Oft Embattled Head Coach Extended

The Lozenge Laughs Last

Alain Vigneault’s offseason has been interesting thus far, to say the least. Criticized for months by a vocal segment of the Vancouver sports media, many expected Alain Vigneault to lose his job following the Canucks first round flame out at the hands of the Western Conference Championship Kings in April. The speculation reached a fever pitch when Vigneault didn’t appear at Mike Gillis’ season ending press conference (as he customarily does), and then left town without facing the music from the press. 

While Vigneault spent the past month playing poker in an undisclosed location with Dick Cheney, however, it became increasingly apparent that General Manager Mike Gillis – who inherited Alain Vigneault when he was given the keys to the club in the Spring of 2008 – was committed to sticking with his innovative, spread-sheet loving head-coach.

Today, after a long delay and much speculation, the Canucks have made it official: Alain Vigneault has been given a contract extension and will be back behind the bench next season. Here’s the official Press Release from Canucks.nhl.com.

Read past the jump for more.

The Goods

Alain Vigneault has coached the Canucks for six seasons now, he’s the winningest coach in franchise history and is coming off of two straight President’s Trophy wins. Under his watch, the core of the team have blossomed into stars – though that hasn’t stopped some Canucks fans from lamenting Vigneault’s apparent inability to develop young talent. 

While the Canucks have yet to win hockey’s ultimate prize under Vigneault’s watch, they’ve been consistently successful posting five 100 point seasons, and winning the anemic Northwest Division nearly every year. Head coaches are often popular scape-goats when teams fail in the playoffs, however, I’d argue that most of the Canucks postseason failures have come against superior teams, and that coaching matters a lot less than the average fan thinks it does.

For all of Vigneault’s strengths – and there are many, including his innovative zone based line matching, his use of micro-stats like scoring chances, and his understanding of how to protect his best offensive players and take advantage of favorable matchups, he does inarguably take some things off of the table.

In particular, Vigneault is often impatient with talented, high-event players, and there are some talented guys who simply won’t succeed under his watch (see Ballard, Keith). While the issues with Cody Hodgson seem to have been fissures rather than mere cracks, Vigneault’s handling of Hodgson (and his public comments about Hodgson’s back injury) were blunt, and probably unfair. Vigneault is also prone to personnel decisions that totally boggle the mind (why was Maxim Lapierre used so fleetingly this past season as the third line centre – after being so successful in that spot during the 2010-11 cup run?). 

Indisputably, Vigneault is a wicked technical coach, and in terms of tactics and his use of advanced stats – Vigneault is well ahead of most of his NHL contemporaries. Even an ungenerous assessment would place him among the top-10 NHL bench bosses. But, possibly the most concerning issue for Canucks fans, as regards Alain Vigneault’s coaching ability, stem from Mike Gillis’ comments about the team "peaking" emotionally in January – and failing to get back to that emotional level for four months over the balance of the season! 

That was a striking admission from the club’s GM, and has to call into question Alain Vigneault’s skills as a motivator. The fact is that the Canucks have often come out flat in essential moments during Vigneault’s tenure, and that’s a tough pill to swallow. While I think these concerns are fair, I’m not in the room, and what’s clear is that Vigneault is well regarded by the players and by General Manager Mike Gillis.

That said, we’ll be able to gauge the level of commitment the team has actually shown when the term of the extension is revealed. If Vigneault has been given merely a two year extension, rather than the typical three year extension, that will speak volumes. Of course, I’ll update this post when those details leak.

The Right Process

On a personal level, it’s nice to root for a mature, analytical hockey club that doesn’t react emotionally to "failure" (like the team’s first round exit this past season) and instead makes sober, calculated decisions based on what’s best for the team. Whether or not Vigneault can lead the Canucks to the promised land remains to be seen, but the thought processes behind bringing him back for next season – despite public pressure and a disappointing result in round one – suggests to me that this is an organization with an intelligent and loyal approach. Let’s hope the hockey gods reward it.

  • Mantastic

    I’m happy. Okay, maybe not ‘happy’, but not angry or discontented. Don’t fire a Jack Adams winning coach unless there’s someone better waiting in the wings.

  • puck-bandit

    Ok; now I want our year end presser AV. I think the majority wanted him fired, but now that cooler heads prevail, and a little share time for some of us, good re-sign.
    AV is a good coach, we Nuck fans know this, and the coach, along with the team have unfinished business, and it has to get done. For some reason I feel confident that next season will not be a 1st round scenario. I can’t imagine what it was like going to game 7, no summer, injured players, then summer is over. So; the team gets a pass, but not next season. Got to admit, it still hurts and watching teams play I don’t even like when ours is on the golf course stinks.
    Don’t want to turn this into a personal therapy session, just wanted to extend congratulations to AV for getting a deal done.

  • Thomas;
    Your absoluter conclusion is in no way backed up by your hockey math

    “If you like hockey math, you’re happy with AV. If you like your hockey talk with a heavy dose of nonsense words: you don’t

    1. Nux 12 had their fen. close drop from #3 to 8th yet you and other Av converts trumpet the PT this yr? ignoring this basic hockey math?

    2. You point out that Av is this master technical guy yethe hasn’t once over performed in playoffs..in other words his team hasn’t once won a series when they were a equal or less team.Wouldn’t it make sense that if AV has these special skills/intangibles they might show up in playoff series where coaching is clearly more important?
    If not? why are they important/value do they have?

    There are other vaild criticisms that I will post on but it appears that you have taken your subjective held belief & Yes some valid positive statistical evidence and arrived at absolute conclusion denying contrary evidence
    without any rigor

  • Dan,

    I think you’re putting too much stock in your numbers in both of your points. Your GD based over performing metric is interesting, but it’s not gospel by any means and the team’s more conservative game plan this season was, I agree, a mistake – but there’s more going on then just coaching there.

  • It sounded like Av drank 6 cups of coffee before his team 1040 interview, lol. He must have got lots of rest in the last 5 weeks.

    Personally, I’m not happy he’s back. Not cause he’s a horrible coach, but cause I firmly believe they need a new voice. History dictates it’s near impossible for a long serving coach to win the Cup. Like you Thomas, I quite enjoy his advanced stats coaching process – though I don’t enjoy that he took it to the extreme this yr (I’d like to see the Sedins o-zone starts down next yr).

    But Gillis can’t seriously think that bringing back the same coach, coaching staff, and player personal is going to achieve different results. Insanity much? After Daniel was cheapshotted, Friedman stated Gillis was seriously thinking of going ‘Boston style’. I.e. They were unhappy with the leagues response to cheapshots on their players, so they built a team that can defend itself. I’m betting we see a bigger, more physical team next yr (*fingers crossed*).

  • Rocket, i’m betting that you see the same thing next year, cause that’s the canukcs M.O. since they got into the league. More of the same, keep your fingers crossed, spray and pray, build a team on hope and the Sedin sisters. when you change nothing you get nothing. It doesnt get much more worse than the epic game 7 choke and the year after 1st round choke.

    Everyone knows the league doesnt call playoff games the same way the do in the regular season. For gillis to say otherwise shows what a dolt he is. That is something that has never changed since the nhl, and never will. AV’s loveof luongo cost him the cup and rightfully so.

    AV and Gillis are prime examples of Canuck hockey. You underachieve, you choke, you keep your job. In the UFC, 3 losses in a row and you’re out of the company.The canucks have been losing for 40 years. Canucks keep their coach and G.M.? No surprise there, another 2 years of futility and then let’s do the same and hope. They need to rename the team the Westcoast Jokers.

  • Hey Canook – epic game 7 choke? It was a tough loss; one person’s great effort/comback (boston winning 4 of 5) is the other team’s choke. Go on TSN and ESPN to post if you like to dump. If you want to say something intelligent, such as how the coaching staff didn’t calm Rome down before he made his ill-advise knock-out check in the beginning of game 3, or how AV and the team did little to protect Luongo’s psyche (not pulling him in game 3, Bruin trash talking before game 6, etc), or how AV wasn’t prepared to be without Daniel Sedin for the first few games of the LA series, go ahead.

    I tend to agree with the sentiment in Thomas’s post. It looks they did this in a methodical way. I liked hearing that Gilles and AV had a number of conversations about the team, the game, their philosophy going forward. It may not pan out. But they are making good use of their time – an advantage of losing in round one is that it provides time to reflect, for looking at basic assumptions, etc., time before they have to focus on the draft and free agency. Hopefully this time next year, we will be talking how it has helped them get back to the Cup finals.