In case you missed it, and if you did I’m not sure how, the Rangers fired head coach Alain Vigneault last Saturday night. It was a move that was expected, but I don’t think any of us expected it to happen so soon. After all, it happened at 11pm on a Saturday night, just five hours after the 2017-2018 season ended for the Rangers. It was a sign that AV was gone from the get-go, and was coaching for his next job once the rebuild was announced. As always, I have some thoughts.
1. First things first, AV’s firing was long overdue. Personally, I think he should have been fired after last year’s playoff debacle against Ottawa. He was no longer a coach that was going to drive this team forward. There are many reasons why he needed to go, but the overall summary is that he was a square peg in a round hole.
2. The biggest reason for his departure is due to his systems and his inability to adjust. AV is a solid coach. His counterattacking system generates solid chances on a regular basis. However it is a predictable system and one that requires the right set of players. After the 2014-2015 season, the opposition was able to counter the Rangers very easily, leading to a huge shift in how the Blueshirts looked on the ice. Couple that with some roster changes, and AV’s stubbornness with his system led to his downfall.
3. There were also personnel issues. JT Miller and Pavel Buchnevich are the two most recent examples of players who were yo-yo’d by the coach. But I think the biggest issue was with Keith Yandle. The Blueshirts gave up major assets for Yandle, who was given bottom-pairing minutes and PP2 time. It’s the PP2 time that really rubbed people the wrong way.
4. It’s also worth noting that Henrik Lundqvist hid a lot of the issues with the team. Kind of like how Roberto Luongo hid a lot of issues in Vancouver. This goes back to the systems conversation. Elite goalending masks a lot, and AV has been unable to identify the true issues with his teams due to this.
5. All that said, we might be having a different conversation if the puck doesn’t hop over Dan Girardi’s stick in Game 1 against the Kings. Or if the refs get goalie interference right in Game 2. Or if Ryan McDonagh doesn’t break his foot in 2015. Or if McDonagh doesn’t almost kill (literally) Mats Zuccarello that same year. If luck breaks differently, we might be talking about AV’s successes instead of why he was fired. As a side note, I firmly believe the 2015 team wins the Cup if Zuccarello and McDonagh are healthy.
6. I also am of the belief that AV’s refusal to answer questions openly is what led to fans turning on him. There were never any straight answers to his roster decisions. It was always vague, which left us to interpret, or in most cases, guess. A coach doesn’t need to divulge his strategy, but there should be some level of accountability for roster decisions, like playing Tanner Glass over numerous, more skilled, players.
7. In the end, the next coach is going to need to be a coach who can transition the young Rangers to the next level. The status quo of recycling coaches probably won’t cut it this time around. We will be spending a good amount of space looking at potential replacements. Stay tuned.