You won't see it admitted in this space often, but in the spirit of preseason innocence (before all the hate fully re-ignites), here it is: The Rangers, er Smurfs, have a lot of good players. What's worse, they didn't buy them all from the Oilers this time. (What's better? It's still not a Cup-winner's collection.)
What has changed going into 2013-14 is that they also have a new coach, Alain Vigneault. The Garden-dwellers would be pegged as a playoff team even if they hadn't swapped coaches with Vancouver, but there is the outside chance that Vigneault really maximizes the talent on the Rangers roster without the Tortorella-like head games.
Vigneault's record as a coach puts shame to his record as a player. (Sometimes NHL aspirants realize their lot in life at an early age, without Al Arbour having to tell them so.)
True, Vigneault inherited a very talented team in Vancouver in an often very poor division, but he led them to 100-point seasons five times -- potentially six, if last year weren't lockout-shortened. That's quite a bit more than what he did in three full seasons in Montreal, and it's his post-lockout II record that's more relevant here. With the Sedins and Ryan Kesler at his disposal along with an above average but not star-laden defense, Vigneault's Canucks mopped up on a weak Northwest Division and came an implosion short of a Stanley Cup in 2011.
Just as he maximized the Sedins with offensive zone starts and opportunities in Vancouver, so too he's likely to find the right mix to leverage the talent he has in Manhattan, including the freelance soloist Rick Nash, who has been a strategic puzzle for some coaches. Vigneault probably salivates at the chance to take tackle that puzzle.
Most likely, there will be no "Hagelin sucks on the power play" statements; rather, Vigneault will just find the ideal role for each Ranger and support him through it. That might even include using the whole roster rather than "losing" players in the rotation mid-way through games, as Tortorella sometimes did even with his best talents.
That means some Rangers will find new life; even Brad Richards could, though his ultimate destiny is still a sad and increasing decline.
There does remain the question of how contracts will shake out, including RFA Derek Stepan and cornerstone Henrik Lundqvist, due to be a UFA next summer. (Unfortunately, Ryan McDonagh's has already been sorted to the team's benefit.) But with more RFAs signing "bridge" deals this offseason than not -- Nazem Kadri is the latest -- it's likely Stepan eventually comes to terms without incident, without major holdout, and sadly, without a crippling offer sheet from another team.
Ultimately, the fear from this vantage point is that Alain Vigneault will find a way to make the Rangers better. Generally speaking, the impact of coaches is debatable, maybe negligible, but Vigneault sure as hell shouldn't hurt the Rangers. Unfortunately.
That is both unholy and unnatural, but a legitimate concern for Isles fans and Metro rivals in 2013-14.
More from Lighthouse Hockey:
- NHL 2013-14 Previews: Daniel Alfredsson's Real Estate Agent on the Atlantic Division
- How the Metro Can Hurt: Carolina's Staal Attack
- How the Metro Can Hurt: Philadelphia Forbidding Goaltending
- How the Metro Can Hurt: Columbus' Bobrovsky Factor
- [Bits] Streit on move; Nilsson on health; Logo grows in Brooklyn; Kadri signs
- Train-ing* Camp: Islanders Riding the Rails to Brooklyn
- New York Islanders Rookie Camp Prospects: What's Next?