Alain Vigneault takes a look back at his Rangers tenure
Reminders come along every now and again, raising memories of the past and giving perspective to the present. Kind of like that high-pitched squeal — “Go! Go! Go!” — coming from behind the bench and echoing around the Garden.
But that signature sound emanating from Alain Vigneault was coming from the visitors’ bench on Thursday night, as his new team, the Flyers, lost to his old team, the Rangers, in a 2-1 preseason shootout.
Vigneault was the Rangers headman from 2013-18, this being his first time back at the Garden. With all that has gone on with the Blueshirts in the past year and a half, Vigneault’s tenure seems like a long time ago. But it was one of the most successful runs in franchise history, seasons in which they were oh-so-close to winning, but just couldn’t get it done.
“There’s a lot of great memories,” Vigneault said before the Rangers’ penultimate preseason game. “I had a real good time here, worked with real solid people. I had good players that were fun to coach.”
Vigneault said all the right things about having respect for the organization, but it was clear he was a lame-duck coach once the front office sent out The Letter on Feb. 8, 2018, declaring their intention to rebuild. The Rangers were ready to get younger, and Vigneault’s demeanor of being imminently professional — if not hands-off — did not fit with what the team would need.
“There was a decision made above me about rebuilding, so I respect that,” Vigneault said. “Jim [Dolan] owns the team, and if he feels that’s the right thing to do for the team and the fans, he’s allowed to do that. My job was to coach the players that I had available, and that’s what I tried to do the best I could.”
Vigneault’s final moments as the Rangers’ coach will always be memorable, as he went on a strange rant after the season finale in — of all places — Philadelphia. But trying to sell the organization on his ability to lead the rebuilding fell on deaf ears. So he spent his year off playing golf in Florida, working on his tan and his beard and spending time with his grown children.
But there will always be that run to the 2014 Stanley Cup final — including the epic conference final against the Canadiens and his buddy Michel Therrien — along with the roller coaster 2015 conference final against the Lightning. But just as it was for Vigneault in Vancouver, when he lost in Game 7 of the Cup final, he could never get his hands on that coveted silver chalice.
“The thing that sticks out is how close we got,” said Marc Staal, one of only four holdovers from the team that went to the final, along with Henrik Lundqvist, Chris Kreider and Jesper Fast. “A lot of success, a lot of fun hockey. Just shy of closing the deal. That’s the thing I remember the most when you bring up his name.”
Those teams so often turned the other cheek, in the image of their cool and collected coach. But the lessons he instilled remained.
“I learned a lot about professionalism,” Staal said. “He had extremely high expectations of you, every shift and every game. That kind of attitude and pressure he put on you individually, it puts you on edge and pushes you to get better and more conscious of what you’re doing every day.”
There is a different type of motivation from Vigneault’s replacement, David Quinn. There is more teaching done in practice — and more raspy voices afterward. But the roster is almost entirely unrecognizable — young and skilled, with very little idea of just how it’s all going to work once the regular season starts on Oct. 3. Under Vigneault, the expectations were clear even if the ultimate goal was never realized.
“The first four years, we were always trying to win,” Vigneault said. “We sacrificed some future.”
Now the Rangers have entered that future, while Vigneault begins his run with the Flyers. A lot has changed since he left, but the memories will always remain.
“I wish them nothing but the best,” Vigneault said. “I hope it works out. I’ve got a lot of respect and a lot of love for the people that are there that I worked with for five years. I hope they do well — except against us.”
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