Apologies to all who read this series. I’m lazy and am late on this final installment.
With the Canucks bowing out early from the playoffs yet again, it’s once again another opportunity for Canucks fans to question the constitution of their favourite team. We at Canucks Army are quite happy to mercilessly rip apart the team and pretend to play General Manager. If we were in control, the defense, the offense, the goaltending, and the coaching staff would all see changes, to varying degrees. But three second-round exists in four years is no longer acceptable to long-suffering Canucks fans, especially given the high-end talent and price tags associated with the team.
In part 3 of our Year End De-Brief, Canucks Army will examine the goaltending and the coaching.
When you have an elite goaltender that you’re paying over $5m a year for the next 12 years, there’s not a lot of room for change. You have committed to him for the long term. In fact, you are so committed to him, you took an unprecedented step and made him captain. He also won his country a gold medal in his new home city in his home rink.
So what do you do when it’s not quite working the way you need it to? Here’s what you do with the goaltending in Vancouver.
1. Remove the captaincy from Luongo. He isn’t a bad captain – not by any means. But it’s one more thing for him to worry about. Let him be a goalie and avoid the media on game days. Let him concentrate on being an elite goalie. Let someone else talk to the media and rally the troops from the bench and take the heat when needed. Mike Gillis and Alain Vigneault need to be big boys here and admit that it was their mistake to name him captain. It was a gimmicky move that did not pay dividends. The Canucks need to go the conventional route here and name a proper captain.
For the record, the captain SHOULD be Ryan Kesler. He’s young, he’s comfortable with the media, he’s a great talker, he’s signed for 6 more years. He’s absolutely the perfect choice right now.
2. Manage and coach Roberto Luongo. He is not the messiah, he’s a very naughty boy! He is controlling his playing time, and he has the coaching staff wrapped around his little finger. The Canucks are paying Kesler basically the same as Luongo this year, and they’re paying the Sedins more. Do you think any of them dictate their ice time? No! So why let Luongo do it? Stop worrying about his fragile ego. Maybe it needs a shove and a slap in the face to bring him back down to earth a bit.
Roberto Luongo should only play a MAXIMUM of 60 games in the regular season. Give the other 22 games to the backup. Luongo was clearly getting tired near the end after a grueling regular season and Olympic spell. He needs LESS work, not more. Who cares if he cays "I play better when I see more action." That may be true within a particular game, but the Canucks need Luongo to be good in late May and June.
3. Assign Cory Schneider as the backup this season. Schneider needs to play. He needs minutes, he needs experience. The Canucks need him to be good this year, because he should play about 20 games this year. So the Canucks needs to get him some reps early and get him in the game. Schneider has looked very good at times as he’s been called up by the Canucks. It’s time for the Canucks to showcase him, and it’s time for him to prove he’s a big league goalie. If he is as good as expected, the Canucks should NOT trade him this year. They should play him right through the end of the playoffs as a competent backup to Luongo. The Canucks may need him to shine (see Antti Niemi). Once the season has played through, then the Canucks should consider trading him to get back some valuable assets.
I like Alain Vigneault. A lot. Right now I do not have any issues with 90% of the things he does on and off the ice. It is really hard to argue with the job that he has done while in Vancouver. He’s won a Jack Adams trophy, his team is perennially over 100 points, 7 of his players had record point seasons this past year. He’s coached a very defensive system and won, and he’s coached a very offensive system and won.
The main problems that I see with the Canucks are with the management and coaching of the goaltending, and the coaching of the defense and penalty killing. And my biggest issue is with the defense and PK.
Let’s compare and contrast what happened in this year second round playoffs with the two Canadian teams that remained – Vancouver and Montreal. Both teams were hit badly by injuries. Both teams effectively lost one of their top D men for the season. Both teams had to deal with minor league callups. Both teams were facing formidable offensive opponents. So what was the difference? A visible and well-executed system. Montreal had it, Vancouver did not. Montreal stuck to plan, did not derivate and found their success against Pittsburgh, shutting down one of the league’s most potent offenses. The Canucks panicked, scrambled and quickly fell apart as soon as there was any pressure in their own zone. Good coaching would have roped in their players, calmed them down, constantly reminded them of the system they need to play, and reset their players back on the game plan. They didn’t do that.
1. Replace Rick Bowness. Bowness is responsible for the defense, and ultimately my whole point above falls on him. I like Bowness, but where was his guidance when the Canucks needed it the most? I also assume that the penalty killing falls on his watch as well. If that’s the case, then there is even more reason to let him go, as the PK was probably the biggest reason for the Canucks playoff downfall. My suggestion would be to replace Bowness with Scott Arniel. The Canucks are very much in danger of losing Arniel to another team to take over a coaching role. The Canucks need to act now, and retain Arniel, and giving him the defensive job would be a great win for the Canucks.
2. Hire a full-time goaltending coach. The Canucks have an offense coach and a defense coach. Yet they play this strange game with Luongo (again, letting the inmate run the asylum) where he has Ian Clark come in occasionally. Furthermore, it doesn’t sound as though Clark has the best relationship with the Canucks’ full-time coachine staff. So the Canucks need to work with Luongo to find and hire a full-time goalie coach that Luongo trusts and that will work to help Cory Schneider grow into a more prominent role.
3. Remove the nepotism in the front office. There are way too many former Canucks working for the organization. I suspect that they are only there because they are former Canucks. There are certainly some that are doing a good job. Their European scout, Thomas Gradin, has done a great job finding upcoming talent overseas. What are Harold Snepts, Lars Lindgren, and specifically Ron Delorme doing there? Ron Delorme has been head scout for a while now, and the Cauncks drafting woes have been well chronicaled. Get rid of the guys that are there simply because they are ex-Canucks. Get the right guy for the job. Make Scott Mellanby the lead scout.
The Canucks have most of the horses they need on the ice. Where they need to change their thinking is the coachmen – the men leading the players. They need more, better structure, specifically on the blueline. If they can’t implement that with the coaches they have, they need to change those coaches now.
They need to coach and manage Roberto Luongo. They can’t just let him "play". They need to rope him in and treat him like every other player. Quit treating him with kid gloves – just coach him.
And go coach him to a Stanley Cup next year.