How much blame should be placed on Alain Vigneault for the Rangers current state

VIGNEAULT

Vigneault looks on (Photo by Scott Levy/NHLI via Getty Images)

Vigneault looks on (Photo by Scott Levy/NHLI via Getty Images)

This is a funny post to write. At the All Star Break, the Rangers are 3rd in the East and 2nd in the Metro Division with 59 points. They have 27 wins, which is 7th best in the NHL. Matter of fact, the Rangers are the 7th best team in the NHL and for some reason the media and the fans are up in arms.

Perception is reality I guess and for the 2015-16 Blueshirts, they and head coach, Alain Vigneault are a victim of their past success. It wasn’t too long ago that the Rangers stormed out of the gate thanks to Henrik Lundqvist‘s incredible start. Since then, it’s been a mixed bag and it has people pointing fingers everywhere, including AV.

Before Thanksgiving, the Rangers jumped out to a 16-3-2 record. Thanks to that start, the Rangers have been kept afloat after a horrendous slump. From 11/25 to 12/20 NY went 3-8-2. Since then they have stopped the bleeding by going 8-5-1, winners of 3 in the last 4.

The Rangers are starting to turn it around, and you could see that in the obvious stats of wins, save percentage, goals for and against. Those who like to use corsi as a barometer for success should know that the Rangers are one of the most improved teams in that department since 12/1.

So why are we up in arms and questioning the head coach on an almost daily basis?

OVI ENVY

Rangers blow it (Getty)

Rangers blow it (Getty)

Ok, let’s start with this…fans and maybe even some members of the media are envious of the Washington Capitals success. Ridiculous, I know but when the Rangers were red-hot in October/November people weren’t all over AV. They may have talked about NY’s low possession stats and high scoring rate being unsustainable, but they weren’t blaming the coach for much.

Sure this may seem silly, but the Caps went out and made major moves in the offseason and are still going for it today. They signed T.J. Oshie, added NYR Killer, Justin Williams and just recently for the sheer hell of it picked up another L.A. cast off, Mike Richards. Funny because they did this to beat the Rangers who have basically been the standard bearer in the East since probably 2012.

The Caps are ON FIRE! They have 73 points, just 3 more points than the Chicago Blackhawks but the Caps have 7 GAMES IN HAND! Still, they don’t hand out the Stanley Cup in January and the Caps are due for a regression themselves.

Now this isn’t the real reason why people are upset with AV, it’s just one of those underlying issues that likely amplifies everything else.

Time for the real issues.

50 Shades Of Dan Girardi

Girardi takes a puck to the face (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Girardi takes a puck to the face (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Let’s first make this clear, AV has NOTHING to do with the contracts given to players like Girardi, Marc Staal, and Dan Boyle. Sure, he had input but he didn’t twist Glen Sather‘s arm to hand out NO TRADE/MOVE clauses.

Dan Girardi had a terrible start to this season. However, we knew that he was coming off an injury in the offseason. To compound the situation further, he’s playing with a cracked kneecap.

Now, if you want to argue that AV has a healthy option in Dylan McIlrath that should play, I agree. Just realize that Girardi is still a seasoned veteran and can play tough shutdown minutes. (Yes, I know some of you are cringing at that statement but it’s true.) McIlrath is developing and shouldn’t be given so much responsibility too soon. AV tried it for a game against the Caps and Ovechkin ate him for lunch.

There’s no doubt that Girardi’s body has taken a beating over the years and it’s showing on the ice. He has become the team’s new punching bag because of his contract, low corsi numbers and suspect defensive zone decisions (i.e. gift wrap turnover to Ovechkin for a goal). Still, he has shown that he can handle the pressure that’s coming and if he can continue to get healthy it will only help the Rangers.

Staal’ing Out

Marc Staal has become Dan Girardi lite. His possession numbers stink and he has an impossible contract as well. Still, he just like Girardi are a known commodity that can rise to the occasion in difficult situations. The concern I have with Staal is that unlike Girardi, he has no known injuries to speak of.

If Staal doesn’t improve drastically after the break, than this regression is truly scary. It’s one thing to have one difficult to move contract on the blue-line, it’s another to have two. Hard to blame AV here, because you can’t sit both Staal and Girardi unless you really want to see Chris Summers struggle.

Handling Yandle

This is the one thing I can say, have at it! Unleash all your unholy rage on the coach because his utilization of probably the Rangers’ best defenseman is deplorable. How AV can continuously roll out the slow and aging Dan Boyle on the top power play unit is beyond me!

Yandle (Bruce Bennet / Getty)

Yandle (Bruce Bennet / Getty)

Dan Boyle is averaging 2:30 to Keith Yandle‘s 2:15 on the PP so far this season. I am simply beside myself considering that Boyle has less points, shots and primary assists than Yandle on the PP.

NYR PP STATS on D (stats.hockey.analysis)

NYR PP STATS on D (stats.hockey.analysis)

The Rangers went through an awful 1 for 31 stretch before going 1-4 against the Buffalo Sabres on Monday. Oddly enough, Boyle was a scratch for that game. His replacement Dylan McIlrath actually scored a goal, something Boyle hasn’t done nor registered a point in his last 10 games. Meanwhile, Yandle has 6 points in his last 10 but AV won’t let him start the PP. Confused much? Me too.

When it comes to the lousy PP and the underutilization of Keith Yandle, this is squarely on AV’s shoulders.

#FreeMcIlrath

There is no reason why Dylan McIlrath is not an everyday defenseman on the 3rd pairing. Dan Boyle is not helping the hockey club and has made more costly defensive mistakes than any other blue liner (even Girardi and Staal) over the last month.

At this point, Boyle should be scratched unless Girardi or another defenseman needs a game off for maintenance. If we’re lucky, Boyle will get so angry that he’ll waive his no trade clause so Jeff Gorton can pick up a decent rental forward at the deadline.

Developing Young Talent

This is another big gripe lately, but it just makes no sense. If you are going to use Emerson Etem as your poster child for this argument – you lose. Etem was awful here and has continued to be awful in Vancouver.

Item (War-On-Ice)

Item (War-On-Ice)

You want to argue about McIlrath, fine I’ll give you that. Of course, benching $6M defensemen isn’t always the easiest thing to do.

Still, if you get over the fact that he once scratched Oscar Lindberg the next game after scoring a goal, he’s done an excellent job of developing talent. And no, he doesn’t have to develop them according to a plan YOU have in your head.

Kevin Hayes, Oscar Lindberg, J.T. Miller are some recent shining examples of what he’s been able to do with young stars. So to say he’s doing a bad job is totally unfair.

CONCLUSION

AV Laugh

AV Laugh

If you stop and look at the New York Rangers, you have to really question why you would feel the need to blame AV for anything. Technically, the Rangers are in prime position to make a huge run.

When the Rangers were steamrolling in the early going, he was quietly raising the same red flags most in the analytics community were. AV was aware that the team had some issues and I’m sure he’s been working with the coaches and players to address. The improved numbers in January are evidence of that.

Still, there is room for improvement and the coach recently admitted as much.

[su_quote cite=”NYDN” url=”http://www.nydailynews.com/sports/hockey/rangers/alain-vigneault-not-trades-rangers-article-1.2510397?utm_content=buffer6458b&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=PLeonard+Twitter”]“My job is I’ve got players here, it’s my job to make them perform up to their potential. Obviously I could say right now that I haven’t done that. I need to make sure that I get this group here to play to their full potential. And we have not done that.”[/su_quote]

I think if we want to blame AV for something it’s not utilizing Keith Yandle properly. It’s possible more minutes on the man advantage would not only improve their conversion rate but also add a few more wins to the standings. Giving Yandle more time would also mean less for struggling players like Dan Girardi and/or Marc Staal.

Another thing AV should do is have some courage and bench Dan Boyle for Dylan McIlrath. Not only will it send a message to all the veterans on the team, it might have another beneficial impact if Boyle asks to be traded.

Other than those two issues, Alain Vigneault has continued to be an excellent coach for the Rangers. He has the team in position to make a nice little run before the playoffs start. Which is ultimately going to be the only measuring stick the fans and media are going to apply to this season.

The Rangers have done it all under AV. They’ve won the Eastern Conference and played in the Finals. Last season they took home the Presidents’ Trophy leaving only one thing for AV to accomplish – winning the Cup.