GM Jim Nill has talked candidly about what he wants in the next coach for the Stars.
When asked, Nill clarified that the right candidate doesn’t need to have NHL head coaching experience, but they do need to have experience as a head coach at some level. That leaves a lengthy list with minor league, college, and junior coaches.
If actions speak louder than words, then Nill will do the right thing and say no to Vigneault. Dallas needs a coach who will work hard to get talent producing, especially young talent. It’s there between the lines. It’s also there that Vigneault has developed the wrong kind of reputation.
In a story that will sound eerily familiar to Stars fans, Vigneault scratched high-ceiling defensemen like Anthony DeAngelo and Neal Pionk over preferred veterans, even though Pionk would end the season on the top pairing with Marc Staal, and DeAngelo finally broke into the lineup before an ankle injury cut his season short in March. Then there’s the story of Pavel Buchnevich. By all accounts, his ability to produce (although very good) was not proportional to his ice time, and New York suffered as a result — and not just because he was scratched for Tanner Glass.
Scratching players like Buchnevich for Glass, and placing obstinate trust in defense pairings that weren’t getting it done over pairs that did is exactly the kind of thing Nill should be wary of. And not just because New York’s average rank in expected goals percentage during the last four seasons was 22nd.
There’s also the “not being on the same page as the GM” component. After New York signed Brendan Smith, Vigneault healthy scratched him twice. Smith would subsequently get sent down to the AHL. Healthy scratches can serve a purpose, and none of this is to absolve Smith of guilt (who legitimately struggled). However, that doesn’t explain the Keith Yandle situation; a player who performed well as a trade deadline boost, but immediately received third pairing minutes, and second unit power play time despite scoring more on the man advantage than the two defensemen in front of him.
There’s also the issue of “stats packages.” Vigneault had his own statistics in New York, and whatever they were, they didn’t correlate with efficiency. If you’re hearing an echo, it’s Ken Hitchcock’s synergy stats and extended zone time he used to justify Devin Shore as the “most versatile player on the team.”
I’m not an expert on statistics. However, coaches that are responsible for statistical inputs should send up the proverbial red flag. As a silly example, consider this — there’s a lot of math explaining how airlines are arriving on time more than ever before. The problem? That math doesn’t check out per the Federal Aviation Administration. Statistics tend to be grouped into a type of lie, but I prefer Jonathan Goodman’s take — ”statistical data do not allow for lies so much as semantic manipulation: numbers drive the misuse of words.” Versatility is not synonymous with efficiency, but you can see how the two connect with the right mathematical manipulation.
So where does this stew of player development, prospect emphasis, veteran trust, and a diversion on statistics leave us? Besides the argument that maybe Vigneault isn’t the right man for the job?
An answer more nuanced than 700 words would justify, I’m sure. It’s possible for Vigneault to change. It’s possible for him to trust prospects more. It’s possible for him to question his personal numbers. It’s possible for him to be the right man for the job. It’s also possible for a young hotshot coach to trust veterans the way veteran coaches do, because coaching young players is not the same as developing them.
Nonetheless, actions speak louder than words. We thought we heard all the right things to begin the season too — about “reckless energy,” and working with young players — but those were just words. Bill Peters is not just a collection of words when it comes to puck possession beginning in the defensive zone. Jim Montgomery is not just a collection of words when it comes to emphasizing creativity and skill. Nor is Sheldon Keefe, who explicitly advocates risk and whose teams have prospered as a direct result.
Vigneault can say all the right things, but Jim Nill can’t take a chance on words. He has to take a chance on actions, and right now he simply has better candidates.