NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 04: Alain Vigneault head coach of the New York Rangers following a 2-1 defeat by the Anaheim Ducks at Madison Square Garden on November 4, 2013 in New York City.

Is Vigneault angling for a shakeup in New York?


It’s either the case of a coach trying to fire up his players… or a coach that’s tired of his players.

That’s the big debate in New York right now with Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault. The former Canucks bench boss has been remarkably (and frequently) candid  in voicing his displeasure with his team this year, as the Rangers sit 15-15-1 and on the edge of the playoff picture.

Consider what Vigneault’s said already, all of this coming within the first 31 games of the season:

On Benoit Pouliot:

“You only get so many kicks at the can here, you only get so many teams. Obviously a guy like Ben, a high pick, a high skill level, you see it now and then and you go, ‘Wow, why does the inconsistency or whatever is, not there on a more regular basis?”

On Michael Del Zotto:

“I’ve been told his strengths are his ability to beat the forecheck, join the rush, help out on the power play and get shots through. I have not seen that on a consistent enough basis for him to be able to say he’s going to be in the lineup every night.”

On the Rangers’ defense in general:

“The only one on D, in my opinion, that has really not only has played up to expectations but you see a lot of upswings with is [Ryan] McDonagh. All of the other guys, I think, have better to give. We’re going to need them to give better.”

On the inability to score goals:

“We’re getting quality chances, but there’s a segment that tells us we’re not scoring a lot. Maybe we have to play even tighter to the vest than we are and go into games with that mentality of 2-1.”

On Sunday’s players-only meeting:

“You can talk all you want behind closed doors. It’s on the 200-by-85 [rink] that things are decided. Without a doubt, our compete level is a .500 compete level. When the other team scores a goal, we don’t seem to have much of a push.”

At this point, it’s fair to suggest Vigneault isn’t enthralled with his current roster. There have been peripheral moves (waiving and recalling Arron Asham, shuffling J.T. Miller between Hartford and New York, trading Brandon Mashinter for Kyle Beach) and a variety of healthy scratches (Pouliot, Del Zotto, Taylor Pyatt) but those don’t appear to have sufficiently shaken things up.

So, what can be done?

It’s obvious Vigneault wants more “compete” and wouldn’t mind a fresh look on defense, but making moves will be tough. New York is in a unique spot given its financial outlook for this year (less than $1 million away from the cap ceiling) is the polar opposite of next year, with just $39 million committed to nine players for 2014-15.

As for what Vigneault wants the Rangers to look like?

“I look at the Detroit Red Wings—who I know well, because I coached against them for the last seven years—they’ve had no toughness, per se, as far as that type of personality, at no point other than [Jordin] Tootoo the last couple of years, but those guys play hard,” Vigneault explained, as per Newsday. “They have the puck and they say “Try and get it from me” or if they don’t have it, they battle like hell to get it back. That’s the team toughness that I’m hoping we get here.

“Maybe we’ll get there by changing some personnel, adding a little more toughness, we’re at .500, I’m trying.”

Oilers go captain-less, name four alternates instead

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Edmonton’s made a fairly significant shift in its leadership group.

The big news is the Oilers won’t have a captain this season, as Andrew Ference will relinquish the “C” he’s worn for the last two years.

Ference will, however, remain part of the group and wear an “A” as part of a four-man alternate captain collective, one that also includes Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Taylor Hall.

The news of Ference being removed as captain doesn’t come as a huge surprise. The veteran d-man is a well-respected leader, but isn’t expected to be in the lineup every night this season.

The decision to go without a captain, though, is something of a surprise, especially given what new head coach Todd McLellan endured during his final season in San Jose.

The Sharks’ captaincy issue — stripping Joe Thornton, then going with four rotating alternates — was an ongoing problem, something that players, coaches and GM Doug Wilson had to repeatedly address until it blew up in spectacular fashion.

That said, the circumstances in Edmonton are quite different.

It’s believed the club’s intentionally keeping the captaincy vacant, on the assumption that Connor McDavid will evolve into a superstar and, subsequently, the club’s unquestioned leader.

Finally, McLellan noted that with Eberle currently sidelined, a fifth Oiler would be added to the leadership group — veteran forward Matt Hendricks, who will serve as a temporary alternate.

Brandon Sutter didn’t have the greatest preseason

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When Brandon Sutter was acquired by the Vancouver Canucks, GM Jim Benning called the 26-year-old a “foundation piece for our group going forward.”

Sutter was quickly signed to a five-year extension worth almost $22 million, more evidence of how highly management thought of the player.

Fast forward to yesterday, when Benning was asked the following question:

“What does it say that you made the trade for Sutter, you called him a ‘foundation’ player, and it took him until the final night of the preseason to find a spot (with the Sedins) on the wing, which isn’t his natural position?”

Here was Benning’s response:

“Well, [head coach Willie Desjardins] wants to try that out, he thinks that’s going to be a good fit. At various times, the Sedins played with wingers with speed, with [Ryan Kesler], who could get in on the forecheck and had a good shot. Sutter brings some of those qualities, too.”

While all that may be true, Sutter was not signed to play the wing; he was brought in to play center, specifically on the second line. He finished the preseason with zero points in five games. And as mentioned, he’ll start the season on the wing, not his natural position.

Meanwhile, youngsters Bo Horvat, 20, and Jared McCann, 19, had outstanding camps and are expected to start the regular season (tonight in Calgary) centering the second and third lines, respectively.

Though Sutter did finish the preseason with 12 shots on goal, up there with the most on the Canucks, it’s fair to say he did not look like a “foundation” player.

“I haven’t seen him play his best,” Desjardins said last week. “I see a guy who’s big and a good skater and who understands the game real well, but just hasn’t got that involved.”

Now, we are only talking about the preseason here. New players often take time to get comfortable. Perhaps playing with the Sedins can provide Sutter with some confidence.

“I know he’ll be there and I totally believe that,” said Desjardins.

But it hasn’t been the best start, and if it wasn’t for the encouraging play of the youngsters, it would be a far bigger story in Vancouver.

Related: Canucks roll the dice on rookies, waive Vey and Corrado