We knew it was coming, and around 12:30 Pacifc Time yesterday afternoon Louis Jean of TVA Sports broke the news that the Canucks had fired head coach Alain Vigneault and associate coaches Rick Bowness and Newell Brown.
In my view, if we were to draw up an off-season priority list of what will help the Canucks win more games next season, the coaching situation would be near the bottom of the list. But professional hockey, in some ways, is as much about public relations as it is on-ice success, and someone needed to be held accountable for the 1-8 playoff record of the past two seasons. Unsurprisingly, that someone was Alain Vigneault.
Let’s roundup what’s being said about AV’s dismissal around the hockey web after the jump.
We’ll start here at home where Thom touches on Mike Gillis’ patience and what is certainly going to be a long, drawn-out process of selecting a new coach:
Asked directly what sort of coach the team might target, Mike Gillis initially cried "uncle!" saying "I need a couple of days here to collect my thoughts and we’ll go through a process." Of course he’ll go through a process, one that I’m sure will be criticized for moving too slowly.
But ultimately Gillis did outline, albeit in vague terms, the type of process the team plans to engage in during their coaching search: "I think that the NHL is changing and evolving rapidly and we’re going to listen and talk to the people we think are legitimate candidates and we’ll make our decision based on that interview process… I’d imagine it will be patient and thorough and we’ll consider every possible contingency that we need to consider." From one drawn out process to another – your Vancouver Canucks!
Ian MacIntyre talks about the curious way in which the news of Vigneault’s dismissal broke:
Fifteen days after the Canucks’ second straight first-round exit from the National Hockey League playoffs, Gillis fired Vigneault and top assistant coaches Rick Bowness and Newell Brown. But even that job went poorly, as Vigneault learned of his dismissal from media reports before Gillis had spoken to him.
“I have no idea how that could happen,” Gillis told reporters summoned to Rogers Arena for a Wednesday afternoon press conference. “I had a meeting scheduled today … at 10 o’clock with our ownership group. I was in that meeting until two o’clock. I came out of it and I phoned Alain at 2:15. Then I found out that someone in Quebec had said this had happened.
“I think it’s terribly unfortunate. I wish that wasn’t the case. But it’s completely beyond my control.”
Daniel Wagner touches on AV’s relationship with Rick Bowness, and how he probaby deserved to be let go regardless of Vigneault’s fate:
It’s not surprising that Bowness is out with Vigneault, considering how long they’ve worked together. Their connection goes back to when Bowness was the head coach of the Ottawa Senators and Vigneault was one of his assistants. The two may continue to work together in the future, as Vigneault is unlikely to be unemployed for long and may bring Bowness as an assistant to wherever he is hired next.
That said, Bowness was a likely candidate to be fired in any case. The defence was his responsibility and the Canucks were frequently a gong show in their own end this season.
Greg Wyshynski points out that Mike Gillis deserves as much criticism as Vigneault for recent failures, and speculates about where AV could be headed next:
There are likely as many fans who called for the head of Gillis as called for the head of AV. The notion of total regime change for Vancouver probably didn’t make sense to ownership, who see the window still open for this edition of the Canucks to win. But the mismanagement by Gills – being too focused on the blue line, adding offensive pieces that didn’t pan out – is as much a factor in Vancouver’s underwhelming results as anything the coach did.
But it’s Vigneault who was always going to pay the price for that. He won’t be out of work long, with both the Dallas Stars and Colorado Avalanche openings a possibility for his next move. And what about a Chicago Wolves reunion with Craig MacTavish in Edmonton, if the Oilers decided to make a change?
Bruce McCurdy follows up with some similar thoughts on Mike Gillis’s culpability:
One could argue that Gillis didn’t exactly deal him or assistants Rick Bowness and Newell Brown a fair hand in 2013-13 when he failed to resolve the goaltending issue, tying up nearly $10 MM in cap hit in the crease while ensuring ongoing discord and controversy. Meanwhile, the Canucks struggled to replace the retired Malhotra or the injured Ryan Kesler or the traded (for plumber Zack Kassian) Cody Hodgson, leaving a hole in the donut on way too many lines on way too many nights. When your second highest scoring centre has 13 points, I’m not sure that’s on the coach. Nor is it the coach’s fault when his backup goalie makes double the money of his active #2-3-4 pivots combined. (“Hey Bobby Luu, how are you on d-zone draws?”)
Still, it’s axiomatic that the general manager hires the coach and not the other way round, so no matter who is responsible, the axe is bound to fall on several coaches for every GM that gets the boot. Like so many GMs in so many cities, Gillis gets a do-over, even as his own performance comes increasingly under the microscope.
Three writers from the Province chimed in yesterday. Ed Willies talks about how firing the coaches exposes Gillis:
There are no longer any bodies between Gillis and the door. From this point forward, the success or failure of the Canucks becomes his entire responsibility. There was a time when his unorthodox, money-puck approach seemed to be working for this team; when the analytics, the sleep doctors and the mind room seemed to have the Canucks at the forefront of something new and exciting in the game.
Now? As it turns out, drafting, trading and signing free agents is more important than all those fancy, new-age diversions and the Canucks are now teetering on the verge of chaos because Gillis’s work has been substandard in the GM’s traditional responsibilites.
Tony Gallagher has been dreaming of this day since the Chicago series in 2009:
It should have come at the end of the 2009 season when Vancouver had a better team than Chicago that season and melted down after they led two games to one and had a one-goal lead in the third period of Game 4 against a team that was ready to be put away.
But the Canucks sat back in a defensive posture, let the Hawks come to them, eventually made a mistake, lost in overtime and then lost the following two games in embarrassing fashion.
That was more than just a first clue of what was to come, and the waste of four more seasons with the terrific roster this team has enjoyed has been torture for those of us who have not been fans of AV’s approach to the game.
By all reports, Gillis and Vigneault forged a close relationship over the past five years. Jason Botchford touches on that:
Gillis relishes being a different thinker, and there are not many general managers who would have kept the coach hired by the previous regime.
That’s what Gillis did with Vigneault, Dave Nonis’s guy, after four long weeks of meetings and a trip to Las Vegas. Together, over time, they forged an odd union. On one side, you had the analytical, progressive executive. On the other, was the blunt, hard-working, defensive minded coach.
It was not always smooth, but for the most part it worked. Whenever it didn’t, Gillis would have a counter.
“Who is a better available coach? Who is out there?” he’d ask, knowing there was no easy answer.
Guess we’re about to find out.
Elliott Pap of the Vancouver Sun recalls some of AV’s more memorable quotes during his tenure, including this classic that I had forgotten about:
“That was a pretty good day for a little Frenchman from Quebec.” — On Alex Burrows, who scored the Game 7 overtime winner versus Chicago April 26, 2011 and then became a first-time father on April 27.
@strombone1 with a poignant tweet:
Since our 1st year when we arrived together, AV would always tell me that he’d be gone before I would. I guess he was right. Very ironic….
—Strombone (@strombone1) May 22, 2013
Conversely, former Canuck Willie Mitchell doesn’t seem too torn up about it:
— Willie Mitchell (@Willie_Mitch33) May 22, 2013
Finally, Alain Vigneault released a personal statement through the Canucks website:
I am proud of many of the things we accomplished as a group these past seven seasons in Vancouver and only wish we were able to win the Canucks first Stanley Cup. I am a career coach and it is what I love to do. I hope to coach again in this League and will always have good memories of my time and the fans in Vancouver.