He hasn't coached a game for the Rangers yet, but Alain Vigneault has already made a real strong first impression. Bright, engaging, confident, open, honest, and flashing a sense of humor, Vigneault was officially introduced as the Rangers 35th head coach on Friday at Radio City Music Hall.
On initial contact---and buoyed by his impressive NHL coaching resume---it seems clear why Rangers President and General Manager Glen Sather said Friday that "I think we got the right guy" to guide this team. Sather said there were 13 candidates to become the Rangers bench boss before the field was pared to nine. Six candidates were interviewed to fill the coaching vacency, only two in person, including Vigneault.
"When I first started to speak with him the first thing that came to my mind was that he was anxious to become a New York Ranger," explained Sather on Friday. "He was very interested in coming here, very interested in our team. He had that sense of ambition that I like, and he's been a winner and wants to be a winner here. And from the digging we've been able to do we found out the kind of quality person he is. He filled in all of the categories we needed as far as a coach is concered for us."
A Jack Adams Award, three Jack Adams nominations, a Stanley Cup Finals appearance, two President's Trophies, and 422 career victories form an impressive NHL resume for Alain Vigneault. That he has handled the extra pressure of coaching under the intense microscope of Vancouver and Montreal is a major plus in coming to New York.
But what may have tipped the scales decidedly in his favor in the mind of Sather is Vigneault's willingness to adapt his style of play to the players on his roster, and to move a bit away from the grinding approach that has seemingly worn down many Blueshirts the past few seasons.
"I like my teams to play the right way, offensively and defensively," stated Vigneault on Friday. "If you have room to make a play, then make a play. If you have space and time to carry the puck, then carry the puck. I believe your top end offensive players need to be given more latitude...to make something out of nothing. You've got to give them that leeway."
That does not mean Vigneault does not recognize the value of playing solid defense by any stretch. A quick look at Vancouver's goals against numbers during his seven years behind the Canucks bench show that Vigneault has a firm grasp on what needs to be done at both ends of the ice.
"If you look at Vancouver, how we evolved over the years, when I got there we were a more defensive oriented team because our skill level wasn't as high," explained the new Rangers coach. "As soon as our skill level started to evolve and we started to develop a little bit more, we became one of the best offensive teams in the league. And that's what I intend to do here in New York."
With Rick Nash at his disposal---along with the likes of Ryan Callahan, Derek Stepan, Derick Brassard, Carl Hagelin, and Chris Kreider, among others up front, and some skilled puck movers on the back end---Vigneault has the high end offensive players he needs to allow for more creativity this upcoming season. Friday he repeatedly referred to the fact that the Rangers had two solid lines that can generate consistent offense.
"I will use my offensive players more in the offensive zone...it's the right place for them to start and gives them more opportunities for them to have success, and then those other players are put in the right situation, too," Vigneault explained. "My job is to win games, get the most out of our players, so I need to put them in positions to succeed."
Clearly this was all music to Sather's ears because as the Rangers GM spoke with reporters on Friday he consistently mentioned that a change in playing style was critical to move the Blueshirts forward as a team.
"I think we needed a change in style," stated Sather. "If you look at the injuries we have had over the years, the number of guys who really were getting the crap kicked out of them in our end because we constantly had to defend our own end...that style was perfect here for a number of years, but I think it started to wear our team out. There's nothing wrong with that style, but it was taking a toll on our hockey club. So it was time to do something to change the style so that we could go further and compete longer."
Alain Vigneault admitted he needs to be brought up to speed on the Rangers personnel---his Canucks faced the Rangers once in the past two seasons, and he has coached only Taylor Pyatt, Arron Asham, and Martin Biron (in Juniors). He called Henrik Lundqvist "the best goaltender in the world" and referred to Rick Nash as "an elite player", while praising team captain Ryan Callahan, as well. There is still much for him to learn about the players on his team. But he knows enough to be confident that his preferred style of play should prove to be successful on Broadway.
It was a feel good day at Radio City Music Hall, with the Rangers hoping that those good vibes carry over into the 2013-14 season and on through a successful playoff run next spring.
Jim Cerny-June 21, 2013