Vancouver Canucks coach Alain Vigneault looking unhappy as they lose another to Los Angeles Kings in first round of Stanley cup playoffs.
Photograph by: Steve Bosch, PNG
VANCOUVER — The conference call didn’t work at the start like the Vancouver Canucks didn’t work at the end, but coach Alain Vigneault survived both malfunctions and broke his silence Wednesday when the National Hockey League team extended his contract by two seasons.
Part victory speech and part post-mortem, Vigneault finally addressed reporters a month after the Canucks were steamrolled by the Los Angeles Kings in the first round of the Stanley Cup tournament.
He indicated the switch to goalie Cory Schneider will probably be permanent.
He admitted the Canucks, after going to the Stanley Cup final 11 months ago, struggled mentally during the season and did not reach the level necessary to win in the playoffs.
He took responsibility for failing to plan for the initial playoff absence of concussed winger Daniel Sedin, who the Canucks had expected to be ready for the post-season.
Thankfully, mercifully, he had nothing to say about Cody Hodgson.
Often during the 30-minute conference call, Vigneault simply sounded grateful for a contract that could extend his tenure in Vancouver to 2015 and nine NHL seasons, unprecedented for a Canucks coach.
“I’ve been with Vancouver six years,” Vigneault said from his home in Gatineau, Que. “I was in between jobs for six years, from the time I went from Montreal to Vancouver. There are only 30 of these jobs available. I know how hard they are to get. And when you’ve got one, you do everything you can to keep it ... especially in a great market like we have in Vancouver where everybody is so passionate about the game. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.
“I think I’ve got a great vote of confidence from my ownership and management and I don’t intend to let anybody down.”
And yet, so many people seemed let down even after Vigneault guided the Canucks through their Stanley Cup hangover this season and successfully defended the Presidents’ Trophy.
Some people wanted his head, which Vigneault kept hidden by bolting Vancouver a few days after the season ended.
But there was never any issue among hockey people — and especially Canuck general manager Mike Gillis — that Vigneault had done an exceptional job and should be retained.
Before Gillis’ own extension, which is a year or two longer than Vigneault’s, was bestowed in a summit meeting with owner Francesco Aquilini just over two weeks ago, the GM told Vigneault that the coaching work done this season was his finest in Vancouver.
It’s a sound argument, even with the Canucks’ earliest playoff exit in eight years and the first first-round loss since Vigneault replaced Marc Crawford in 2006.
With all the challenges — the Stanley Cup drain on emotions, key injuries at the start and end of the season, heightened expectations, the second-half disappearance of the power play, the ceaseless saga in the goal crease — Vigneault and his staff still coaxed an NHL-best 111 points from players.
Then they false-started against the Kings and were crushed by a bigger, stronger, deeper, tighter and hungrier Los Angeles team.
Last season’s Stanley Cup winners, the Boston Bruins, also were bounced in the playoffs’ first round. So, too, for a second straight year were the 2010 champion Chicago Blackhawks. The 2009 winners, the Pittsburgh Penguins, also were eliminated in the first round a second straight year.
Do you see a trend?
“If I look at the regular season, I don’t think that as a group we got the credit that the guys deserve,” Vigneault said. “We got every team’s best game. Throughout that whole, 82-game process, we finished first in the NHL. I believe we did a lot more good than what was perceived out there.
“This year, for me, was challenging. That emotional awareness that’s needed, it was a challenge to get us to the level probably needed in the playoffs to have success. That's why, talking with Mike, we need to have a little more scientific approach to see where our players are physically and mentally and help them get to where they need to be come playoff time.”
The Canucks also need a little more of what the Kings have: size and depth to go with speed, skill and goaltending.
The Canucks can send to the “Mind Room” at Rogers Arena any player who needs help achieving his peak mental readiness for the playoffs. But if he goes out on to the ice at 185 pounds he probably won’t match a player of similar ability who weighs 215.
Gillis and Vigneault need to make their team bigger up front and improve the bottom six forwards. And they need to do it now because the Canucks are halfway though their window for winning with the current core group anchored by Daniel and Henrik Sedin, who will be 32 next fall.
Now that uncertainty has been lifted from the management and coaching staff, the organization’s full focus can shift to upgrading the lineup.
“When players understand that ownership and management and coaches are all working together for the same common goal and they see that stability, then they buy-in where we’re trying to go,” Vigneault said. “We’re all searching and we’re all looking for the same thing — and that’s to win. They want what our fans and what we all want. They want to win the Stanley Cup.”
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