Vigneault says he couldn't pass up coaching Rangers
NEW YORK -- Alain Vigneault had a number of opportunities after being fired by the Vancouver Canucks, but when examining his options, there was one job too good to ignore.
That's why Vigneault on Friday officially was introduced as coach of the New York Rangers, signing a five-year contract to replace John Tortorella, who was fired after losing to the Boston Bruins in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.
"I was thinking about the opportunity to coach the New York Rangers, one of the Original Six teams, in this great city, and there wasn't a chance I could pass that up," Vigneault said during a press conference at Radio City Music Hall. "Honor and privilege is what I feel at this moment. I'm coming here to win and there's no doubt in my mind that this organization is committed to winning the Stanley Cup."
The five-year deal he got from the Rangers certainly didn't hurt.
"I did find out it is a lot easier to negotiate yourself a contract when there's two teams after you rather than just one," Vigneault said, drawing laughter from the media and general manager Glen Sather.
Vigneault picked the Rangers rather than the Dallas Stars in part because it would bring him closer to his daughters, each in their 20s, who live in the Montreal area.
"I'm a divorced father [and] I've been away from home [for] 10 years," the 52-year-old said, including coaching stints with PEI in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, Manitoba in the American Hockey League, and the past seven seasons with the Canucks. "In the hockey season you don't get to see your kids very often -- maybe at Christmas, maybe at March break if the schedule works.
"When my girls knew that I had the opportunity to come here, I can tell you they were real excited. … My youngest goes to Concordia University in Montreal and I walked into her apartment the other day and they had two little coffee mugs, one of the Dallas Stars and one of the New York Rangers, and they were sitting on the couch and they both had Yankee hats on. [I said], 'I know where you want me to go; I'll see what I can do.' So it worked out real well. They're going to be an hour away from here, and instead of maybe seeing them, because [the Canucks] didn't play out east very often, once, maybe twice a year, I might be fortunate enough to see them a couple times a month now. So that was really big."
During his time with the Canucks, Vigneault compiled a 313-170-57 record. He made the Stanley Cup Playoffs six times; won a pair of Presidents' Trophies; and led the Canucks to the 2011 Final, where they lost to the Bruins in seven games.
"I think he's one of the top coaches in the NHL and I think we're very fortunate to have the opportunity to sign him here in New York," Sather said. "When I started to talk to him, the first thing that came to my mind was he was anxious to become a New York Ranger. He was very interested in coming here, he was interested in our team. He had that sense of ambition I like. He's been a winner [and] he wants to be a winner here. I like his track record. From the digging that we've been able to do we found out the kind of quality person he is."
Sather said he liked the more offensive-oriented style of play Vigneault would bring. The GM said he felt the Rangers became too defensive-minded under Tortorella.
"[Vigneault] loves the offensive game, which I think a lot of us do today," Sather said. "Today's game has changed, and I particularly enjoy that style of game. That's not to criticize anyone that likes the defensive part of hockey because I think you need that as well. The game has changed a little bit in the last three to four years. If you're watching the Stanley Cup Playoffs today, you'll see that there's a lot more offense going on. … I like his style of play and I like how his players have reacted to him over the years."
How Rangers players reacted to Tortorella, Sather said, played no role in his dismissal after almost five seasons.
"There hasn't been a player that … complained to me about Torts," Sather said. "Torts is the kind of guy that pushes to win. It doesn't mean [Vigneault] won't be that kind of guy; he's a pusher as well. Sometimes … you have to give a guy a little love and a kick in the [pants] once in a while; depends on when you pick your time to do that.
"Coaching is like being a father. You can have all the answers for your son and he gets tired of listening to you. You take your son to a football game or a hockey game and tell him what to do, he's not going to listen to you. But if someone else comes in with a different voice, boom, the light goes on. It's a tricky thing. And I think after a period of time, like all sons do, they tune their father out."
Sather said the Rangers' reliance on defense first led to players being worn down by the time the postseason started.
"I think we needed a change in style," he said. "If you look at the injuries that we had over the years, and the number of guys that really got [beat up] in our end, [it was] because we constantly had to defend our end. It's a lot easier to move the puck out quick then go back and slow down and bring the puck out. That style was perfect here for a couple years, but I think it started to wear our team out. There's nothing wrong with that style. But with the injuries that we had this year, it started to take a toll on our hockey club and it was time to change that style a little bit so we could go farther and compete longer."
During seven seasons in Vancouver, Vigneault changed the Canucks from a defensively oriented team to one that relied more on an offense led by star players Daniel Sedin, Henrik Sedin and Ryan Kesler. The Canucks finished 19th in the League in goals per game in 2012-13, but the three previous seasons saw them finish fifth, first and second, respectively.
"When I started to talk to him, the first thing that came to my mind was he was anxious to become a New York Ranger. He was very interested in coming here, he was interested in our team. He had that sense of ambition I like. He's been a winner [and] he wants to be a winner here. I like his track record. From the digging that we've been able to do we found out the kind of quality person he is." -- Rangers GM Glen Sather on new coach Alain Vigneault
"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. They have to understand the game, they have to understand the time of the game they have to play higher percentage, but they also have to be given that latitude to make something out of nothing. That's why those guys have the high-end skill and you have to give them that leeway."
Vigneault stressed his definition of playing "the right way" does include an emphasis on defending.
"We're going to play the right way, and playing the right way is a combination of offense and defense," Vigneault said. "You can't just play offensive hockey. You have to be able to [play] defensively. You look at the best teams in the NHL and they play well at both ends of the rink. When I say our team is going to play the right way, that's what I mean: We're going to play well at both ends of the rink."
Vigneault said he doesn't know his new players well, but said an early look and discussions with people within the organization have him believing his group is ahead of where the Canucks were when he took over in 2006.
"Originally when I got to Vancouver we were a more defensive-oriented team because our skill level wasn’t as high," he said. "As they got better, as we improved our roster, we got a little more skill, we went to more of an offensive game. Right now I feel in New York, our skill base is pretty solid, so I'm really looking forward to this opportunity."
"We've got one of the best goaltenders in the world," Vigneault said. "I like the fact that I believe that after talking to Glen and Jim [Schoenfeld, assistant GM] and Jeff [Gorton, assistant GM], I believe we've got a good, solid base to get two good, strong offensive lines, and we've got great balance on defense. I don’t want to start to project now what it's going to look like, but I think we've got good balance, good offensive skill, and I look forward to working with those guys."
That work starts now. Vigneault will settle into his office at the team's practice facility in suburban Greenburgh, N.Y., watching tape of last season's games and talking to his new players.
He's sure what he'll see is a team he believes can compete for the Stanley Cup right away.
"I don't know the Rangers as well right now, having not played this year against the Eastern Conference," he said. "I did get the opportunity to watch a couple of their games against the Bruins in the [playoffs]. I think we're one of those teams that can compete for the Cup."