Even though most of the cast of characters remains the same, some degree of metamorphosis is expected in Manhattan this season. By replacing John Tortorella as head coach of the New York Rangers, Alain Vigneault brings a fresh influence with his own preferred system and style. An approach that will inevitably differ from his predecessor's. This doesn't mean Vigneault will jam experienced, skilled skaters into his own mold -- several prominent Rangers tell Craig Custance they'll remain true to their own individual style of play -- only that the team won't resemble a carbon copy of what Torts had in operation. There's no way. So here are a few factors to look for as Vigneault takes his seat in the director's chair near Broadway.
1. More offense Simply put, we should expect more goals from the Rangers with a new head sheriff behind the bench. The Vancouver Canucks' offense flourished under Vigneault for a good chunk of his seven-season tenure -- sitting at, or near, the top of the NHL's rankings (goals per game) through three seasons from 2009 until 2012. Perhaps partly because the 52-year-old allows his top players the freedom to strut their stuff, for which he has a well-earned reputation.
"I believe your top skilled players have to be given a little more latitude," Vigneault said of his coaching style, as reported by CBC Sports in June. "They have to understand the game, they have to understand the time in the game where you need to play higher percentage but they also have to be given that latitude to make something out of nothing …"
That philosophy, which flies in bold contrast to Tortorella's tighter, more disciplined system, should excite Rick Nash, Ryan Callahan, Brad Richards, Derek Stepan, Derick Brassard, Carl Hagelin, and co.
2. More power-play production This goes hand in hand with more offense, but deserves extra mention. As Tal Pinchevsky of NHL.com points out, Vigneault "molded one of the league's top power-play units in Vancouver and will be expected to use some of that expertise to improve New York on the man-advantage". Such improvement shouldn't prove too difficult -- the Rangers haven't enjoyed a power-play success rate higher than 16.9 percent since 2009-10. On paper, a top unit that includes forwards Nash, Richards, Callahan, and Stepan should be ripe for fresh inspiration.
3. A happier 'Broadway' Brad Can you blame him? After slogging as a fourth-line center and sitting as a healthy scratch in two key playoff games, the nearly-bought-out 33-year-old would probably welcome just about any new face behind the Rangers' bench. However, Richards seems a little extra excited about playing for Vigneault, in particular.
"I haven’t talked to Alain yet in any detail about [his system], but I think his style of play will be a lot more fun for a player like me," Richards told the New York Post this week. "I'm excited to have a difference voice [coaching the team] and a coach with a different view of how we should play that’s more focused on offense. It suits me and I think it suits everybody more on the whole team, to be honest."
4. A happier King Henrik Shortly after Henrik Lundqvist was all publicly ho-hum about re-signing in New York long-term, Tortorella was canned. Coincidence? GM Glen Sather says so, but others aren't so sure. And now the 31-year-old goalie insists he can't imagine playing for any other team, while looking forward to inking a new lengthy deal in the near future. So maybe the situation speaks loudly for itself. As for how long the honeymoon will last, Vigneault isn't likely to interfere much with the league's (arguably) best netminder.
5. Del Zotto's return to the doghouse? However, Vigneault's arrival may not result in a pleasant situation for everyone. Two years removed from his last NHL/AHL yo-yo season, Michael Del Zotto could be in danger of losing his top offensive-defenseman status in The Big Apple. As discussed by Thomas Drance of CanucksArmy.com, the Rangers' new head coach has been wary of leaning too heavily on his defensively weaker young players in the past.
"... During Vigneault's Canucks tenure, he was often reluctant to trust young players in big roles if they had any sort of two-way deficiencies in their game. I'm curious to see what that'll mean for Rangers roster players like Michael Del Zotto and Derrick Brassard in particular ..."
Now, Del Zotto doesn't commit nearly as many defensive misplays as he used to, but he still has his boneheaded moments. And, with a good crowd of talented D-men from which to choose -- Dan Girardi, Ryan McDonagh, Anton Stralman, Marc Staal (who insists his vision is just fine, thanks), and relative newcomer John Moore, Vigneault may opt to go with someone else as consistent anchor for his top power-play unit. Or Del Zotto could see a depreciation in ice-time, all around. The situation is worth monitoring, anyway.