Vigneault expected to bolster Rangers' offense
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Call it a climate change. The Rangers are about to make a transition from the stormy, stubborn John Tortorella, who preached defense and playing without the puck in the East, to Alain Vigneault, a cooler head coach who has emphasized puck possession and an attacking style in the West. Vigneault, 52, and the Rangers have reached an agreement in principle, according to a source familiar with the negotiations.
It's not that Vigneault, who is expected to be officially announced as the next coach on Broadway in the next few days, dismisses defensive responsibility. The Canucks were fourth in the NHL during the regular season in goals against in the 2011-12 season (2.33) and first overall in 2010-11 (2.20).
But the Rangers need a jolt of offense and that's what Vigneault, who guided the Canucks for seven seasons, will be expected to deliver.
After all, in the last three full seasons, Vancouver has found the net with regularity. In 2009-10, the Canucks finished second overall, averaging 3.27 goals per game; the following season, they led the league at 3.15. In the last 82-game season, 2011-12, they were fifth, at 2.94.
Granted, the Canucks are in the Northwest Division, with Edmonton, Calgary, Minnesota and Colorado, and have the Sedin twins to provide some pop. The Rangers faced formidable competition in the rugged Atlantic Division, and the coming realignment, when Washington, Carolina and Columbus (with its group of former Rangers, including Marian Gaborik, Artem Anisimov and Brandon Dubinsky) could make it even more competitive.
Nonetheless, Vigneault is the type of coach who gives his players offensive freedom, which can only help power forward Rick Nash, skilled winger Chris Kreider, speedster Carl Hagelin and savvy playmakers Derek Stepan and Derick Brassard. Defensemen Ryan McDonagh and Michael Del Zotto could make big improvements offensively because of this coaching change.
Ryan Callahan, one of the steadiest two-way Rangers, might even get though a season without injuries from having to block shots with abandon.
Another item on Vigneault's to-do list is the dismal power play, which lacked a quarterback, quickness and confidence. Though the Rangers may never rise to the level of the Canucks in the past two full seasons (fourth in the NHL in 2011-12 and first in 2010-11 at 24.3 percent), a jump of any significance from 2010-11 (18th) and 2011-12 (23rd) would be greeted with enthusiasm by a restless fan base.
Strategically, Vigneault has dispatched his premier offensive players to start an overwhelming number of shifts in the offensive zone, data shows, and both he and Canucks general manager Mike Gillis have used results of research studies on fatigue and advanced statistics to better deploy players.
One thing that won't change: The Rangers' reliance on workhorse goaltender Henrik Lundqvist. Vigneault shuffled goalies last season when Gillis did not deal Roberto Luongo -- although he waived his no-trade clause -- and Cory Schneider.
And the tense atmosphere among the Rangers, some of whom became increasingly frustrated with Tortorella's volatility and single-mindedness, should lift.
"When he came in, we were still young guys and he put a lot of trust in us," Henrik Sedin told reporters in April. "Not only in me and Danny [Sedin], but in Ryan Kesler, Kevin Bieksa, Mason Raymond and other guys, too. There have been some ups and downs, but he has kept believing in us even though we have been through some tough times. It says a lot about him and it makes it fun to play for him."