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SportsColumnistsSteve Zipay

Rangers coach Alain Vigneault has earned time to right the ship

New York Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault watches

New York Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault watches a replay during the third period of an NHL hockey game against the Florida Panthers, Saturday, Jan. 2, 2016, in Sunrise, Fla. The Panthers defeated the Rangers 3-0.

Coach Alain Vigneault has made some head-scratching decisions with the touch-and-go Rangers this season, and certainly, no one is immune to criticism.

Feel free to question the ice time of veterans Dan Girardi and Dan Boyle on the right side of his defense, and not spelling them with Dylan McIlrath more often.

Go ahead, pound the keys, demanding to know via Twitter why Tanner Glass is a regular in the lineup.

Accuse Vigneault of being unable to deliver strong enough messages or strategies to halt the wash-rinse-repeat cycle of a win, a loss, a win, a loss, a win, a loss, a win . . .

Rail against the recent special-teams woes as Vigneault praises the team’s five-on-five play.

Have opponents deciphered ways to attack the Rangers weaknesses? Have the right adjustments been made?

The concerns are legit.

And there’s more that could join the list.

But fans calling for Vigneault’s ouster are misguided.

The experienced bench boss who has guided the team to the Stanley Cup Final in his first season, who came within a game of another trip last spring and who helped orchestrate a pretty strong start this season, has bought some time.

With the most wins of any NHL head coach (440 as of Friday) since 2006-07, he’s earned the right for a little longer leash.

Coaches walk tightropes in the pro sports business, and now sail against the tides of social media and entertainment and market pressures more than ever.

Until a coach with a consistently good record loses the locker room, or rattles management with his persona, as John Tortorella and others have, and stays out of trouble away from the game, he should justifiably be given some leeway. For a while.

And Vigneault, in public, represents the Rangers well, and has not lost the room, or the most important player in it, Henrik Lundqvist. At least not yet.

It’s fair to wonder if the chance for a Cup has slipped away with this group, if the Rangers will be ousted early in the playoffs, or whether management can make the correct decisions to supplement the roster for another long playoff run. Note the word management: The front office has a significant role in this.

Does the personnel fit? Jarret Stoll didn’t. Emerson Etem didn’t. Anybody seen Raphael Diaz recently? Or a first-round draft pick? Did Glen Sather wait too long to get enough back for Cam Talbot?

And players need to pull their weight nightly, of course. One former NHLer who remains around the game and asked for anonymity, suggested that even with no-trade clauses and longer contracts, “players still want to win, for sure. And a loss hurts, but not as much when you’re making three or four million a year. Human nature.”

This is not at all to suggest that any Ranger fits that mold and isn’t trying, that the effort isn’t there.

However, the reality is, if the Rangers fizzle down the stretch, there will be fall guys. Players will be moved and maybe some staff will be shuffled. It happens. Vigneault’s leash likely will be shorter next season.

But it’s wholly wrongheaded to want to jettison the head coach before this campaign plays out.

New York Sports