This is as much about expectations as it is a reward for Alain Vigneault, the Rangers head coach whose contract extension, officially announced Tuesday morning, locks him up through the 2019-20 season, two extra years as he’s in the middle of his fourth season of the original five-year pact he signed in June of 2013.
He is rightfully being entrusted for the foreseeable future by general manager Jeff Gorton, by president Glen Sather and by owner James Dolan to not just maintain the success he’s produced in three-and-a-half seasons behind the Rangers bench, but push the franchise past the finish line for the first time since 1994 and lift the Stanley Cup, the only yet unmistakable void on Vigneault’s resume.
“I haven’t won that one game,” Vigneault said Tuesday, “but I’m working my butt off to do it.”
You can hear in the 55-year-old Quebecker’s voice how badly he wants to win that elusive Stanley Cup, the prize he came to within one game of winning with the Canucks in 2011, taking a 3-2 lead over Boston before falling in seven games; the trophy he had within his sights in his first season with the Rangers, bringing them to the Cup Final where they lost to Los Angeles in five games. Two of their losses in that series came in double overtime, and another in one overtime.
He practically could’ve tasted the Cup it was so close. The man with three Presidents’ Trophies, one with the Rangers, and a Jack Adams award to his name wants to drink from it.
“I know how privileged and fortunate I am to be in this position,” said Vigneault, who began his NHL coaching career with Montreal in 1997. “There are only 30 jobs open, and I’m working my butt off to win the ultimate thing. I’ve come close. I feel I’ve never been more driven than I am at this point.”
Vigneault isn’t infallible. The Canucks found enough fault with Vigneault to fire him following the 2012-13 season after losing 10 of their last 11 playoff games. Everyone has their own way of dealing with young players and lineup decisions, and Vigneault has at times been criticized in those regards, but the fact he’s been an upper-echelon coach who’s led the Rangers to the third-most wins (175) in the NHL since the start of 2013-14 and has them outperforming prognostications this season.
So it made sense for Gorton, as Vigneault tells it, to initially bring up the idea of a new deal over the summer, wanting to avoid a potential lame-duck scenario. Talks picked up again a month ago, resulting in Vigneault getting a reported $12.25 million over the next three seasons.
“I’m not about gimmicks,” Vigneault says. “It’s about the process; it’s about what needs to be done; it’s about what needs to be done on a daily basis. I really believe in empowering my staff, empowering my players, giving them the direction that they need to do their job, and when you do it and you do it the right way, it’s a good environment.”
It’s an environment captain Ryan McDonagh has enjoyed, one in which he has developed into a top-tier defenseman who has the utmost trust from Vigneault in all situations.
“Ask any player, they want as much responsibility as they can out there on the ice,” McDonagh said. “Certainly he’s had a lot of confidence in me in letting me play a lot of minutes for this team. I think he’s developed a team here that’s tough to play against and certainly is fun to be a part of.”
It’s been fun for Vigneault, too. “Rangers, Original Six, you don’t get much better than this,” he said.
It can get better if he leads the Rangers to the Cup, and he’s deservedly getting more of a chance to do so.
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