In a bit of a stunner considering there are games still going on, the Rangers didn’t wait around. Apparently, whatever went on in today’s awful display in a 5-0 loss to the Flyers and a bizarre press conference was enough.
In a move that came a day or two earlier than expected, the Rangers have fired Alain Vigneault. After five years behind the bench where the former Canucks bench boss had similar success that included a trip to the Stanley Cup Final and coming within a period of a second straight appearance, time has run out on the veteran coach. The Rangers made it official on Twitter a short while ago following the rumors from XM Sirius Radio via reliable source TSN’s Bob McKenzie.
So, the ax officially fell. To be perfectly honest, I didn’t think they would do it tonight. It definitely came as a shock. Maybe Vigneault’s big defense during his postgame was enough for GM Jeff Gorton and even staunch supporter Team President Glen Sather to cut ties immediately.
Given how uncompetitive they were at the rival Devils on a playoff clincher and the same at the Flyers allowing them to easily clinch, something was wrong. There had been rumblings about player dissension recently. I had heard through a reliable source that players were disenchanted with Vigneault, who was a very successful coach.
However, in sports all good runs come to an end. As well as it started with the old core featuring Ryan McDonagh, Dan Girardi, Derek Stepan and Derick Brassard to name a few, had a remarkable run in the 2014 postseason. Rallying around Martin St. Louis following the tragic death of Mom France, they rallied from a 3-1 series deficit to stun the Penguins in the second round with Brad Richards getting the series clincher and Henrik Lundqvist turning into a brick wall.
That special run continued when they beat the Canadiens in six at a raucous Garden to advance to the first Stanley Cup Final since ’94. Following a gut wrenching loss to the Kings in a closely fought five game series with all three games in LA decided in overtime, they came back and won the President’s Trophy in ’14-15 for home ice throughout the entire playoffs. It looked like the end when the Caps had them down three games to one and leading by a goal with less than two minutes left in Game 5 of the second round. But Chris Kreider had other ideas taking a feed from Stepan and tying it. The building absolutely rocked when Stepan made a drop to McDonagh who beat Braden Holtby to save the season.
After hanging on for dear life against Alexander Ovechkin and Co. to win Game 6, they went to sudden death again in the final game. This time, the hero was Stepan off a face off play when he got to a Girardi rebound and sent the puck into a open side for a unbelievable seven game series win. But in a oddly played Conference Final in which the road team played better, the Rangers were shutout in both home games 5 and 7 in mystifying fashion to lose in crushing fashion to the Lightning, who had old faces Anton Stralman, Ryan Callahan and Brian Boyle. In between, Brassard scored a hat trick and had six points. But the Rangers were outplayed and outcoached at home which didn’t sit well.
From there, the wheels started to come off. The wear and tear from the past 2015 playoffs which saw McDonagh play through a broken foot, Staal, Girardi and Keith Yandle also through injuries, started to show. Neither Girardi nor Staal were the same in a perplexing ’15-16 that saw Vigneault overuse both vets when they needed rest. He didn’t manage them well and both were battered in a first round loss to the Pens.
Lundqvist also suffered as time went on. The confusing defensive system which relied heavily on forwards rotating for D in front backfired. The Rangers went from a hard forechecking team who was hard to play against to a soft vanilla one cut out in Vigneault’s personality. This despite some puzzling lines and usage where at times he would play skilled young talented players like Pavel Buchnevich and Jimmy Vesey with grinders. It made little sense. He also jerked around J.T. Miller, who eventually was mistakenly included with McDonagh in a selloff to Tampa Bay for prospects and draft picks along with disappointing Vladislav Namestnikov.
It didn’t have to be this way. What if the ’16-17 outfit hadn’t blown late leads in regulation and lost in crushing fashion to Ottawa? We’ll never know. Only that the ghost of Jean-Gabriel Pageau ended the run in a very disappointing second round loss to the Senators with Brassard on the winning side.
With the team going only as far as Lundqvist took it with his best play in five years during the first half, they recovered from a poor start to be in playoff position. But it all fell apart in the second half. It made MSG realize that the team wasn’t good enough. So they moved Rick Nash, Michael Grabner, McDonagh, Miller and Nick Holden for first round, second round picks and thirds along with prospects.
With a hands off coach who relied on vets to take control of the locker room, the writing was on the wall. It was painfully obvious Vigneault’s style didn’t fit the future plan. He did a good job with Kevin Hayes turning him into a better player as a match up center. He also found chemistry between Mika Zibanejad and Kreider. So it wasn’t all bad. He used Neal Pionk with Staal on a solid pair. But more often than not, he made baffling decisions that left fans and media confused.
His last defense was a plea that he and his staff should be back. It was desperate and probably was the final straw for Gorton.
Now, it’s time to see what they’ll do next. There will be a new coach for the first time in a while. Since the lockout, the franchise has had stability in Tom Renney, proven vets John Tortorella and Vigneault. Who ever takes over will be a different kind of coach. One who can work with young players and have patience for mistakes and not be so quick to bench them for shifts or shuffle the deck.
It says here Sheldon Keefe would be a good place to start the search. He’s had great success with Sault Ste. Marie of the OHL and is the current Toronto Marlies coach since 2015.
We’ll see which path the Blueshirts go.