COMMENTARY | The coaching styles of former New York Rangers' head coach John Tortorella and the organization's newly-appointed head coach Alain Vigneault may be the best possible example of stark contrast.
Tortorella demanded each and every one of his players conform to his defense-first, shot-blocking, dump-and-chase style that, in truth, ran his players down. It also hindered his team's ability to break out of their own zone, and in turn, severely restricted their offensive creativity.
Vigneault, on the other hand, affords his players the privilege of working with time and space to create goal-scoring opportunities. To say he is a strict offense-first coach is inaccurate, but he does allow his team to get creative.
Furthermore, Tortorella was unwilling to change his game plan. He wanted his team to play in a particular style, even if they weren't built to play that way or were unsuccessful in their efforts. Vigneault is the opposite. He observes his team and instills a system that conforms to the makeup of the team.
The point here is that things are going to be different, and not just on the ice, but in the locker room. Tortorella was known for being very tough on his players, whereas Vigneault is considered more of a player's coach. For some of the guys who were around for most or all of Tortorella's tenure, it may be difficult to get used to Vigneault's approach and system, but for others it'll be a breath of fresh air.
Today we take a look at those players who will welcome the coaching change and could use it to their own individual benefit.
1) Chris Kreider: The 22-year-old burst onto the scene during the 2011-12 playoffs, joining the Rangers after he and his Boston College mates won the national title . Tortorella said he wouldn't suffocate Kreider with systematic instructions, but rather let the youngster just go out and play. He went on to wow the Garden Faithful with his speed, size and skill, and his five goals in 18 games--some of which were huge--helped the Rangers reach the conference finals.
2012-13 wasn't as easy as anyone had hoped for Kreider, as he struggled with the Connecticut Whale during the lockout. When the Rangers reconvened, Tortorella wasn't convinced Kreider was ready and the Boston native found himself in limbo the entire season.
But Vigneault's more open system could get Kreider back on track. At 6'3", 226 lbs Kreider has not only the frame, but the skill set to create offense. Considering the team's apparent lack of talented wingers, Vigneault could slot Kreider into a top-six role playing with a creative pivot. That would be setting him up for success, and if Vigneault could re-instill some confidence in the youngster the Rangers could have a star on their hands.
2) Rick Nash: All things considered, Rick Nash had a successful first season as a Ranger. 42 points in 44 games was second to only the team's leading scorer Derek Stepan. But there were times--especially in the playoffs--when Nash was ineffective. His patented spin-o-rama got old quick, and when the tough got going, Nash was left behind.
There's no question Nash has the talent, but his focus and decision making could use some attention. Fortunately for him, Vigneault is an expert at getting his top offensive players going. He turned the Sedin twins into two of the best players in the league and also had a hand in developing Ryan Kesler into one of the best two-way pivots in the game.
How did he do this? Line matching. Vigneault is an expert at getting his preferred line out against a particular enemy unit. Nash could benefit from this. As we saw last season, Nash had trouble dealing with the physicality of some bigger defensemen, for example Zdeno Chara. If Vigneault recognizes this, he'll do his absolute best to match up #61's line against a more fitting opponent. Of course he won't always be able to do so--and Vigneault and his coaching staff should address Nash's issues head on--but if there's a match up to be had, AV is going to get it most of the time.
3) Ryan McDonagh: Newly re-signed Ryan McDonagh--who'll rake in a cool $28.2 million over the next six years--is probably the Rangers best all-around defenseman. His tenacity and smarts make him one of the most steady defensemen in the league, but it's his phenomenal skating ability that make him one of the league's best shutdown men. His footwork is flawless and he's made a living (literally) cutting off some of the league's biggest, strongest and most talented forwards.
Tortorella deserves a ton of credit for the development job he did with McDonagh. The confidence he instilled in the youngster and guidance he provided him with cannot go unforgotten. That being said, development is a two-way street. McDonagh's talent and work ethic has gotten him to where he is today.
But there is a side to McDonagh's game that is, mostly, untapped: Offense. He'll probably never be considered an offensive defenseman--no matter how much he progresses in the area--but his speed and puck-handling ability afford him the privilege of developing the offensive side of his game. And that once again brings us back to Vigneault. Some encouragement and added responsibility in the offensive zone for McDonagh by way of AV could be all it takes for the 24-year-old to find his footing going forward. If Vigneault can help him round out his offensive game, McDonagh will be well on his way to Norris consideration in coming years.
4) Henrik Lundqvist: In truth, there isn't much Vigneault will do for Lundqvist directly. Lundqvist is on the top of his game, and the Rangers already employ the best in goaltending-coach business, Benoit Allaire. But Vigneault's arrival could still have a profound affect on Lundqvist and his future with the organization.
Under the Tortorella regime, the Rangers struggled to provide Lundqvist with ample goal support on a regular basis. Last season may have been Lundqvist's boiling point, as he appeared uncharacteristically frustrated during and after games, and even made comments suggesting he can't do everything. Initially, rumors spread that Lundqvist was behind the Tortorella firing, with many believing Hank gave the Rangers an ultimatum: Torts goes or I do. But recent comments from The King himself have dispelled those falsehoods.With Vigneault in the mix, though, the Rangers will undoubtedly push the envelope more offensively, even if they don't commit to a full-out offensive system. So Lundqvist will have more goal support next season, but he may also be exposed to more odd-man rushes if the defensemen are to join the rush regularly. But it shouldn't be a problem for the world's best tender, and I'm sure he'll welcome the increased support Vigneault's system is sure to provide him with.
Andrew Capitelli has been featured on Bleacher Report and Farmingdale Patch, covering both NHL and college hockey as well as the New York Rangers . Follow him on Twitter at @acapitelli .
- Sports & Recreation
- Ice Hockey
- New York Rangers
- John Tortorella
- Alain Vigneault
- Chris Kreider