Alain Vigneault knows only too well that his Rangers played not one, but two seasons of hockey in 2014-15.
That, by the way, is a key point that many observers patently ignore.
Each of those two seasons is a War of Attrition and rare is the team that can conquer both the 82-game schedule, win the Presidents’ Trophy and follow that with a Stanley Cup triumph.
As a matter of fact only two teams (Detroit 2008, Chicago 2013) have managed that feat in the past seven years.
“The Stanley Cup champions from last year (Los Angeles Kings) didn’t get into the playoffs this year,” Vigneault asserted.
“And the Presidents’ Trophy-winners from last year (Boston Bruins) didn’t get in into the playoffs this year. The NHL is a tough league.”
So much spotlight-hype annually is focused on the Cup-winner that the equally difficult challenge of mastering an 82-marathon is overlooked.
In fact, in some ways it’s more difficult to attain the President’s Trophy than engineering a Cup triumph.
With that in mind it’s worthwhile to move beyond the emotional playoff roller coaster and focus on the big picture for the Rangers.
We should do what Vigneault has done so well — see things clearly and see them whole and as objectively as possible.
To do so, we should zero in on the Rangers coach’s thoughts on a variety of key elements related to the franchise. Listen up and let The Maven know what you think:
AV’S VIEW OF HIS TEAM’S TRANSFORMATION: “We brought along pretty good youth in our lineup and took steps forward. In the next couple of weeks we’ll make decisions that will improve this group. When we came into the season nobody knew what to expect. We had so many important veterans from our nucleus — from leaders to grittier role players — who had left. We were adding younger players and hoping they would perform.”
HOW THE CLUB KEPT IMPROVING IN 2014-15: “Along the way the progression of certain players gave the feeling of ‘Oh, Jeez, we can compete; we’re winning on a regular basis. Oh, we’ve got a chance to finish first overall.’ We continued to win, got into the playoffs and won a real tough series — all 2-1 games — against Pittsburgh. Then we won against Washington, all tough games — went to seven. Then Tampa and we were one period away. So it was a different team with a lot of the pieces that probably will be coming back next year. A lot of these pieces are still very young and improving. It makes it very interesting now if you’re a Ranger fan.”
LOOKING AHEAD: “The players are looking ahead to improve and work on getting over the hump. What we try to do here is get better with the decisions we make and try to learn. For next year it’s a restart button. We’ve got to get into the playoffs. That’s going to be a great challenge. Then, we’re going to fight for home ice. That’s another challenge. Then we’re going to try and win the first round. You restart every year.”
MARTIN ST.LOUIS: “Myself, Jeff Gorton (Assistant General Manager) and Marty met and had a long talk. Marty wants to take a little bit of time to analyze his season and see what he wants to do. From our end we need to know where the Salary Cap going to be. It works out perfectly for both sides. Then, we’ll go from there.”
RICK NASH’S REGULAR SEASON AND PLAYOFFS: “We had that talk with him. In every playoff that he’s played, Rick has improved. He was an older player when he got to New York and had (with Columbus) only four playoff games experience. Rick is getting better and understands that his contribution is real important. He’s only going to improve.”
AV’S VIEW OF COMING THROUGH IN THE CLUTCH: “Our guys have proven time and again that in big games they step up and do it. How many times has this group faced do or die situations and gotten it done? For whatever reason in the third period of Game Seven against Tampa it wasn’t there. There will be a bunch of theories why but it’s too early for a precise reason.”
EFFECT OF MATS ZUCCARELLO’S INJURY: “It was a huge blow. You get injures in the playoffs and have to find a way to manage. For the most part we did a pretty good job of managing through that one. Mats plays five-on-five, can kill penalties and play the power play. He gets that little ball of energy on the ice and starts things you need. His minutes were tough to replace.”
OVERALL VIEW OF SO MANY INJURIES: “Every team has bumps and bruises but it went over the top a little bit with Mac (Ryan McDonagh) and him playing through it as a captain who wants to help his teammates. But what you saw (with all those injuries) is what you see with any team that’s going to try and win.”
GAME SEVEN THOUGHTS ON THE IDEA OF NOT PLAYING MCDONAGH: “The first we heard that he might not be able to go (in Game Seven) was after the warmup. Mac and I talked back and forth. At one point, for a moment, I thought we might be better off dressing Matt Hunwick and keeping Mac off. But I don’t think I could have kept him out of the lineup. He really wanted to try. He was waiting for the foot to freeze. It took a little longer.”
CAN NEW YORK WIN THE 2016 STANLEY CUP?: “We’ve been knocking at the door. If we continue to tweak certain aspects, personnel-wise, and improve, personnel-wise, we’ve got a group of young players at the right age and with the right experience around them. We’ve been knocking at the door, getting close to the hump and almost ready to get fully over. I believe in this group.”