If there was ever a player that seemed to personify the way that John Tortorella wanted to coach hockey, it was Ryan Callahan.
Hard-nosed, gritty, determined and a talented skater and shooter, Callahan is about giving 100 percent every time he takes the ice. Since Tortorella demanded that all of his players spend their time grinding in the defensive end so they could punish opponents and take the puck away, Callahan was the ideal player for his system.
But the Tortorella plan ultimately fell apart in New York and he has taken his act well off Broadway and to Vancouver. New Rangers leader Alain Vigneault—who came in from British Columbia—has a different gameplan than Tortorella.
Vigneault is not going to eschew defense, but he realizes it's just a part of the game when it comes to winning hockey. He has a creative offensive mind, and he wants to get all of his players involved in the attack. He also wants to build a dangerous power play, something that was missing under Tortorella.
Vigneault has the full support of Rangers president and general manager Glen Sather, who grew as tired of Tortorella's defensive style as he did with Tortorella's defensive attitude that often resulted in problems with the media.
"We needed a change in style," Sather told Steve Zipay of Newsday. "There were a number of guys who were getting the crap kicked out of them in our end. We needed to move the puck out quick."
Vigneault will likely go through a honeymoon period with his new players at the start of the season, and perhaps one that lasts longer than usual. After all, AV is replacing one of the most demanding coaches in all of professional sports. Vigneault is not the martinet that his predecessor was. He's not a lion tamer with a whip. He's the ring leader of the circus, influencing his team to put on the greatest show on ice.
That's good for the majority of the roster. But how will the relationship between coach and player work for Callahan, who set his own high standards for consistency and tough play in the defensive zone? Can Callahan fit the creative system that Vigneault likes to play?
The first thing Callahan has to to do is get healthy. He had a shoulder surgery in the offseason and while he will be with the Rangers for the start of training camp, he will not take part in any drills that involve contact.
Callahan said that his shoulder is feeling much better, but that he needs to rehab and build strength.
Once he is able to resume full contact and can play, Callahan may have to make an adjustment or two, but there should be little doubt that he will fit in as he did with Tortorella. He is not going to get any resistance from Vigneault, who said that Callahan would remain as captain in 2013-14.
Think about it. Callahan is one of the most responsible and hardest working players in the NHL. Even if AV is going to loosen the reins and encourage more offensive creativity, how would that have a negative impact on Callahan? He is a fast skater who knows how to get free from defenders, and he can put the puck in the top corner when he gets an opportunity.
The fact that he is not going to take any shortcuts in the defensive end will only help AV become a more successful coach.
Playing defense is still an important element for any team that has strong playoff hopes, and that's certainly the Rangers. While the Rangers have Henrik Lundqvist in the net and he may be the best goalie in the world, they don't want to leave him out to dry.
Callahan won't let that happen. He's much too responsible. He won't let his teammates take that approach either, even if Vigneault is going to encourage his players to be more creative with the puck. The Rangers are still going to have to play good defense to win.
Creative game may work out for Callahan
AV's approach might actually benefit Callahan more than most. He is a very talented player who scored 29 goals and 54 points in 2011-12. A less restrictive system may allow Callahan to increase his scoring totals significantly.
While Vigneault was in Vancouver, he had a similar high-motor player in Ryan Kesler. While Kesler is quite a bit bigger (6'2" and 202 pounds vs. Callahan's 5'11" and 190 pounds) than Callalahan, both men played with a similar defense-first mindset.
Kesler became one of the best all-around players in the Western Conference, and he had a 41-goal, 73-point season in 2010-11. That's the year that the Canucks got to the Stanley Cup Final before losing to the Boston Bruins in seven games.
Callahan may have been able to excel in Tortorella's system, but he's probably going to enjoy Vigneault's more creative and more relaxed approach. It's only natural to feel more joy as the freedom level increases.
But one thing is going to matter most to Callahan. He wants to win and he wants to be a part of a Rangers team that finds success in the playoffs.
If the Rangers can get to the Stanley Cup Final and win it, both Callahan and Vigneault will be happy and their hockey marriage will be a success.
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