Rangers Extend Vigneault Behind the Bench
I can tell you one place where former Islanders’ head coach Jack Capuano will definitely not end up: across the Brooklyn Bridge with the New York Rangers. That’s because on Tuesday, the New York Rangers announced that a contract extension with head coach Alain Vigneault had been signed. The extension is for three years, reportedly worth $12.25 million. The extension replaces the final year of his current contract. Barring being fired or resigning, “AV” will be behind the Rangers’ bench through at least the 2019-20 season.
Alain Vigneault began his coaching career at 25-years old, quite younger than most coaches begin. AV coached in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League from 1986 until 1992 when he became an assistant coach for the Ottawa Senators expansion team. During his fourth season with the Sens, he was let go along with the other assistants. After one more full-season in the QMJHL, AV became head coach of the Montréal Canadiens for the 1997-98 season. In his third season with the Habs, he was nominated for the Jack Adams Award. But, again, he was let go during his fourth season.
In 2006-07, Vigneault was named head coach of the Vancouver Canucks after spending a season coaching the Manitoba Moose, Vancouver’s AHL affiliate. AV led the Canucks to first place in the Northwest Division in six of his seven seasons in Vancouver. He even led the squad to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2011 before losing in Game 7 at home to the Boston Bruins.
After John Tortorella was fired by the Rangers, Vigneault took over as head coach for the 2013-14 season. AV is 175-98-23 since becoming head coach of the Blueshirts. The Rangers have made the playoffs in each of the last three seasons, making an appearance in the Stanley Cup Finals in AV’s first behind the Rangers’ bench. Since Vigneault has taken over behind the bench in New York, the Rangers have racked up the most wins in the Eastern Conference, and the third most league-wide.
Vigneault has been criticized for giving up two series’ leads in the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals – once up 2-0 and then again up 3-2. After losing in the Finals with the Rangers in 2014, it is said that AV cannot win that one big game. He has also been the subject of gripes related to shuffling lines as Rangers bench boss, a tactic he uses somewhat liberally. And in late-game deficit situations, AV has been known to utilize bottom-six forwards rather than members of the top lines for more time than fans would like. Despite these criticisms, Rangers’ General Manager Jeff Gorton chooses AV to stick around to guide the future of the team for at least three years.
This is a good deal. Alain Vigneault was brought in to coach a Rangers squad that was essentially built around an older style of hockey – that which was full of shot blocking, low-scoring, and emphasis on defense. AV figured out ways to win with his contrasting style of the game, one that is more prevalent in today’s NHL – fast-paced, speedy, and a reliance on scoring to get the win. And he did so without having all the right personnel, either. It’s abundantly clear that Jeff Gorton trusts AV behind the bench. Gorton did a bit of “re-tooling” over the summer with mini-youth movement, bringing in free agent Jimmy Vesey to add to the already youthful squad. He has brought in players to fit AV’s coaching style, such as Michael Grabner, and Mika Zibanejad. Gorton has also allowed AV to bring out the best in players that already existed, such as Captain and defenseman Ryan McDonagh, and forwards Mats Zuccarello, Chris Kreider, and JT Miller, who had been pushed by AV to be better throughout his employment with the Rangers. Time will ultimately tell how Vigneault does in terms of developing young players such as Brady Skjei and Pavel Buchnevich. But given his extensive experience in the QMJHL, there are high hopes for Vigneault to help young players to reach their full potential.
With the new extension, Gorton also sends the message to AV that, since the NHL landscape could look a whole lot different in three seasons, his job is not necessarily tenured either. Furthermore, coaches are not covered under the collective bargaining agreement and can be fired at will by the organization, regardless of the length of the contract term left. Nevertheless, AV is here to stay so long as the Rangers can get their act together, finish the season strong, and make at least a respectable postseason run. Otherwise, whether culpable or not for the poor performance on ice, Vigneault could find himself relieved of his duties, just like his former New York counterpart. But for now, Rangerstown will look to Alain Vigneault to finally overcome his big-game failures and bring the Cup back to Broadway.