Gillis Defends Vigneault’s Record, Ducks Questions on His Status

Gillis’ season ending Press Conference was chock full of discussion fodder. Hockey fans in Boston will doubtlessly mock his assertion that the team never got their emotional edge back after beating the Bruins in January, fans in Columbus will react defensively to his shot across their bow, and I’m sure Sabres fans are readying their defenses of Hodgson’s personality.

Gillis also gave several tantalizing answers to some big questions about what happened with the Canucks since the trade deadline. Certainly we know more about the motivations behind the Hodgson trade, and it’s pretty apparent from Gillis’ comments as well, that he wants to stay with the organization and continue down this road (something that wasn’t so clear earlier this morning). Perhaps Gillis’ most interesting comments, however, were the ones he largely refused to give, specifically on the status of Alain Vigneault.

The subject of Alain Vigneault was the second question Gillis faced, but that wasn’t the only time the quesiton was asked. (Though the way the question was asked changed every time, of course.) The first time it came up, it was couched as a question about why GIllis was addressing the press without his head-coach present, as is usually customary. Gillis answered that it was his request that he face the music alone, and that, because he hadn’t been around the team very much in the postseason, he wanted more time to evaluate. "It’s just about me," Gillis assured a skeptical press pool "and it’s no reflection on [Alain Vigneault], our relationship, or what I think of him as a coach or a person."

When the quesiton was brought up a second time, this time in the guise of "whether or not Gillis would discuss Vigneault’s future with ownership", Gillis ducked the question again, with his usual politician’s tact, and put the pressure back on himself "My future will be discussed first."

The AV quesiton was then brought up a third time, this time about a possible Vigneault extension and Gillis just straight up refused to give a clear answer, ironically he reemphasized the clubs process: "It begins with me, and then moves on to every element of the organization, we leave no stone unturned – that’s the way we’ve done it and will continue to do it."

Finally the question was broached for a fourth time. Gillis legitimately paused and chuckled ruefully before embarking on a defense of his coach:

"It gets exasperating sometimes. This guy is the winningest coach in the club’s history, won 2 president’s trophy, he lost in game 7 of the SCF, is that when you decide to start getting rid of people?

Alain’s record speaks for itself, he’s a professional coach he’s extremely hard working. He’s a bright guy and we’ve gone through an awful lot off the ice in the last four years that has been really difficult for all of us. We’ve done it together, we’ve done it as a group and I think AV is an excellent coach."

That qualifies as a full-throated defense of Vigneault’s record, surely. But it doesn’t answer the big question, "will he be back next year?"

Let’s read into some of Gillis’ language, and Vigneault’s absence. I’d assume that Vigneault’s absence is about Gillis protecting his embattled head-coach to some extent. Gillis’ stock is down after this years playoff series loss, but he’s still got a much higher Q-Rating in the Vancouver market than the Canucks head coach enjoys. I also suspect that, part of the motivation was to ensure that Gillis was front and centre, taking responsibility for the outcome of this season. 

There’s been a school of thought that has emerged since the deadline, that Gillis "gave in" to Vigneault’s desires to build a more defense oriented club. That he gave Vigneault the "team he wanted" and just enough rope to hang himself with – that way, if the team failed to hoist, it would all fall on the coaches plate. Let’s call this line of thinking "the Gallagher school."

The "Gallagher school" of thought on this, sees Vigneault as a quasi-cancerous presence within the organization, preaching the wisdom of sit back, defensive hockey and ignoring the club’s scoring issues in the postseason. I’ve heard it mentioned as well, that Newell Brown and Lorne Henning "convinced" Gillis that Pahlsson represented an upgrade over what the team possessed prior to the deadline at the centre position.

All of this scuttlebutt diminishes Gillis’ role on the team. He’s the General Manager, and he’s Team President. At the end of the day, he’s the guy who makes the final decisions on roster transactions. In any big organization you’ll have different voices advocating different courses of action, sure, but a professional sports team is a hierarchy, and the buck for roster moves stops with Gillis. Symbolically, by appearing alone to answer the first questions from the press at the conclusion of the season, Gillis takes full responsibility for this years failings, and for the moves he made, which, didn’t quite work out (at least not for this year). That’s the way it should be, frankly.

Despite his full throated defense of Vigneault’s record, however, Gillis didn’t exactly give his coach a type of "vote of confidence" that would quell speculation about his status with the Canucks. Vigneault will face the press later this week, then next week Aquilini and Gillis will meet and I’d wager work out an extension. If we take Gillis at his word, it is at that point that the Canucks will begin (or continue) to evaluate Vigneault’s status for next season.

In the meantime, several AHL clubs will see their season end, and the list of available coaching candidates for next year will become clearer. Are the likes of Jon Cooper, Dallas Eakins and John Hynes going to be in play for Vancouver? How about Coach Q, who was as embattled in Chicago as Vigneault has been in Vancouver through parts of this season, should he get the axe? Nothing Gillis said convinced me, or anyone I’ll wager, that Vigneault is guaranteed to be the head coach of the Vancouver Canucks come September; but certainly Gillis is too smart to fire one of the NHL’s best, without first tapping a quality replacement.

We’ll be talking about the substance of Gillis’ presser for weeks, I’d think. The contents were fascinating, and there’s plenty to digest. Gillis gave us several straight up answers, but on one of the biggest questions facing the team over the next two weeks, he was non-commital. That’s an answer of a sort, in and of itself.