AV Good, But Not Great

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Dave Rogers

Editor-in-Chief at Cleared for Contact
Writer, photographer and a lifelong New York Rangers hockey fan.
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While the wounds of yet another Rangers’ season coming to an abrupt and too soon end are still raw, there will be plenty of time for me to dissect what went wrong, what went right and what might be done to improve chances for next year. Some of my colleagues may jump right into that.




One thing has become abundantly clear to most who closely follow the Rangers and don’t make a living needing access to the team and it’s head coach. Alain Vigneault has to go.

AV is a good NHL head coach who could some day win a Stanley Cup. The problem for him and the Rangers is he’ll need an elite team to do it. He could probably take one of the recent stacked Pittsburgh Penguins or Chicago Blackhawks teams, maybe even this year’s Washington Capitals, on a run that ends with a parade around the ice where the largest trophy in all of professional sports eventually is handed over to him.

That will not happen for him with the New York Rangers any time soon.

The simple truth in regards to Vigneault is that he’s not a great coach, just a pretty good one. And unless the Rangers tear it down, tank and rebuild, they will need a head coach who makes the right decision nearly every time. One who:

  • Has the right personnel on the ice in the right game situations.
  • Has the most optimal line combinations for every shift.
  • Rests the players when they need it.
  • Gives more time to those who can handle it effectively.
  • Uses a time out at the right moment.
  • Brings heat on the bench when it’s warranted.

AV does none of these things consistently. Sure, after falling behind two games to one in the Montreal series he brought in Pavel Buchnevich for Tanner Glass to change the dynamic and it worked. The team rattled off three straight wins. He then brought Tanner Glass back in against Ottawa after falling two games to none and it sparked the team again. They won two straight convincingly at home to tie the series.

That’s just one trick for the pony, though. AV didn’t seem to have any others.

When the team, for the third time in nine postseason games this year, gave up a lead late only to lose in overtime in game five against Ottawa, AV’s only new move was not to make any. He put his trust in the player’s’ experience and let them try to work things out by sticking to his system. They opened up game six by going into the hole by two goals. The team would score in the second to cut the lead to one, only to immediately fall behind by two goals again.

AV’s big adjustment in that season-deciding game after Kreider pulled the team within one goal was to put J.T. Miller back with Kevin Hayes and Michael Grabner. And with seven minutes left in the Rangers season, still needing that one goal to tie the game, the Rangers head coach had Tanner Glass out on the ice for a shift that would end up with a Ryan McDonagh penalty eating up two of the final minutes in the Rangers’ up and down, Jekyll and Hyde season.

Vigneault is a great tactician. He draws up plays and builds strategic systems that work very well generically over the course of a regular season. He’s even shown that he can devise methods for overcoming opposing teams’ systems. The Rangers, despite the expectation, had no problem traversing the neutral zone on a consistent basis all series against the dreaded 1-3-1 of Guy Boucher.

Perhaps if that was his main responsibility, as an assistant to a much better bench boss, AV could contribute to a merely good team winning a Cup. He’s unlikely to accept such a demotion and there would be no shortage of suitors if he became available as a Head Coach again, though. And he should.

The Rangers should let him be some other teams’ problem. It’s time to cut ties with a coach who’s simply never going to be great enough to get a team not assembled by tanking over the hump to win the ultimate prize in hockey. They must not let the good become the enemy of the great.

There have been too many recent seasons with good teams backed by phenomenal goaltenders, both with Vancouver and now in New York, where Alain Vigneault‘s not-quite-good-enough coaching decisions led to over achieving teams still falling short. A great coach would have helped those teams over the wall, rather than pulling them down off of it.

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