The Case Against Alain Vigneault Exhibit B
After last year’s series of late collapses in round two of the Stanley Cup playoffs against the Ottawa Senators, we conclude our 2 part series on Alain Vigneault.
Side note: by no means am I calling for AV’s job; but he needs to be smarter and be a better coach this season.
In his 16 year career, Alain Vigneault has eight seasons of 100+ points. He clearly is a successful regular season head coach, there is literally no way to deny this. Throwing away the years that AV was the head coach of the Montreal Canadians; there is a consistent trend to elite goaltending. In his first season with the Vancouver Canucks, the team acquired Roberto Luongo. While Bobby Lu never won the Vezina he was a top three goalie during this time. After the 2013 coach swap between Vancouver and New York, AV now finds himself with Henrik Lundqvist in his prime.
Why is this a key point to start this article? Well it’s because, the system that AV uses relies heavily on an elite goaltender that can steal games. It’s not really debatable, there’s a reason why since AV took over Hank has made many more highlight reel saves. It’s because the system can only thrive if the goalie can handle the daunting task of odd man rushes and defenseman being caught out of position.
With a coach telling his players to join the rush and play up ice; it exposes the slower players like Dan Girardi and Marc Staal. While a player like Brady Skjei can show promise quickly.
Rock and a hard place:
There is immense credit to give to coaches; the balance of each player and their personality is an unfathomable task at an amateur level, let alone professional athletes. While I empathize with the difficulty of this task it certainly is not a strength for the New York Rangers head coach.
There are some players that can handle adversity and some that can’t. J.T. Miller has not thrived in the playoffs the last two years. Miller’s struggles are very well documented. Chris Kreider was a non factor as well this postseason. Both players had close to an average of 17 minutes on the ice. *I know both players are vital to the team*
Is there a justification for them to be thrown out for big minutes when they are unable to provide value on the ice? There’s two answers to a struggling player; punishment or free reign. AV chooses the latter, but when that doesn’t work then maybe punishment is the way to go. Chris Kreider has borderline elite talent but isn’t an elite player. Scoring slumps are natural, not giving a full effort does not solely fall on Kreider. There’s literally no excuse for Kreider to not use his speed as a weapon every time he is on the ice. It falls on Kreider for a lack of effort, and it falls on AV for allowing Kreider to get away with a lack of effort.
If a player struggles a coach needs to know how to remedy it; very seldom does a struggling player remedy their play. This a difficult part of being a coach but it’s part of the job.
Call to action
As a kid you’re told that the stove is hot. If you touch the hot stove once, you learn from it, if you continue to touch the stove expecting a different result, you’ll be unhappy with the result. Very rarely, if ever, does Vigneault change his plan of attack. Players have bad games, bad stretches and bad series’ other players get hot at an unexpected time.
It seems that AV has an idea of playing certain players at exact times. It doesn’t make sense to put your number one center on the ice to take a big defensive zone face-off when he loses 54%. Taking a page from the Chicago Blackhawks coach Joel Quinnville during their last championship season; if you look at the most ice time, you will see it is the top defenseman.
It’s the top four defenseman getting the most time, while the defenseman that are a liability saw the fewest ice time. If we look at the same stat sheet from the New York Rangers this postseason we will see a different story.
It is almost impossible to argue that Nick Holden and Marc Staal deserved almost the same ice time as Brendan Smith or more ice time than Brady Skjei. AV needs to rely on his best players in the big spots. This is mainly for the playoffs, but the third defensive pairing should see 16-18 minutes, while the first and second pairing should carry the load the rest of the way. Instead of playing a rotation, Vigneault needs to play matchups.
Success without glory
I have argued before that a player can be successful without winning a championship. I do believe AV is a successful coach. Much like his goaltender there is only one thing left to accomplish in the NHL; win a Stanley Cup.
This case against AV was a case for change in style and decisions, not in the coach himself. Like the example of the hot stove and child from before; you can’t do the same thing and expect a different result. Either Alain Vigneault changes the way he coaches or it will be the same result this season; coming close to the goal but ultimately falling short.