Alain Vigneault, the New York Rangers head coach, has had a successful first season with the team. The Rangers earned 96 points in the regular season and a second place finish in the newly formed Metropolitan Division. This translates to enjoying home ice against the Philadelphia Flyers in the first round of the playoffs. Vigneault’s achievement was not matched in Vancouver by his doppelgänger, former Rangers coach John Tortorella. The Canucks missed the playoffs for the first time in six years. As the Canucks head coach, Vigneault had tremendous regular season success, compiling winning records in each of those seasons. In 540 games overall with Vancouver, Vigneault compiled a sturdy 313-170-57 record. This is also a stellar .632 win percentage.
But what of his record in the playoffs? What can we expect from the coach as the Rangers enter post-season play? The team are contenders but not favorites. The coach has guided his first year team, in New York, to a slightly less competitive .585 winning percentage. Under Vigneault the Canucks enjoyed five straight first place finishes from the 2008-2009 season to his last year with the team in 2012-2013. It was the Canucks who eclipsed the Rangers by a point for the President’s Trophy on the last day of the Rangers’ inspiring 2011-2012 season. Here is where the dream-like coaching turns a bit nightmarish. In those 5 post-seasons in Vancouver the teams’ winning percentage went from .600. in the first post-season to dreadful showings in the last two seasons at .200 and .000. The zeros represent being swept in the first round of last year’s playoffs. Here is the source of the greatest discontent with the coach, and a significant factor in his firing.
As reported by Rotoworld, “Canucks GM Mike Gillis has fired Alain Vigneault “after a thorough review.” “Gillis cited the Canucks’ lack of playoff success as the primary reason they decided to make a change. Vancouver has been great in the regular season, but endured fast exits from the 2012 and 2013 playoffs. Fan Attic, a blog in the Vancouver Sun, cited a complacency that crept into the team. The disappointing outcomes were the coach’s responsibility. In Vancouver, he certainly had the horses. They also point to an easier schedule with timely goaltending as a reason for the first place finishes.
The Rangers have an enthused first year coach, a different barn and different horses. They haven’t finished first overall, due to a very slow start. Yet they posted one of the three top winning percentages in the league since finding their game in December. One could say that as dominant as the Rangers have been, they are still not firing on all cylinders. Marty St. Louis might agree. I expect an effective coach such as Vigneault to have studied and learned from any past shortcomings. With his new team peaking, he may well have a better shot at a higher winning percentage than he achieved in the post-season in Vancouver. Sometimes it is better to come in a bit under the radar, instead of as a first place favorite. The team and the coach still have much to prove. That may very well be the inspiration that carries them far, very far.