June 23, 2013

Pucks On The 'Net: Vigneault and Tortorella

Steve Serby of the New York Post has a fantastic interview with New York Rangers coach Alain Vigneault. The two talk about pretty much everything, including Vigneault's 42 game playing career in the NHL. That's AV in the Blues jersey above, by the way.

On his style of play: I was probably considered more of a physical player back then. Now and then, I dropped the gloves. I was thinking of that yesterday (chuckle). In my 42 of the best NHL games in the world, I had a fight with Mark Messier! ... He was playing in Edmonton at the time. And I think accidentally, I hit this French guy with my stick — and ... he came boltin’ after me. It was an accident. I did all right, he did all right (smile), it wasn’t a real long fight.

On his first NHL Goal: It was here in the Garden. I remember ’cause I used to kid J.D. [John Davidson] that I scored on him, but it wasn’t on him, it was on Steve Baker. I came out of the box — it was my second NHL game — came out of the box, I had a breakaway and I scored.

His hockey idol growing upGilbert Perreault. My dad was a big Habs fan, and just to go maybe a little against what your dad was picking for, I was cheering for the Buffalo Sabres at that time, and the French Connection, Gilbert Perreault was one of the best players in the NHL.

On the Sedins: When I got [to Vancouver] they were second-line players, and it didn’t take me a long time to figure out that they had the skill set to become the best players on our team. And they were my best workers. And as a coach, when your top players are your hardest workers, it makes your job so much easier. ... They were better people than they were hockey players.

On how he motivates: I think motivation is about setting goals, being able to measure those goals ... and giving players the feedback to attain those goals. You set the goals, you help ’em by teaching them right, give ’em the right feedback, and usually a player stays really highly motivated all the time.

Here's the full interview. It is worth the read. 

Meanwhile in Vancouver they are getting ready to formally announce John Tortorella as their new head coach. Essentially the two organizations traded head coaches, which should be make for a fascinating storyline when the Rangers and Canucks meet in the Stanley Cup final in 2014, right?

Time will tell about that. It should prove to be very interesting times in Vancouver, that is for sure. While Vigneault is a much need breath of fresh air in Manhattan, Tortorella promises to breath fire.

First thing that must be said - John Tortorella is undeniably a very good coach. Perhaps he is exactly what this team needs. They need someone who can help pry open that closing Stanley Cup window. Some - many - may not like his style but his coaching ability can not be questioned.

The question is can he survive in Vancouver? Has Mike Gillis/team ownership misjudged either their new coach or the marketplace? His infamous clashes with media have everyone waiting on edge already. His sideshow act lead into oblivion? New York may be the center of the universe, but he's never had to deal with as an intense media situation as Vancouver. Can he co-exist with an even higher level of media scrutiny? Will he hold himself accountable, just like he insists from his players?

And we have not even yet asked will the players accept him. What about the Canucks shareholders? You know, the guys and girls who pay the bills - the fans!

I think a lot of people are expecting this to blow up in Vancouver's face. You can't blame Canucks fans for fearing this, not after the Mike Keenan/Mark Messier Error (I mean era) (no, error really is the right word) back in the late 1990s. If it does blow up, this is all on Mike Gillis (even though stories have surfaced that ownership was heavily involved in the coaching search). He is taking a big gamble here.

While Gillis is taking a gamble, it appears his mandate from ownership is win now. While a lot of Canucks fans wanted them to retool a little bit for a year or two - remain a competitive playoff team but land some young players/prospects - the Canucks seem insistent upon going for broke right now. That plan might very well be ill-advised, but they are clear in their message.

As a fan I have mixed feelings about that. The bold coaching change is about a year too late, and I think the Stanley Cup window is pretty much closed already. Going for broke will cost this franchise in the long run. I'd rather see them restock with some youth and remain a relevant team for years to come.

On the other hand, not every team has a mandate from ownership to go after the championship at whatever cost, season after season. In that respect Vancouver fans are very fortunate.

Even if this will blow up in their face.

A few more Pucks On The 'Net:

  • Try as I might, I could not find a great photo of John Tortorella playing hockey. He played at the University of Maine followed by a short minor league career with such legendary teams as the Virginia Lancers and Nashville South Stars. Interestingly, his first year of pro hockey was spent with Kristianstads IK of the Swedish league 3rd division.
  • The trading market for Los Angeles' prized young goalie Jonathan Bernier is really heating up. Pay attention Mike Gillis, this is what you should have done with Cory Schneider two years ago.
  • What carnage in game five of the Stanley Cup final. Neither Patrice Bergeron or Jonathan Toews - arguably the best player on each team - finished the game and remain questionable for game 6.
  • Patrick Kane has found his goal scoring heroics here in the Final, perhaps making him the favorite to win the Conn Smythe trophy as MVP should Chicago win the Stanley Cup. I think Bryan Bickell should win it - he has been the surprise scoring hero of the whole playoffs and here in the Final his presence has been immeasurable. His physical play has not only open up a lot of room for Kane and Toews, but he has nullified big Zdeno Chara on the Boston blue line.

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