COMMENTARY| Alain Vigneault was formally introduced as the 35th coach of the New York Rangers on Friday, June 21. Rangers general manager Glen Sather believed that the 52-year-old former Vancouver Canucks boss would introduce a more possession-heavy, offensive game, which is the polar opposite of the grinding, defensive style former coach John Tortorella instilled.
Tortorella had his successes, but in the end, many players grew frustrated of his antics. A host of players found themselves in Tortorella's ever growing doghouse and some, like Marian Gaborik, even found themselves playing for different teams.
There's been a lot of chatter about whether or not Gaborik and Tortorella got along in the locker room even from the start. On paper, it never looked like a good match. Tortorella even said himself he didn't think Gaborik was tough enough when he got to New York, although he did eventually admit he was pleasantly surprised to find out that Gaborik was and that he respected him.
Gaborik, too, never had a bad thing to say about Torts in the media, but game action, and this tweet Gaborik published after Tortorella was fired, proved that the two weren't on the same page. That being said, Gaborik still put up 40-plus goals in two different seasons with the Rangers, and while that has to be considered a success, 2013 as a whole could not be, and not just for both individuals, but the entire team.
So Gaborik was sent out and Sather acquired players to help Tortorella run his up-tempo, grind-till-you-die system. But ironically enough, Tortorella was released after the Rangers were defeated at the hands of the Boston Bruins in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals. Sather later revealed that the team's lack of puck-possession "had a lot to do" with him relieving 55-year-old of his duties.
Just two months removed from the trade deadline, the Rangers were both Gaborik- and Tortorella-less.
Now, back to the present day, the Rangers enter draft weekend with their coach in place, no first round pick and a glaring need: a scoring forward. Interestingly enough, that was the team's greatest need heading into last summer, too. Sather decided then to acquire Rick Nash from the Columbus Blue Jackets to give his team a two-headed offensive attack.
But now they find themselves back at square one, and this time with a new coach. And not just any coach, but one that would have, no doubt, gotten the best out of both Gaborik and Nash.
Vigneault is known best for two things: harvesting a creative environment and getting the best out of his top players. Sounds like exactly what the Rangers needed these past two years, doesn't it?
In Vancouver, Vigneault helped Henrik and Daniel Sedin become two of the best players in the league. Henrik won the Art Ross Trophy as scoring champion and the Hart Trophy for league MVP on Vigneault's watch and Daniel also won a Art Ross as well as a Ted Lindsay for most outstanding player, as voted by the players.
Besides the fact that Vigneault led the Canucks to Game 7 of the 2011 Stanley Cup Final--which they eventually lost--Vigneault's ability to get his top dogs running at peak performance are his best accomplishments.
Because it's not just about the Sedins; Ryan Kesler scored 41 goals in 2010-11, Alex Burrows 35 in 2009-10 and Mikael Samuelsson 30 in 2009-10. If you've got talent, Vigneault is going to help you realize it. Players like Chris Kreider, Mats Zuccarello and Derick Brassard are going to be in good hands, and don't be surprised to see that trio breakout in 2013-14.
But, getting back to Gaborik, just imagine what Vigneault would be able to do with the all-world speed and skill that the Slovak possess. He scored 40-plus goals twice under Tortorella's offensively starved system and he did it an additional time in a similar system out in Minnesota.
Gaborik has never played in a truly open system. AV invites his skill players to take advantage of open ice; it would have been a perfect match. If you can remember, Vancouver was one of the teams with heavy interest in Gaborik in the summer of 2009 when he was a unrestricted free agent. Don't for one second think Vigneault didn't have his hand in that.
I don't think there's any doubt that Gaborik would have excelled under Vigneault, but the truth is that the Rangers are deeper without him. Brassard, John Moore and Derek Dorestt afford the Rangers the luxury of depth.
But it's hard to look past the fact that the Rangers have struggled to score since the departure of Jaromir Jagr in the summer of 2008. Depth can be found, but the talent that Gaborik possesses is not readily available. The Rangers will hope that some of the younger players can benefit from the freedom Vigneault allows them and hopefully their successes overshadow the inevitable looming thoughts of what could have been: a match made in heaven.
- Sports & Recreation
- New York Rangers
- John Tortorella
- Marian Gaborik
- Alain Vigneault