The New York Rangers were in transition during the summer following an early exit from the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs. They became younger, faster and deeper, and that has translated into a first-place standing in the Metropolitan Division.
Leading the charge is Alain Vigneault, the favorite among NHL.com's 13-voter panel to win the Jack Adams Award at the first quarter of the 2016-17 season.
Vigneault has the Rangers playing at a blistering pace following the acquisitions of forwards Jimmy Vesey (free agent), Mika Zibanejad (trade) and Michael Grabner (free agent). Forward Pavel Buchnevich, New York's third-round pick (No. 75) in the 2013 NHL Draft, signed a three-year, entry-level contract after playing five seasons in his native Russia.
"You bring players in and I think what you try and do is put them into a situation where they can be successful," Vigneault told the Rangers website. "This year we've tried to have maybe a little more balance throughout our lines and I think it has paid dividends. [Grabner] coming in and being able to play with almost anybody and finding a success. That's what we're going to try and continue to do as we move forward."
New York's depth is being tested with Zibanejad (broken fibula) out 6-8 weeks and Buchnevich missing the next 2-3 weeks with a back injury, but what's driving the Rangers is how everyone is contributing. Six players have scored at least seven goals; Grabner leads the team with 12, four more than he had all last season with the Toronto Maple Leafs. Some of their core players, J.T. Miller and Kevin Hayes in particular, have taken their games to new levels while excelling in Vigneault's breakneck system.
"We're playing great as a team, and that's all I can say," Miller told the New York Post. "Pucks are going in, but every line is playing well. It wears on the other team and it gives, maybe whoever it is, more chances. More pucks are going in right now than last year, and that's been a big part of the team's success."
Vigneault earned 49 points (three first-place votes), 18 more than Columbus Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella. Six coaches received at least one first-place vote: Vigneault, Tortorella, Michel Therrien (Montreal Canadiens), John Hynes (New Jersey Devils), Todd McLellan (Edmonton Oilers) and Joel Quenneville (Chicago Blackhawks).
Voting totals (points awarded on 5-4-3-2-1 basis): Alain Vigneault, Rangers, 49 points; John Tortorella, Blue Jackets, 31; Michel Therrien, Canadiens, 26; John Hynes, Devils, 23; Todd McLellan, Oilers, 20; Joel Quenneville, Blackhawks, 14; Claude Julien, Boston Bruins, 12; Jon Cooper, Tampa Bay Lightning, 5; Bruce Boudreau, Minnesota Wild, 4; Guy Boucher, Ottawa Senators, 4; Paul Maurice, Winnipeg Jets, 3; Darryl Sutter, Los Angeles Kings, 2; Mike Babcock, Toronto Maple Leafs, 2.