Alain Vigneault speaks on breakup day of his Presidents’ Trophy-winning Rangers falling short in the Eastern Conference finals to the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Alain Vigneault still was visibly devastated over the Rangers’ Eastern Conference finals defeat almost three full days after their 2-0 Game 7 shutout loss at the Garden.
Here is the Ranger coach’s lengthy and detailed breakup day press conference, in which he shed light on topics from Martin St. Louis and Rick Nash, to Mats Zuccarello and Ryan McDonagh, his own feelings to how he and the front office perceived this season.
Vigneault (on a five-year, $ 10 million contract) concludes his second full season as Rangers head coach.
ALAIN VIGNEAULT, GREENBURGH, MONDAY, JUNE 1, 2015
Why isn’t this a step backwards? “Well, I’m not sure that’s the right way to define our season right now. We’re still in the midst of emotion. We’re still in the midst of trying to sort out exactly what happened and why it happened. Our long-term goal was to get back to the Stanley Cup Finals and have an opportunity to compete for it. We were one period away from achieving that goal, and unfortunately, we didn’t get it done. We had in the seventh game, we had I don’t want to say subpar performances but we didn’t have the type of performances that permit you to win that game from our group. We did along the way achieve other goals. We did along the way bring in some pretty good youth in our lineup, took some steps forward in some directions, and it’s too fresh at this time here, but we’re gonna analyze this in a better way here in the next couple of weeks and make the decisions that have to be made to improve this group.”
Why is the team so good on the road and not at home? “Well we’ve been a good road team and a good home team. Why Game 5 and 7? Definitely some of the questions that we’re gonna ask ourselves and try to come up with some answers. It’s been a very emotional and challenging last couple of days for our group, myself. After Game 7, I mean, my youngest daughter was crying for hours and I couldn’t get her to stop. Everybody that was close to me and myself, we all felt that we were gonna move on, and it’s been hard to handle, but it’s life, and that’s the cards that we’ve been dealt, and now we need to pick up the pieces, pick up those cards and find a way to become a better team and give ourselves a better chance next year.”
Couldn’t get top players to play better in Game 7? “Ya know, the goal was a Stanley Cup. There were a lot of things that had to happen to get there, but there were so many positive things from within this group that, if you’re looking at it strictly from the fact that we didn’t get to the Cup, it’s very disappointing. But there were so many other positive elements that I’m trying to sort that out in my mind.”
Is it so hard emotionally because this team felt this was its year? “You know, that’s a real good question and I would say to you when we came into the season this year, I don’t think anybody knew what to expect. We had so many pieces that had left, so many veteran important pieces to our nucleus, from leaders to grittier roles, and we were adding younger players and hoping that those younger players would be able to contribute and perform. Along the way, the progression of certain players made it that, ‘Oh, jeez, we can compete. Oh, oh, we’re winning on a regular basis. Oh, we’re winning here and we’ve got a chance to finish first overall.’ We started with a different group, we continued to win, and I don’t wanna say maybe impressed ourselves here but we continued to win in a regular fashion, got into the playoffs, won against Pittsburgh – real tough series, all 2-1 games. Won against Washington, all tough games, went to Game 7. Going against Tampa Bay, another tough opponent, we still think we had a chance to win and we were one period away. So it was a different team, a different team with a lot of the pieces that are probably gonna be coming back next year. A lot of those pieces are still very young and improving, so it makes it very interesting right now if you’re a Ranger fan.”
On Marty St. Louis? “I had a real long talk today with Marty, myself and Jeff Gorton. Marty has been a great player on this team, leadership-wise, example-wise. He wants to take a little bit of time at this moment to analyze his season and see what he wants to do. And that being said from our end we need to know where the cap’s gonna be, etc. so it sort of works out perfectly for both sides. He’s gonna think about it, we’re gonna find out where we are money-wise, and then go from there.”
Is there a difference between a skill player and a big-moment player, and does your team have that? “I think our players have proven time and time again that in big games that they can step up and do it. How many times has this group faced against do or die and come up and gotten it done? For whatever reason in the third period of the last game against Tampa, it wasn’t there. There will be a bunch of theories why. For me it’s too early at this time to give you a more precise reason.”
How much did Zuccarello’s injury set back the team on and off the ice? “Well it was a huge blow to our team there’s no doubt. You’re going to get injuries in the playoffs and you’re going to have to find a way to manage. And I thought for the most part we did a pretty good job of managing through that one. Mats is the type of player that plays five-on-five, can kill penalties, can play power play. Sometimes he’s almost a guy that gets that little ball of energy going on the ice and that starts some things that you need, so his minutes are very tough to replace. We never really thought that he would come back, but I think for our group it was important for them to know that he might come back, because he is such a likeable young man that we always kept it out there that he was close, that he was improving, and he was improving, and he was getting better. But I think it would have been a real long, long shot if he had ended up playing.”
Did the defense’s injuries make the task more difficult? “Every team at this time of the year has got bumps and bruises. The bumps and bruises that maybe went over the top a little bit was Mac, him playing through that, captain of the team and wants to help his teammates. But what you saw there (with all the injuries) is what you see with any team that’s gonna try and win. There’s gonna be extra ice bags in the dressing room after every game.”
Did you ever come close to deciding McDonagh couldn’t be effective and shouldn’t play? “The time where. The first we heard that he might not be able to go was after warmup, and I and Mac were talking back and forth, and I said do you think I should dress a seventh defenseman. And prior to that it was always no from the training staff, from him, and then he said yes. So he sort of caught me off-guard there a little bit, and for moment there I thought maybe we’d be better off dressing 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 waitin for the foot to freeze. Took a little longer.”
Anything you second-guess yourself about? “There’s always gonna be, once I reflect on this in a couple weeks, personnel decisions and … What we try and do here is try and get better with the decisions we make, we try and learn, and the players are doing the same thing on their part. And that’s how this group is going to improve and that’s how we’re going to work on getting over the hump. Our goal next year is going to be … Next year it’s a restart button. Restart. We’ve gotta get into the playoffs. That’s gonna be a great challenge. Then we’re gonna fight for home ice. That’s gonna be another challenge. Then you’re gonna try and win your first playoff round. You restart every year. The Stanley Cup champions from last year didn’t get in and the Presidents’ Trophy didn’t get in. She’s a tough league to get in.”
What are you most proud of? “I know we didn’t get to that Stanley Cup, but this group laid it out there. It might not have looked pretty sometimes, but this group came to work, competed hard and did the best they could for their teammates, their fans, every night and every day.”
How can you win in the playoffs when Nash doesn’t produce the way he did in the regular season? “Rick does so many other things, too, but at the end of the day we had that talk with him today. In every playoff that he’s played, he’s improved. He was an older player when he got to New York and having only had four games experience, he’s getting better, he understands that his contribution is real important and I think he’s only gonna improve.”
You think this core can win the Cup? “I think that if we continue to tweak certain aspects, personnel-wise, improving personnel-wise – because every year one way or the other because of the cap there’s always some changes. But if we continue to do that, I’ve got a good belief that we’ve got a group of young players at the right age with the right experience around them. We’ve been knocking at the door, we’ve been getting close to the hump there and almost getting ready to get fully over. So if you ask me, do I believe in this group? I would say my answer is yes.”
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