NEW YORK, N.Y. – The message from the New York Rangers bench might not be any different than in years past. The tone in which it is delivered most likely will be.
Whether the softer approach new coach Alain Vigneault offers in comparison to the barking tones of deposed bench boss John Tortorella is what the Rangers need remains to be seen.
Despite getting the club to the Eastern Conference semifinals last season, Tortorella was somewhat surprisingly let go by general manager Glen Sather and replaced by the gentler-on-the-outside Vigneault, who was dismissed as coach of the Canucks after Vancouver was swept in the first round of the playoffs by San Jose.
In an added twist, Tortorella got Vigneault’s old job in Vancouver, while Vigneault took over for him in New York.
Quite a trade indeed.
“I believe the New York Rangers have been doing a lot of the right things for a lot of years,” Vigneault said. “This is an Original Six team. This is a great franchise. There are some things I prefer done a certain way, and I’m going to tell the players. But as far as this being a drastic change, this organization is one of the best in the league.
“There are little things here and there that need to be pushed in a certain direction. The atmosphere, the environment that I want to create—a professional, positive environment. I want the players to feel good about coming to the rink and trying to get better every day.”
Vigneault is the winningest coach in Canucks history, but after a seven-year run it was determined a different voice was needed in Vancouver—perhaps a harsher one than the one the more user-friendly Vigneault provided.
Tortorella lasted only 4 1/2 seasons before his time with the Rangers ran out.
Sather was quick to assert at Vigneault’s introductory news conference that the Rangers needed a change in style. He spoke specifically about Tortorella’s strong focus on defence and blocking shots—a philosophy that often led to New York’s players being consistently banged up.
Vigneault was given a five-year deal to lead the Rangers, edging out other candidates such as Mark Messier and longtime former Buffalo Sabres coach Lindy Ruff, who landed with the Dallas Stars.
In 11 seasons as an NHL head coach with Montreal and Vancouver, the 52-year-old Vigneault is 422-288-35-61 in 806 games.
“The style of play we like to play is outnumber the opposition aggressively so we can recover the puck, set the tone and go on the attack,” Vigneault said. “As our players understand the different principles we’re trying to put in place, then I think people will be able to pick up (the system).”
The Rangers open at Phoenix on Oct. 3.
Here are five things to keep an eye on with the Rangers this season:
ROAD TRIP: Before the Rangers get into the thick of the new-look Eastern Conference, they will get a healthy dose of Western opponents as they open with a nine-game, 23-day road trip necessitated by extensive renovations at Madison Square Garden. New York will play at Phoenix, Los Angeles, San Jose, Anaheim and St. Louis before travelling to face Eastern foes Washington, New Jersey, Philadelphia and Detroit, which has been transferred from the West to the East. If New York can get off to a good start before finally playing at home on Oct. 28 against Montreal, it could bode well later in the season.
STEPAN’S ABSENCE: The Rangers are dealing with the absence of restricted free agent centre Derek Stepan, who remains unsigned deep into training camp. The sides are believed to be about $600,000 apart on a two-year deal. Stepan is thought to be looking to get $7 million as the Rangers are holding to a $6.4 million offer. It is unknown if Stepan, who could be the club’s top centre, will be signed before opening night. He will have to sign by Dec. 1 to be eligible to play.
NEW FOES: While the Rangers will still face familiar rivals from their Atlantic Division days—the New Jersey Devils, the New York Islanders, the Philadelphia Flyers and the Pittsburgh Penguins—they will be joined in the newly formed Metropolitan Division by the Carolina Hurricanes, the Washington Capitals and the Columbus Blue Jackets, who were moved from the West.
NASH AND RICHARDS: Brad Richards is still with the Rangers after his poorest NHL season. He avoided having his contract bought out, but he will need to show the kind of offence he featured during his glory days with the Tampa Bay Lightning. Nash had 21 goals and 21 assists in his lockout-shortened first season in New York. He struggled with a wrist injury and had only one post-season goal.
INJURIES: The Rangers hope to have key forwards captain Ryan Callahan and Carl Hagelin back on the ice soon after both underwent shoulder surgery. They might not be cleared for contact before the season opener. However, leading defenceman Marc Staal said he feels good as he continues to come back from a serious eye injury.