Vigneault different than Tortorella on and off the ice
NEW YORK -- The first indication the John Tortorella Era with the New York Rangers was over occurred shortly into the press conference Friday to announce his successor, Alain Vigneault.
It came in the form of a sound that had been missing from Rangers press conferences over the past few years: Laughter.
Asked what the biggest factors were that attracted him to the Rangers, Vigneault expressed a desire to win and to coach an Original Six team. However, there was one more reason.
"I did find out that it's a lot easier to negotiate a contract when you have two teams after you instead of just one," he said, drawing laughter from Rangers general manager Glen Sather as well as the media covering the press conference.
Vigneault's lighter touch was evident throughout his introduction to the New York area during a session at Radio City Music Hall, whether it was making his new boss laugh or shaking hands with every media member during later interviews.
It was a far cry from the tense atmosphere that sometimes clouded Tortorella's tenure, especially his meetings with the press, which could turn surly or antagonistic. Moreover, it's representative of the type of change Vigneault will bring to the Rangers, differences Sather said will help turn the team into a Stanley Cup contender again.
“Coaching is like being a father,” Sather said. “You can have all the answers for your son, and he gets tired of listening to you. So if you take your son to a football game or a hockey game and you tell him what to do, he doesn’t listen to you. But if someone else comes in with a different voice, boom, a light goes on. So it’s a tricky thing, and after a period of time, like all sons do, they tune their fathers out."
Sather said the change from Tortorella to Vigneault wasn't about the personal as much as it was about the coaching.
"I think we needed a change in style," Sather said. "If you look at the injuries that we've had over the years, there's a number of guys that are really getting [beat up] in our end because we've constantly had to defend our own end. It's a lot easier to move the puck up quick then to go back and slow down and bring the puck up. I mean, that style was perfect here for a couple years, but I think it started to wear our team out."
Tactically, Vigneault shares little in common with Tortorella, other than a game plan fueled by a fierce desire to win.
"I like my teams to play the right way," Vigneault said, "which is if you have room to make a play, make a play. If you have space and time to carry the puck, carry the puck. If the other team has the gap on you or they're playing you tight, then sometimes you have to make the high-percentage play and chip those pucks in. I really believe in playing the right way both offensively and defensively. I believe that your top skill players have to be given a little bit more latitude."
Additionally, Vigneault said he will foster a different type of atmosphere in the locker room and on the ice, one based on positivity, finding a system that works for his team, and giving talented, young players a fair shot to prove they're NHL-ready. To do this, he plans on making sure he has the right coaching staff to assist his mission.
"I want guys that are upbeat and positive," he said. "It's so much easier to come into an environment -- and that's my job as the head coach, to create that positive environment -- where guys are coming into the rink where they want to work and they want to get better. Well, I can't do that by myself; I've got to have the right people surrounding me."
The Rangers signed Vigneault to a five-year contract, and with it comes heavy expectations. After coaching the Montreal Canadiens and Vancouver Canucks, Vigneault said he is well-versed in the intense scrutiny that surrounds a big-market team, and he knows the future will hold challenges when it comes to dealing with the media.
"At some point in time, you [the media] are going to write things or say things about me that might not be as positive as they can be, but I respect that," he said. "I think everyone is entitled to their own opinion. … I understand your job isn't the easiest job in the world. I'll do my best to be as accommodating as I can, but at the time same time you have to understand I have a responsibility to the players and the organization."