There are good reasons to keep Alain Vigneault around

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.

Tom Benjamin wrote a while ago on the innovations that Vigneault has brought to hockey:

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.

  • NuckfiSh

    After watching St. Louis and LA, Vancouver going to game 7 then exiting the first round, and no faith in Lu I think Vancouver would be foolish not to get a new coach. AV is too soft. I don’t think Vancouver would have made it through St. Louis anyways. Get a coach with some backbone who will hold the players accountable, and have faith in his team! What better way to send a message. Vancouver, you’ve got to shake things up. and Luongo leaving isn’t going to solve anything, it just makes the team weaker. You’ve gotta change stuff. Next year is going to be even harder.

  • NuckfiSh

    I don’t dislike AV, but to me it’s clear they need a new voice.

    Since the lockout, no coach has won the Cup when he’s been with that team for more than 5 yrs. In fact, Claude Julien was the longest tenured coach at 4 yrs when he won the Cup last yr.

    The only long tenured coach left in the NHL playoffs is Trotz. The other remaining coaches have 3 yrs or less with their respective teams.

    It’s great that AV was a coach of the yr candidate last yr and they won the P.T 2 yrs in a row, but there is no Cup. The same issues that have plagued this team last yr were the same issues that plagued this team this yr. Kesler injured for 3 straight yr cause he plays tough mins, no 4th line, nobody can score goals and an unwillingness to change strategy when things go wrong. These hard matching zone starts are too predictable for opposing coaches, zone exits etc – they are all to predictable. AV also refuses to use young guys in key situations. No Gillis drafted player has played in the Canucks lineup for an entire yr. That’s 4 yrs of no new young blood. Canucks will look like Calgary in 2 yrs.

  • NuckfiSh

    AV’s never had a backbone as a coach. If you play soft, play ineffective, you get ice time. If youre a tough gritty player, you get traded, if you want more ice time, you get traded. Watching AV get out coached in the finals last year was the most entertaining thing in the playoffs ive ever seen.Seeing him put Luongo in game after game after being exposed by Boston was a watershed moment for him.

    AV was and is a one dimensional coach, enjoys fixing line combos that werent broken to begin with, gives players like Raymond chance after chance eventhough there was no hope for Raymond. He gave the Sedins chance after chance eventhough they were invisible, he kept playing Kesler eventhough he had an injury and wasnt doing anything for the club after the Predators.I geuss having an injured Kesler is just like having an injured Lemieux…yeah right!

    Every single Canucks fan saw the cup slipping away soon after the Rome hit. The team seem to be apologizing for even exisiting. The coach did nothing, no push back, nothing, just more of the same…the same that did not work.Come the 3rd away game meltdown by luongo, AV once again decides to place all his bet on him again, despite histroy showing what a choker |Luongo is.4 and 0 was the score in the seventh game. Some say they were a game of winning the cup. 4and 0…they werent even close. The were exposed like a country clubber in a pro tournament.

    I relish knowing that AV will for the rest of his life look back and see how pathetic he was as a coach, to live on just blind hope and faith, faith in a goalie whos shown he cracks during big games, faith that two twins who have the power of invisibilty ever playoffs would actually have what it takes when they dont, and to believe in the rest of the country clubbers in that dressing room Gillis assembled when clearly they do not have what it takes.

    As much as I disliked Boston, i would be ashamed if a bunch of diving do nothing twins, along with a do nothing coach and basket case goalie ever won the cup. The Cancuks camp has never has accountability, in the ownership, in its management, in the team,the local sports writers like Canucksuck Don Taylor, and its delusional enabling fans.

  • NuckfiSh

    You gotta love Luongo getting hung out to dry by his team despite him playing well,[ plus his one mc softie a game]. I geuss sub consciuosly the team wanted to pay bobby luser back for his epic stink during last years finals, and all the times he choked against the hawks.Not to mention you could also see a hint of dissention towards AV as well. When you see good players in yor team get traded away and and Mason useless Raymond and basket-case Luongo are still around, you get tired of the coache’s methods.Laughed my ass off when Av said” who could have invisioned this?” after the loss to the kings. Biggest payback from karma and his team ever. If the coach doesnt look out for his teams best interest, why should they look after his? AV and Gillis got what he deserved, a spanking in the finals and an early boot, for believing in those who have shown they warrant otherwise.