In his first season, the new coach took the first steps to establish a meritocracy based on accountability. In his second season, emboldened by a playoff berth and with the team completely in his grasp, he is free to squeeze.
Alain Vigneault is already squeezing Jakub Voracek.
“When we went into the bubble and into the playoffs, I thought Jake played well in that first round against Montreal. I thought he wasn’t as effective against the Islanders,” Vigneault said Friday.
Friday was the day Vigneault sent Voracek to the second-string power-play unit.
“I talked to Jake about this. I challenged him about this season. There’s a man who’s been in the league for a long time,” Vigneault said. “Basically, he’s won two playoff rounds.”
That, in Vigneault’s estimation, clearly isn’t enough. Not for a player Columbus drafted seventh overall in 2007. Voracek has earned almost $60 million in 11 seasons, with $6.25 million more due this year. He has seen one All Star Game in 12 years. Generally, winners get invited to those.
Vigneault plans to make a Stanley Cup run in 2021. Oskar Lindblom and Nolan Patrick returned from their illnesses. Recent first-rounder Joel Farabee is eager to earn minutes, and recent first-rounder Morgan Frost might not be far behind. This year, Vigneault won’t wait for Voracek to get with the program.
“Making the playoffs is non-negotiable here. To do that, we need Jake to get his game to that top level,” said Vigneault.
And if Voracek fails?
”I think there are a lot of young players pushing him,” the coach said. “He’s going to have to earn that ice time that he’s been able to get the last few years.”