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Game #39 – Hawks vs Rangers: Spotlight – Alain Vigneault Is In The Wrong Sport

Hang on, let me get my “30 For 30” voice on here. Ahem…

What if I told you that Alain Vigneault had more wins since Joel Quenneville took over the Hawks than Joel Quenneville? It’s true. Vigneault teams, and there’s two of them, have piled up 438 regular season wins while Q’s Hawks have piled up 431 in that time. He’s got far more wins than Claude Julien in that time. More then Ken Hitchcock. More than Mike Babcock. You can’t find an active coach who has won more games than Vigneault since he took over the Canucks in 2006-2007. No Vigneault-coached team has won less than 40 games (or at that pace in the case of 2013), except for his 2007-2008 team which won 39. When you hear it like that, it’s quite striking.

Vigneault has two years after this one on his contract with the Rangers, and if he were to serve it out, he would probably land around #7 all-time in wins. Clearly, the shootout and overtime rules are different now, but that puts him amongst names like Arbour, Hitchcock, and Quinn. When you hire Vigneault, there’s clearly a very high baseline you’re going to get.

And yet, talk to any NHL fan or observer and mention his name and you’ll probably get a smirk and a scoff. “What does it all matter,” they’ll probably say, “when you haven’t won the big one?” No sport puts more value on players and coaches than whether you’ve had a day with a big silver chalice.

Vigneault’s playoff record isn’t nearly as glittering. He’s been to a Final twice, and other than that there’s only been a handful of trips to the second round. And with that against his record, that’s always a blotch he’s got to get around.

But still, aside from Quenneville, is his playoff record that much worse than those considered he best in the game? Mike Babcock has three trips to the Final, two of which with a loaded Red Wings roster. Only one Cup. His teams haven’t seen past the second round since they lost that Final in ’09 to the Penguins. Ken Hitchcock has only seen the conference Final once in over a decade.

So what would be the perception of Vigneault if Roberto Luongo’s intestines didn’t turn to paste in Boston in ’11? Is that Vigneault’s fault? You really going to pull a goalie switch in the middle of a Final? What if those earlier Canuck teams didn’t run into that juggernaut Hawks team, quite possibly still the most talented team of the post ’05 lockout? Either the ’09 or especially the ’10 Canucks team was good enough to get to a Final and win it.

Yes, the Canucks did lose in the first round the next two years. But one of them was to a Kings team that no one could get beyond five games (except for the Devils who had the benefit of the Kings being too drunk for Games 4 and 5 in that Final). And then he shows up in New York, and immediately takes a limited Rangers team to a Final and then a conference final.

If he were a baseball manager, he’d be pretty well liked. Think Dusty Baker or Ron Gardenhire or whoever else. It’s still mentioned, but their regular season wins are not ignored. It would be the same in football, though in the football world every coach is a genius. Maybe basketball it would be the same case, and perhaps that’s the sport a coach has the most control over. Or the least, as you’re not going anywhere if you don’t have a genuine star or two (Tyron Lue has a ring, folks).

Vigneault is going to end up in the Hall of Fame one day, and when he does there will be a fair measure of chuckles. Maybe they’re justified, maybe they’re not. But the Canucks haven’t even sniffed a series win since he left. The Rangers probably won’t either. Teams notice when he’s gone.


Game #39 Preview




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