

The Future: What’s the way forward?

With the Derek Stepan trade over the summer, the front office signaled that it has envisioned a scenario where it will have to improve a farm system that was ranked 3rd worst in the league by The Athletic’s Corey Pronman to eventually get back to competing for the Cup. But how far are they willing to go? For example, here’s a hypothetical trade exchanging the 1st round pick Montreal should have used on Matt Duchene for Rick Nash’s expiring contract. It’s not much but maybe it’s a step in the right direction.

The team already has a couple of potential franchise cornerstones in Brady Skjei and Pavel Buchnevich, and strong veterans/potential trade chips in Kevin Shattenkirk and Ryan McDonagh. As a diehard, you’re obliged to stick with the team through the lean years in order to truly enjoy the day they finally hoist the Cup again, However, a fair question to ask is, will any current player, coach or exec on the roster be there with you?

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  • the TEAM, is a very fluid thing. It consists of current, past and future players as well as coaches, upper management and eventually ownership.

    The CAP era has made it very difficult for any team to rise to the top, without bottom feeding for a little bit. This visit to last place gets you your future star, and without a true superstar, a visit to Lord Stanley’s finals are extremely difficult.

    Mediocrity is an ugly truth in the NHL, where teams try to stay competitive, because they believe anyone can win this thing once you get into the playoffs. The truth is you need a goalie playing at the top of their game (not necessarily a top goalie), a stud or two on offense and a shutdown defense.

    I ask you, do we currently have a team that can win it all?

    • My kind of gal, speaks the truth. As currently constructed, the answer to your question, is an unequivocal NO!!!!!!!!

  • Fascinating perspective Chris. Especially like the point I have made over and over, which is winning it all generally requires some high end talent which for the most part we have lacked. Good but not great players yielding good but not great results—the story of the past decade of Rangers hockey.

    On another matter…just announced. McDonagh is out with an abdominal injury. Won’t play tomorrow. Some are speculating he’s been playing hurt for a good portion of the season and that may have something to do with his sub-par play to this point. Obviously, if this is a long term thing, that’s a huge blow.

  • We always play better when McDonagh is out.
    The only reason we made it to the finals was that Richards mother died. AV had nothing to do with that.
    AV inherited Torts OK team and the GM’s made it better yet we got worse.
    What we don’t have is a leader. The coach coaches from behind.
    The best coach in the world is deeply flawed, He is unable to motivate and makes mistakes that the immoral media will defend. The media’s problem is there is no one that could replace AV is what they say.

    • Well, you are wrong as usual on basically every count.

      1) It was MSL’s mom who died, not Richards. That provided a spark, but to say THAT was the sole reason is absurd. Hank stood on his head and was phenomenal in that series. That was the overriding reason why the Rangers won (and it usually is with the Rangers). And just to validate the accomplishment, AV pulled off the exact same feat the next season vs the Caps, becoming the only coach in history to rally back down 3-1 in back to back seasons. So what lame excuse happened in 2015?

      Meanwhile, your guy Torts is I believe the only Rangers coach to BLOW a 3-1 series lead when he lost his mind during the water bottle incident in 2009.

      2) AV’s four seasons FAR eclipsed the four plus Torts delivered both regular season and post-season.

      3) Both coaches swapped teams. One (AV) led their team to the SCF. The other (Torts) crashed and burned his team and got fired for the second consecutive season—maybe one of the few coaches in any sport to be fired two years in a row.

      4) The GM obviously does NOT believe the team is better and we got worse, because if he did, he would not have given AV the extension and raise, and he’d have been fired after the awful start.

      Wrong on every count……a new record for you! 🙂

      • Your correct that it was not Richards mom that passed and that’s all. You forget! They played the penguins they had no hope. St Louis scored. You No know not what you say and you are a sad person.

      • From the vancouver sun May 2013………by scott taylor….
        snippets from an article titled”’ Why AV deserved to be fired”’……
        Complacent Canucks
        Since the Stanley Cup loss to Boston two years ago, the number of sixty minute efforts expended by his squad could be counted on one hand. The President’s Trophy and divisional titles in that span were buoyed by a weak schedule and strong goaltending.
        Inconsistent Player Development
        During his time here, Vigneault displayed an inability to consistently nurture young talent. In the salary cap constrained world, getting contributions from young players with small salaries is paramount.
        To his credit, Vigneault developed the likes of Ryan Kesler, Jannik Hansen and Chris Tanev. But more strikingly, players like Cody Hodgson and Zack Kassian could never find their way out of his doghouse. The rift with Hodgson, in fact, began when Coach Vigneault accused the rookie of faking what turned out to be a serious back injury.
        Repeated Playoff Failures
        Many will remember Coach Vigneault as the man who coached the Canucks to within a game of the Stanley Cup. History will show, however, that his teams notoriously UNDER ACHEIVED in the playoffs.
        His Canuck teams played in twelve playoff series (with home ice advantage in ten of them), winning six times. More recently, they have lost ten of their last 11 playoff games despite being the favourite. And most tellingly, their playoff elimination game record during his seven years at the helm featured only eight wins in 21 attempts – a glaring signal that his team could not play their best when it mattered most.
        3E ……You are also dead wrong when you said in a previous post that you must have stars to win a cup…..AV had the sedin twins, ryan kessler, and luongo……a ? hall of fame goalie???
        YET they lost to the heavy underdog bruins whose stars include? NO ONE!!!!!
        AND oh, by the way….Torts has won a stanley cup, has AV ????

        • Rich-

          It’s amazing how you AV haters trot out the same tired link, which by the way was a blog story. So no different than anything you’d read out here. Are there any others or is this the only one? I will attach three I found that say exactly the opposite, and that the REAL culprit was the GM Gillis, who was canned one year later.

          The Hodgson and Kassian stuff turned out to be exhibits 1A and 1B of the players Gillis thought were good, and turned out to be just average players. AV was correct in his assessment of them.

          You are only half right….I said stars are needed to win. Stars do not guarantee victory though. Look above—-“Even the 2011 Bruins had a prime pre-injury Nathan Horton (#3, 2003), and pre-breakout Blake Wheeler (#5, 2004) and Tyler Seguin (#2, 2010).” Not to mention Tim Thomas had the greatest series any goalie ever had I would say post lockout. Meanwhile Luongo crapped the bed. So please explain how the goalie differential was AV’s fault? Or is this the same bogus tired argument—-teams wins, it’s on the players. Team loses, it’s on the coach?

          As for your last silly point, Torts won the Cup….a long, long, long time ago. And what did that portend for the future? Mostly mediocrity and playoff failure for him ever since—proving that a coach winning a singular Cup was great for that year and that year only. His prior singular success led to nothing after that. The reverse is true too. Coach Q was AV in Colorado and St. Louis. Then he came to a loaded Hawks team and now he’s a legend. But that doesn’t mean he will necessarily ever win one again.

          Once my links clear, please read and learn something! 🙂

  • “So as a fan, are you lured by the prospect of making the playoffs in an Eastern Conference without a clear-cut favorite? Or do you view the team’s most recent winning streak as a stay of execution of coach who may not know what he’s doing and could have just been riding aging curves and John Tortorella’s system to a Cup Finals appearance?”

    The last bit of that snippet was my favorite of the article. Enjoyed the read. Very timely (given the holiday this week) as I would like to appropriately reflect on how thankful I feel as a fan to be in the midst of over a decade of playoff hockey (save for 1 year- thanks Oli) from a team who has been able to remain competitive and relevant in a cap environment. There are certainly teams around the league who are in worse shape than we with fewer assets and poorer records. While we haven’t won a cup, I can’t say I’ve had a bad time watching the fun unfold. Year after year we remain playoff calibre with one or two guys coming up through the system and impressing. The best may very well be behind us (for the short term), but I remain optimistic that the current regime will be able to keep us well positioned to re-emerge as a legitimate contender before long.

  • Maybe it is the NYFanbase that constantly pressures management into certain decisions. Would they tolerate 2 or more years out of the the playoffs to get those picks? Then again, every time they have had a top 10 pick in the last 20 years, they got it wrong. Brendl, Lundmark, Montoya, and McIlwrath. Hope this years 2 kids will begin an new era.

    • It’s not the fans, it’s management. They want to make the playoffs because there is no player salary then and all the revenues are profits.

      I was sitting at MSG during the “dark years” begging them to blow it up and get younger players.

  • Don’t forget that this is the organization (yes, I know its not the same guys) that passed over Mike Bossy for Ron Duguay and Lucien DeBlois.

    • Don’t forget that there were 204 other players drafted before Henrik Lundqvist in 2000. Hindsight is always 20/20; you win some, and you lose some.

  • This article would’ve been more effective if there wasn’t a typo in every single mention of the coach’s name. Vigneault. Not Vingeault.

    • Yeah, I had no idea who was even being referenced because of those two letters transposed. This egregious typo totally negates all the valid facts being presented in this piece, and all the research that went into it.


      • Seriously? You’re defending repeated misspellings of the coach’s name? He’s been here awhile now, y’know?

      • There has been a change in the coaching staff. Benoit Allaire is out. Not enough timely saves, which is totally what has been making the defense look so terrible!

        (Kidding about Allaire…nobody jump out the nearest window!)

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