NEW YORK – It was a combination of things that saw Alain Vigneault named 35th head coach in Rangers franchise history during a glitzy press conference at Radio City Music Hall Friday morning.
His offensive style, his ability to adapt his style, and his seemingly more player-friendly approach are all complete opposites to what the Rangers had with former coach John Tortorella, whom team President/GM Glen Sather called “beyond stubborn” regarding his system and style of play.
“You have to put a system in place that maximizes the talent you have,” Vigneault said. “Originally when I got to Vancouver, we were more of a defensive-oriented team because our skill level wasn’t as high, our players hadn’t developed into the players they’ve become now. I think as we improved our roster and acquired more skill, we went to a more offensive system. In talking with people around [Rangers] management, our skill base is really solid, so [I’m] really looking forward to this opportunity.”
“I think we needed a change in style,” Sather said. “If you look at the injuries we had over the years, and a number of guys that were really getting the crap kicked out of them because we constantly had to defend our own end. That style was perfect here for a couple years. But I think it started to wear our team out. There’s nothing wrong with that style. With the injuries that we had this year, it started to take a toll on our hockey club, and it was time to do something to change the style so we can move farther and compete longer.”
Sather indicated one of the reasons former coach John Tortorella – who appears poised to take Vigneault’s old job in Vancouver – was fired was an inability to adjust his style to his changing roster.
“Maybe beyond stubborn,” Sather said of Tortorella’s brash personality. “I like that part of Torts. I like a lot of things about him. What happened here, he was perfect for us for a few years, and he’s going to be perfect wherever he goes. I just felt, it was getting to be so hard on some of our players, playing the style we were playing, we needed to make a change to give them a little fresh life, and a more optimistic view on how to play the game.”
Under Alain Vigneault since 2008-2009, the Canucks averaged 3.07 goals/game — good for fifth in the NHL. The Rangers under Tortorella were 19th in the league over the span, averaging 2.72 goals/game.
Over the same span, the Rangers were second in the NHL with 2.48 goals allowed/game, while – perhaps surprisingly, given Vigneault’s seemingly offensive style — the Canucks were third in the league at 2.52.
“I believe your top skill players have to be given a little more latitude,” Vigneault said. “They have to understand the game, they have to understand the time in the game when you need a high-percentage play. But they also have to be given that latitude to make something out of nothing. That’s why those guys have the high-end skill. You have to give them that leeway.”
“Coaching is like being a father,” said Sather. “You can have all the answers for your son, and he gets tired of listening to you. If you take your son to a football game or a hockey game and you tell him what to do, he doesn’t listen to you. But if someone else comes in with a different voice, boom, a light goes on. It’s a tricky thing. After a period of time, like all sons do, they tune their fathers out.”
Maybe that’s what happened to this Rangers team. Maybe Tortorella’s shot-blocking, black-and-blueshirts style did eventually take its toll. Sather indicated captain Ryan Callahan and forward Carl Hagelin each played through multiple separated shoulders throughout the season.
“It’s a clean slate for everybody,” Vigneault said. “Let’s decide what we want to write on that slate. I’m going in there, I want to get to know them on an individual basis, see what makes them tick, how they respond to different things, and figure out how to get the best out of them. That’s my job: to get the best out of these players.”
Sather says he’ll have no problem re-signing key players
According to CapGeek.com, the Rangers have decisions to make on at least three of their core players. Forwards Derek Stepan, and Carl Hagelin, and defenseman Ryan McDonagh are all restricted free agents this summer.
“The interesting thing about contracts is you can always renew them,” Sather said. “The three guys we have coming up now, we’re going to renew them all.”
Defenseman Michael Sauer, who suffered a concussion in December 2011 and hasn’t played since, is also an RFA. His status remains uncertain.
Sather said he had conversations with Don Meehan, the agent for star goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, earlier on Friday and plans to meet with the agent next week.
The Rangers have only four players signed past the 2013-2014 season – Rick Nash, Brad Richards, Derek Dorsett, and Marc Staal. Of course, Richards is expected to be an amnesty buyout either this summer or next summer.
“I don’t anticipate purging the hockey club because we have some contracts that are up,” Sather said. “We have a pretty young hockey team.”