That Alain Vigneault was handed a brand new, three-year contract wasn’t exactly shocking news. He’s been successful since coming to New York in 2013, leading the Rangers to post-season appearances in each of his three seasons behind the bench and putting the Blueshirts in the thick of things once again this campaign despite playing in the incredibly tough Metropolitan Division.
What might have turned some heads, though, was learning that Vigneault’s new deal makes him the third-highest paid coach in the NHL. ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun reported that Vigneault’s new contract, which kicks in next season and carries through to the end of 2019-20, is set to pay the coach $4 million in each of the next two seasons, with a raise to $4.25 million in the final year. As far as coaching salaries go, only Toronto Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock and Chicago Blackhawks bench boss Joel Quenneville earn more, according to CapFriendly.
The reason that dollar figure will leave some wide-eyed is that Vigneault’s not often mentioned in the same breath as Babcock or Quenneville. There’s reason for that, of course. Babcock has a Stanley Cup to his name, and a bevy of international accomplishments, including being the only coach who’s a member of the Triple Gold club with podium-topping finishes at the Olympics, World Championship and World Juniors. As for Quenneville, it’s hard for anyone to match up with the second-winningest coach in NHL history or compete with one of only 11 coaches in league history to win at least three Stanley Cups.
Forget Babcock and Quenneville, though, because if you asked hockey fans to rattle off the top five coaches in the league, there’s a very real chance Vigneault wouldn’t be mentioned among them. Even that would be somewhat understandable with the likes of Ken Hitchcock, Claude Julien, Barry Trotz, Bruce Boudreau and Darryl Sutter still patrolling benches around the league. But given that Vigneault’s almost a forgotten man behind the bench in New York, there’s an argument to be made that he has actually become the most underrated coach in the entire NHL.
Vigneault got his head coaching start with the Canadiens back in 1997 as a 37-year-old, fresh out of a gig in the QMJHL with the Beauport Harfangs. But the task was a tall one for Vigneault with a Montreal club that was ready to take a step backwards. After three middling years and a brutal start to the 2000-01 campaign, Vigneault was let go. Unlike many coaches, though, it took Vigneault a while to make his way back. It would be another five years before he returned to an NHL bench, with stops with the QMJHL’s PEI Rocket and AHL’s Manitoba Moose along the way.
But since making his way back to the NHL with the Vancouver Canucks, Vigneault has consistently been one of the most outstanding coaches in the league.
He debuted with a Jack Adams Award in 2006-07, won for his part in leading the Canucks to a 13-point improvement, and over the next several seasons he guided the team to two league-topping finishes and a Western Conference title. When he moved on to the Rangers, Vigneault immediately put the team into the Stanley Cup contention, winning an Eastern Conference title in his first season behind the bench. And a resume that boasts two conference titles, two Presidents’ Trophies, a Jack Adams Award and a boatload of wins is impressive. That alone should have Vigneault mentioned among the top few coaches in the league.
But if one was looking for a further example of the type of influence Vigneault has had on his team’s ability to win, take a look at his record over the past 11 seasons, since his first year with the Canucks. Vancouver went 313-170-57 under Vigneault, and the only teams better during that period were the Detroit Red Wings, Pittsburgh Penguins and San Jose Sharks. So far under Vigneault, the Rangers have posted a 175-97-23 record. The only teams with more points are the Anaheim Ducks, Washington Capitals, St. Louis Blues, Chicago Blackhawks and Penguins.
And over the past 11 campaigns, which includes this season, Vigneault’s teams have maintained a points percentage of .632. Put up against some of the other aforementioned top coaches, Vigneault’s .632 mark is ahead of all but Boudreau (.663) and Quenneville (.633). Julien (.618) and Babcock (.612) aren’t all that far behind, but purely based on points percentage, Vigneault deserves to be in the conversation as one of the league’s best coaches over the past decade-plus.
Really, the only thing holding Vigneault back from getting consistent mention among the best coaches in the league is a Stanley Cup victory. Right now, that’s the lone NHL prize that has eluded him. He’s come painfully close, too. Had it not been for the larcenous play of then-Boston Bruins goaltender Tim Thomas, Vigneault likely would have added the Cup to his resume in 2010-11. And if the Kings weren’t such a dominant powerhouse, the Rangers maybe could have made more of the 2013-14 final appearance.
But you also have to consider the teams that Vigneault has lost to in the post-season along the way. Of the nine times Vigneault’s teams have come up short, two have been in the final and one came in the seventh game of the Eastern Conference final. Five times, his club has lost to the eventual Stanley Cup champion, most recently in 2015-16 when the Rangers were downed in five games by the Penguins. The other two losses include dropping a second-round series to an eventual Western Conference finalist and the “weakest” team Vigneault has lost a post-season series against was the 2012-13 San Jose Sharks.
That Vigneault is still searching for a Stanley Cup has as much to do with tough playoff draws as it does anything else. If the Canucks aren’t pitted against the Blackhawks in 2009-10, is Vancouver chasing back-to-back Cups under Vigneault? And if Thomas doesn’t stand on his head, is the Cup even a question in 2010-11? And what about 2014-15, when the Rangers fell one win short of a return trip to the final? That would have been a great chance for Vigneault to correct the mistakes of past year.
So while there’s a very clear hole on his resume, being without a Cup shouldn’t be enough to keep Vigneault out of the conversation as one of the top bench bosses in the league today. He has been the picture of consistency since getting back to the league in 2006-07, and for a coach to have as consistent a rate of success as Vigneault is impressive. Underrated? Definitely. Overpaid? Definitely not.
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