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The Alain Vigneault era in Vancouver has been marked by a sparkling, consistent record of regular season success, tactical innovation and, ultimately, playoff failure. It was those playoff failures, magnified by the club’s 1-8 postseason record (including no victories at home) that ultimately caught up to the controversial bench boss.
On Wednesday afternoon an agitated Mike Gillis met the media to address the firing of head coach Alain Vigneault and two associate coaches Newell Brown and Rick Bowness. Gillis personally thanked the coaches "for their dedication, commitment and the amount of hard work they put in" during their run with the Canucks. But at the end of the day, "There comes a point in time where the message has to change and we have to be better," and Wednesday was that long anticipated day of reckoning.
Read past the jump.
For Mike Gillis, and presumably for the Canucks ownership group, the team’s inability to win in the postseason – or to even be competitive in the playoffs the past two years, frankly – was the final straw:
"We’re in a results oriented business and if you look at the last two playoffs we were the higher seeded team lost the first two games at home, lost consecutive games in the last two playoff rounds…
Personnel is changing, injuries are changing, the fact remains we didn’t win the games we had to win to be successful."
Mike Gillis added that the organization "thought (last season’s first round loss) might just be an anomaly, but in the playoffs (this year) we got the same result." He also defended Vigneault’s record and described him as an "excellent" coach:
"I can’t say enough about (the past five years working with Alain Vigneault). It’s been a solid five years, in fact, I believe it’s been the best five years in the history of this franchise in terms of winning percentage and getting to the Stanley Cup Final. The last two years we haven’t done the job…"
Indeed. And following the club’s second straight rather embarrassing first round ouster, "we’re at a point now in the evolution of this team and organization, that in my mind a change is required." It’ll be too late for some observers, of course, but until this years sweep Alain Vigneault had a winning record in the playoffs.
The fact remains that Alain Vigneault brings a lot to the table as a headcoach, which is why he won’t be unemployed for long (unless he decides he’d prefer to be). Yeah he takes a few things off of the table too, but firing him after last season – just one year removed from a Stanley Cup Finals appearance and defeated in five by a team that waltzed to a championship – would’ve been premature and panicky. Which isn’t Mike Gillis’ style.
Mike Gillis reiterated his preference for being methodical and emotionally detached in his decision making process "I don’t do things based on emotion" he said. Gillis would rather make decisions on his own terms, which is fair enough, but it’s not really the way the firing of Alain Vigneault went down. The news of Vigneault’s firing broke before Mike Gillis said the decision had even been made (which seems difficult to believe). Perhaps that’s why Mike Gillis was so testy towards the media, pointedly suggesting that he was considering hiring someone directly from the press-corps assembled to replace Alain Vigneault and complaining that "people have been after me since day one…"
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!
Finally, though Mike Gillis’ tone was dour throughout most of his media availability, he ended it on a somewhat positive note focussing on a future that will apparently somehow include lots of young players:
"We have a really good core group of players. We need to surround them with some younger skilled players that can contribute.
I think we’re well positioned to continue to improve and get better and I’m excited about where we’re going to go from this point forward.
If you look around the league and look at the cap system we’re involved in you have to have young players on your roster… It’s a critical element of operating within the system and that’s where we have to go."
Building the Canucks into a contender again will require some creative destruction on Mike Gillis’ part. He’ll move forward without Alain Vigneault – a solid head coach by pretty much everyone’s estimation – who along with his staff served as something of a scapegoat on Wednesday for the team’s lack of playoff success the past two seasons.
As we enter a summer of uncertainty and transition for the Canucks, Mike Gillis will face a handful of significant challenges. Whether it’s naming a new headcoach, or finding a market and an arena in which to locate the team’s newly purchased AHL club, or figuring out how to get both cheaper and better at the same time this summer, there’s significant work to do. Really the only thing that we know for sure is that wherever the organization goes from here, whether they match the success of the Vigneault era going forward or take a one-way trip to a sort of perpetual mediocrity that necessitates a more significant rebuild, it’s Vancouver’s General Manager who will own it.