On Vigneault’s Press Conference and the Prospect of a “Coaching Swap”

Alain Vigneault introduced in a press conference in New York on Friday.

On Friday, as divisive former Canucks coach Alain Vigneault prepared to give his first full press conference since his final game coaching Vancouver’s club in early May, news broke out of Phoenix that Dave Tippett has signed a long-term contract extension and the Stars made their decision to hire Lindy Ruff official. So that means that, as of today, the Canucks are the last show in town on the "coaching vacancy front" and there appear to be three serious candidates left in the running in Scott Arniel, John Stevens, and John Tortorella.

With dream candidates Dan Bylsma and Dave Tippett remaining in place, and Lindy Ruff, Dallas Eakins, Patrick Roy and Vancouver’s most recent head coach hired elsewhere, the cards are now all on the table. There’s no obvious reason for the Canucks to wait and see any longer, so perhaps a decision on a new head coach will be forthcoming in short order. (Update: NHL sources are telling Gary Lawless than the Canucks have already offered the position to John Tortorella). Or maybe we’ll wait another week because, after all, this is the Canucks we’re talking about.

Read past the jump for more.

Considering how Vigneault has been criticized roundly in Vancouver – and at our blog as well – for "sitting on leads" to an undue extent (never mind that every coach does it), it  was jarring for Canucks fans to hear Alain Vigneault trumpeted as an offensive style coach in his introductory press conference. Of course, considering he’s replacing John Tortorella, I don’t think that’s altogether an unfair characterization. 

It was interesting also, and somewhat compelling, to hear Alain Vigneault describe the evolution of his Canucks teams during his Vancouver tenure:

"If you looked at Vancouver how we evolved over the years, we started out as a defensive team because our skill level wasn’t that high. As we developed a little more we evolved into one of the best offensive teams in the league and that’s what I intend to do here."

I totally buy that, actually. You can’t tell me that the 2008-09, 2009-10, 2010-11 and 2011-12 (through the first 41 games, at least) Vancouver Canucks weren’t exciting clubs to watch. Even through this most recent season, as Vigneault’s Canucks devolved into a slightly below average offensive club which relied on low-event hockey and stellar goaltending, it became apparent that Vigneault’s "style" was dictated more by the personnel than any over-arching philosophy. When Kesler returned to the lineup, the Canucks played free-wheeling hockey. When Andrew Ebbett was in the top-nine, not so much.

Vigneault emphasized that the dichotomy between "offense" and "defense" is something of a false one, promising the assembled hockey media that "We’re going to play well in both ends of the rink." For the most part that’s something his Canucks teams did and did consistently. In the regular season at least.

Vigneault also trumpeted his player development bonafides, taking credit for how the twins, Kesler, Bieksa and Edler in particular transformed into top-end players under his tutelage:

"When i first got to Vancouver (the Sedin, Kesler, Edler, Bieksa) they were all young men and they’ve all become really good players in the NHL and I’m confident we can do the same thing in New York."

I honestly do think that Vigneault deserves some credit for some of the player development that went on in Vancouver under his watch (Jannik Hansen is another name I’d put in that list). That said, I’m equally curious to see if a new coach can help the likes of Edler and Bieksa improve on their decision making and cut down on unforced errors…

Ultimately the Rangers, recognizing they needed to score more, went out and hired a coach with a track record of coaching relatively exciting and offensively productive clubs that win a lot of games. In ten seasons as an NHL head coach, for example, Vigneault coached teams have been in the top-5 in league scoring on four occassions.

Meanwhile the Canucks are reportedly kicking the tires very seriously on New York’s recently deposed head coach John Tortorella. The controverisal Tortorella, who could probably use a soft touch to go along with his brusque communication style, met with Mike Gillis in Boston this week. In nine full seasons as an NHL head-coach, by the way, Tortorella has coached one top-five offense and his Rangers teams essentially played a rope-a-dope, shotblock heavy defensive system that looked like some awful offshoot of Hunter Hockey. 

For what it’s worth, I like hockey (period) and defensive hockey is fine by me. But that’s not the case for many Canucks fans. Canucks fans have been weened on Bure, Mogilny, the West Coast Express and the Sedin twins in the club’s recent history. Like Dutch soccer fans, Canucks fans seem to see "offensive hockey" as a virtue unto itself, even if doesn’t come attached to gaudy win-loss totals. 

Many of those fans are busy quoting John Tortorella’s famous "safe is death" quote of late, and singing the praises of John Tortorella’s uptempo, aggressive Tampa Bay Lightning teams. Nevermind the revisionist history, the simple fact is that Alain Vigneault’s bonafides as a coach with experience running uptempo, aggressive hockey teams far outpaces John Tortorella’s.

I won’t be particularly upset if Tortorella is named the Canucks head-coach. He’s a solid tactician and his polarizing personality would be great for business. But if you expect a Tortorella coached Canucks team to play a more aesthetically pleasing type of hockey than Vigneault coached Canucks teams have over the past seven years, well, you’re in for a rude awakening.

Coaching Profiles

  • JCDavies

    If we sign Torts, it would not suprise me if we moved the Sedins to the Rangers for a package of players such as Boyle, Stepan and a draft pick.

    can’t see the Sedins fitting in to a sytem like Tortorella will run (Richards and Gaborik could’t). But Vigneault would probably love to coach the Sedins again.

  • JCDavies

    I would seriously question my ability to follow this team going forward if they hired Torts. How many top 5 puck possesion teams has he coached since B.T.N was introduced? Top 10? vs. Alain.

    His systems are crap, he played in a weak eastern conference and had the best goalie in the entire league. Yet, his team never saw the SCF. Ya, his cup win did a lot for NYR ey?

    The ideas Canucks fans have about this guy are a farce. He’s not a good coach, he’s not a good motivational coach, and his systems are garbage in todays hockey. He’s also a irrational nutcase with the media. That will lead the inevitable “Vancouver is officially the biggest gong show market in north america”. In a years time, the majority of the players will either want to leave Canucks or say we don’t want to play for him (a la NYR). Any idea they had of attracting free agents this summer is out the window. What free agent will actually ‘want’ to play for this guy. He’s despised around the league.

    Gillis will be fired next summer if Torts is hired. I guarnatee it.