Hours after putting up an egg in their 5-0 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday, the New York Rangers fired their head coach Alain Vigneault after five years. After four playoff appearances, the Rangers struggled, finishing 34-39-9 on the season. In all, however, Vigneault had quite a bit of success in his time in New York, which included taking the Rangers to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2013-14, his first season with the team. He led the team to a 226-147-37 record over the five years.
The firing also came after Vigneault himself stated in his post-game press conference that he deserved to stay and defended his record, according to Newsday’s Colin Stephenson.
“Yes, yes. Without a doubt,’’ he said when asked if he thought he would hold on to his job despite the Rangers’ 34-39-9 record, which caused them to miss the playoffs for only the second time since the NHL lockout that canceled the 2004-05 season. “I think my staff is the right staff for this job. I think — and this is just my opinion — but I think one of the strongest assets of this organization is its coaching staff and their experience.’’
Some of Vigneault’s struggles were not his doing as the Rangers decided to rebuild on the fly, sending out a letter on Feb. 7, telling fans about their decision to rebuild the team. The Rangers followed that by selling off several veterans including Michael Grabner, Rick Nash, Nick Holden, J.T. Miller and captain Ryan McDonah.
However, Stephenson also points out several issues that came up this season that forced the Rangers to head in that direction. After re-designing its defense with the acquisitions of star free agent Kevin Shattenkirk and re-signing Brendan Smith, the team was hoping to possess one of the best defenses in the league. Instead, the team started slowly at 1-6-2 in its first nine games and was 3-7-2 after 12 in which Vigneault almost lost his job. The team was able to right the ship after that, but only because of the impressive play of both the team’s goaltenders in Henrik Lundqvist and Ondrej Pavelec. Neither goalie was able to sustain their great play.
Injuries also played a part. Shattenkirk was playing hurt, while Smith came into camp out of shape and never returned to form before eventually being sent down to the AHL. Winger Chris Kreider missed 24 games due to a blood clot that led to surgery on his ribs. Center Mika Zibanejad missed nine games with a concussion, while Shattenkirk had knee surgery in January and never came back.
The Athletic’s Rick Carpiniello writes (subscription required) that there were other reasons as well that stand out when it came to Vigneault. The coach’s lack of success at the blueline have been issues for years as his system had failed repeatedly. Vigneault had undergone three different defensive assistant coaches in three years, including Ulf Samuelsson, Jeff Beukeboom and Lindy Ruff and replaced most of the defense and still failed to get them going. His tough love was also an issue as he butted heads with many players, especially Miller and Pavel Buchnevich. However, the most telling numbers is the team’s record from Jan. 7 to Feb. 25, when Vigneault led the team to just a 5-16-1 record.
Vigneault has a 648-435-98 overall record throughout his career with the Montreal Canadiens, Vancouver Canucks and the Rangers. He won the Jack Adams Award as Coach of the Year in 2007.
TSN’s Bob McKenzie was the first to report the news.