By Allan Muir
The press conference that introduced new coach Alain Vigneault to the New York Rangers’ press corps included all the warm, glowing boilerplate-style quotes you’d expect.
“A.V. is one of the top coaches in the NHL, and we are fortunate to have him in New York,” Rangers GM Glen Sather said.
“When I was thinking about the opportunity to coach the New York Rangers, one of the Original 6 teams, in this great city, there’s not a chance I could pass that up,” Vigneault replied.
Can’t you feel the love?
And if that’s all it had been, hey, everyone walks away happy. A new face, a new beginning. A chance to get past the maddeningly defensive John Tortorella era and start fresh. Good times.
But that’s not all it was. No, instead of trading in generic, easily digested “we’ll be better” babble, Vigneault and Sather dazzled the crowd with some very specific, and very promising, thoughts.
“Your top skill players have to be given a little latitude to make something out of nothing.”
Translation: Vigneault’s not taking anyone off the leash, but he wants to see his high-end players making the most out of that high-end skill. That means make the smart decision when the situation calls for it, but if there’s time and space to be exploited, then come on, kid. Show us what you got.
“You have to put a system in place to get the most out of the talent you have.”
That’s Vigneault saying that a coach has to be flexible in order to maximize his return. And it has to be music to the ears of Rangers fans who have been forced to watch their team play “shot blockey” the past few years. Vigneault adapted his approach in Vancouver and he’ll do it here, which should make for a much more entertaining, and effective, product on the ice.
“I’m interested in [advanced metrics]. We’re going to be employing a few situations we haven’t used in the past.”
That’s Sather’s response to a question about some of Vigneault’s fancystats leanings in Vancouver. By “situations,” you can expect to see more of AV’s zone-matching approach. That means Rick Nash and other offensive stars will take most of the draws in the offensive zone with, say, Brian Boyle playing the Manny Malhotra role and taking nearly all of the defensive zone draws.
“The defense has the potential to join the rush a little more.”
Vigneault again, this time on taking the chains off of New York’s blueliners. The Rangers’ defense corps scored just 14 goals this season. Montreal had 29. Clearly, the freedom to pinch will increase their productivity, and take some of the pressure off Henrik Lundqvist to win every game 1-0 or 2-1.
“We needed a change in style. You look at the injuries, there were a number of guys who were getting the crap kicked out of them in our end. We needed to move the puck out quick. That style was perfect for a couple of years, but it started to wear our team out.”
That’s Sather, promising the end of catatonia-inducing hockey in New York.
The Rangers were one of the lowest-scoring teams in the league last season, but that’s what you get for playing scared hockey. With the talent they had on hand, that’s inexcusable. Vigneault may not change that overnight, but he will change it.
That presser was fun to watch. Next season, the Rangers should be, too.