Forgive me for saying that the first story that caught my eye when I was perusing the National Post’s sports section today was about the unsolved murder at this weekend’s Kentucky Derby. I do like mystery, and frankly, there’s more at stake about a body being discovered in a horse stable than the intrigue surrounding who will coach the Vancouver Canucks next season.
But Iain MacIntyre was the one who had that story, and he offers a pretty sober take on the situation. There are all kinds of summits and conversations that need to take place, but if Mike Gillis has his way, he’ll have convinced ownership to let him hang onto his guy for next season.
The manager has not a difficult case to make for retaining the coach if owners ask his opinion. But what if the Aquilinis tell Gillis what his opinion should be and demand he fire Vigneault?
That was not the deal when he became GM.
Gillis is no fool; he fully understood what he was doing two weeks ago when he spoke so strongly in favour of Vigneault. There is no wriggle room, no way for Gillis to call a news conference and say that on second thought the Canucks need a new coach.
It would be pretty unprecedented for a coach coming off back-to-back league titles to be removed from his office. It would be akin to the writers of Community (spoiler alert) killing off Annie Edison rather than Starburns. There are some changes that can be made on this team, but the coach isn’t necessarily one of them:
• The Canucks need a fresh voice (because obviously players weren’t listening to Vigneault when the team finished the season 8-1 and topped the standings again).
• Vigneault can’t coach young players (like Alex Edler, Chris Tanev, Cory Schneider and Cody Hodgson, or the players he developed in Daniel and Henrik Sedin, Ryan Kesler, Alex Burrows and Jannik Hansen).
• Vigneault is dull and defensive-minded (but the Canucks were fourth in scoring this season, first last year and second the season before).
• The Canucks can’t get over the hump (which is, what, Game 7 of the Stanley Cup)?
• Vigneault’s success is a charade because his team plays in the weak Northwest Division (although the Canucks still had the best head-to-head record among Western Conference playoff teams this season and their nine playoff rounds the last four years — none against those Northwest pushovers — are tied for the most in the NHL).
Honestly, I’m quite indifferent to whether Vigneault stays or goes. I think I’m leaning that I’d rather have him stay, but it’s not the biggest loss (I’m more of an Abed Nadir fan) if he were axed. It also isn’t the right way to improve the team, a team that will have a hole in both the top six and the top four as the team enters the offseason in a pretty weak free agency class. I don’t think there’s a coach who will be able to magically turn any of the Canucks depth players into those roles.
The league reality is that the NHL has gotten more defensive, going from 5.37 non-empty net goals per game in 2010, to 5.28 in 2011 and 5.13 this most recent campaign. This wasn’t addressed in numerical detail at Mike Gillis’ year-end press conference, but he did say that “you all noticed there was a significant change in the game, we noticed it, it hasn’t gone unnoticed in other places” in regards to defensive hockey. That was the conference he stuck his neck out for Alain Vigneault.
Should Vigneault be fired, there are a lot of teams that could use him. He’s a pretty good fit in Montreal what with them having a coaching vacancy and a cultural need for a guy who speaks French, and Jonathan Willis has lobbied to bring him to Edmonton should the Oilers part ways with Tom Renney.
1) The math says teams when down a goal should pull the goalie with about 90 seconds left in the game. Most coaches pull the goalie in the last minute because, well, because. The Canucks pull the goalie with 90 seconds left.
2) When the Canucks are reduced to three skaters on the penalty kill, Vigneault always uses two forwards and one defenseman.
3) He does not match lines. He sends outs players based on the situation. The Sedins are the choice in the offensive end no matter who is out against them. Malhotra almost always gets the defensive end no matter what the other coach does.
Do I think the Canucks stop doing these things if Vigneault goes? No, but you don’t want other teams in the league to begin to catch on to the little things that the Canucks have done well. Zone starts and sheltering are becoming more common throughout hockey. Management and the coaching staff see eye-to-eye on a lot of issues, it would seem, so the next guy to be brought in would probably keep up similar conventions with the way the Canucks deploy their players.
Finally, here’s petbugs13’s graphic comment:
I don’t think that the playoff loss is at all Vigneault’s fault. His team, despite being a 1-seed, was horribly out-matched by a team that has been unbeatable since they added Jeff Carter. AV has his faults, for sure. I think he let the goaltending situation get out of hand in the LA series and I think he’s played Mason Raymond well beyond his use as a hockey player, but those are minute blemishes over a pretty good record overall.
Whatever happens in the coming weeks won’t be indicative of the offseason in general, but there’s a better argument to keep AV around, but I’m pretty unconvinced that he’s either the reason for the team’s success or for its inability to win the Stanley Cup in the six seasons he’s been around.