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NICK FOTIU
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Can Chris Kreider get back on track under Vigneault

It's Hard To Get Excited
Posted by Toby Ivey ≡ 2:48:34 PM - June 20, 2013

The New York Rangers will introduce Alain Vigneault as their 34th head coach tomorrow morning.  Ultimately took Glen Sather less than a month to find a replacement for John Tortorella, who was "relieved of his duties" back on May 29th, four days after the Rangers were eliminated 3-1 by the Boston Bruins in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.

Likewise Vigneault was fired shortly after his Canucks were swept 4-0 in the first round by the San Jose Sharks.  Just a year prior Vigneault and Tortorella had gotten their respective teams to 1st and 2nd respectively in the NHL standings.  After a lockout shortened season, Vigneault has switched, and Tortorella has a good chance at replacing him in Vancouver.

Interestingly enough both Sather and Canucks GM Mike Gillis implied that the game has moved past their respective former coach's strategic game plan.

From a Rangers perspective, it's hard to get excited.  While Mark Messier - who Sather said was disappointed when informed the Rangers were going with Vigneault - would have been a high risk move, Vigneault is perhaps too much the opposite way.  A guy who has had solid regular season success, and moderate post-season success, but doesn't appear to have that special quality that will get them to the holy grail.

Of course their personalities are different, but in many ways, the former and future coaches have similar records - if not the same game plan.  Both have made it to the Stanley Cup Finals once, with Tortorella winning in Game 7 and Vigneault losing his, and if you take a look at the detailed stats, there're more similarities:

  Tortorella Vigneault
Seasons 12 11
Teams Coached 2 2
Regular Season Games 811 806
Regular Season Wins 398 422
Regular Season Point Pct. 0.552 0.583
Presidents Trophies 0 2
Conference Titles 2 2
Division Titles 3 6
Post Season Games 89 78
Post Season Series Wins 8 7
Post Season Wins 43 37
Post Season Win Pct. 0.483 0.474
Stanley Cups 1 0
Finals 1 1
Conference Finals 2 1
Semi Finals 4 5
Playoffs 8 7
50 Wins 1 2
40 Wins 5 5
Winning Seasons 9 9
Jack Adams Award 1 1

Both Tortorella and Vigneault have coached in relatively weak divisions for at least half their careers.  Tortorella with the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Southeast Division, and Vigneault with the Vancouver Canucks in the Northwest Division.  In fact, while Vigneault won six Division titles with the Canucks, only two of those saw Vancouver finish above 4th place in the Western Conference.

Vigneault has more an offensive bent, with his teams finishing 1st (2010-11), 2nd (2009-10) and 5th (2011-12) in the league in terms of goals per game, after an initial conservative start to his tenure in Vancouver.  Tortorella meanwhile never got the Rangers past 11th (2011-12).  In his defense, he did have one good year in Tampa when they finished 3rd (2003-04 the Cup  winning year).

Defensively speaking there's not much between them.  The Canucks finished the 2010-11 season top in the league, but the Rangers under Tortorella and Canucks under Vigneault have never finished more than 4 spots apart and have consistently been in the top 10 in the league.  Helps when you have Olympic gold medalist goalies in net no doubt.

On special teams, both clubs struggled this past year - Canucks 22nd and Rangers 23rd - but over the previous three years, the Canucks finished 4th, 1st and 6th against the Rangers' 23rd, 18th, 13th - counting back from 2011-12.

Perhaps a little surprisingly, the Canucks have been slightly better in the past three years on the penalty  kill, finishing 8th this past season, 6th in 2011-12 and 3rd in 2010-11.  Over the corresponding period, the Rangers were 10th, 5th and 15th.

In the post-season, Tortorella appeared to get even more conservative, and that ultimately probably proved to be his undoing.  Career-wise, Tortorella is 1-0 in series decided in 4 games, but is 2-6 in series that take 5 or 6 games to decide.  His specialty was Game 7s, in which he was 5-1, including the 2004 Cup Final, and 3-1 with the Rangers.

Not too dissimilarly, Vigneault's teams have been swept twice, and swept their opponents once.  He also has a 1-2 record in series decided within five games, but is 5-3 in longer series decided in 6 or 7 games.

Overall you can see why Sather would feel safe in picking Vigneault.  He'll improve media relations - an unwanted distraction no doubt under Tortorella - and has the added bonus of having worked in Montreal and Vancouver, both two heavy hockey markets with the media focus to match.  New York may actually prove to be an easier situation from that perspective.

His regular season performance has been pretty good with the Canucks - if not the Canadiens - and he has gotten his teams to perform at the top of the league both offensively and defensively.

The question though is his ability to get the teams to step up in the post-season.  The Bruins and Kings over the last three seasons, are perfect examples of teams that have changed gear when they've reached the playoffs, something both the Canucks and Rangers have struggled to do.

In 2010, the Bruins won the Northeast Division title, but were tied for the fourth best record in the Conference.  In 2012 they finished with the third best record, but were seeded fourth behind the Southeast Division champion Washington Capitals.  The Kings scraped in as an eighth seed, although a hot one, and crushed pretty much every team in their way.

Vigneault's 37-41 record in post season play is slightly worse than Tortorella's 43-46 one.  His teams have made it past the Semifinal stage just once in his 11 seasons - ultimately losing 4-3 in the Cup Finals to the Boston Bruins.

As referenced above, Vigneault's teams have not really been dominating in the post season, and if anything have had the same sort of challenges that Tortorella has with respect to stepping up. The Game 7 collapse to the Bruins in the 2011 Cup Final has been followed by 4-1 and 4-0 series losses to the Kings and Sharks in the past two years.

By playing it safe, Sather will likely get another team that performs well in the regular season, perhaps even better than under Tortorella, but will have plenty of question marks over them come the post-season.

In the game of risk and reward, Sather has chosen a low-risk approach from a coaching perspective, and is unlikely to get the big reward as a result.



Profile of the Author:
Has been an active follower of the New York Rangers since the 1996-97 season. Began OutsideTheGarden.com in 2001, and has continued to collect data and provide analysis on the team through to the current day.

 Additional stories from Toby Ivey:


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