Forget firing, do Alain Vigneault and Mike Gillis want to stay with the Canucks?
After a disappointing performance in the 2012 NHL playoffs, some fans want to pass the blindfolds and let executions begin. But before we get carried away, should we wonder if Vigneault and Gillis even want to stay in Vancouver?
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VANCOUVER — The lazy, default reaction the rest of Canada has to the Vancouver Canucks, who are full of whiners and divers, isn't helped by the lazy, default reaction many people here have to the hockey team losing in the playoffs.
We're not sure about the divers – and we sincerely hope no fans or sports radio programmers were so distraught at the National Hockey League team's first-round playoff loss that they went swimming from the Lions Gate bridge – but the whine region in B.C. is vast when it comes to the Canucks.
Coach Alain Vigneault is not only the most successful coach in Canuck history but a fraud who has somehow escaped detection by all but the keenest observers for six years. Daniel and Henrik Sedin aren't winners. Turns out Alex Edler is really Michel Petit and Ryan Kesler is all scowl and no action. And how in the world was Mike Gillis named general manager of the year amid enough dumb moves that he makes Jack Gordon look like Sam Pollock?
Based on the popular vote, the Canucks will be comprised next season entirely of Cory Schneider and Cody Hodgson, although god knows what the Sabres will demand for the return of the most glittering prospect since Cam Neely. Maybe the team of two can play beach volleyball or bubble hockey or do nothing and wait around for people to find fault anyway.
At least some of the derision would be understandable if the Canucks were the Edmonton Oilers or Columbus Blue Jackets instead of a team that just had the best two seasons in franchise history, amassing 228 points (14 more than any other team), 105 wins (five more than any other team), two Presidents' Trophies (two more than any other team) and five playoff rounds (which may yet be as many as any other team because three of the Final Four teams from last spring are already out and the Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins face a Game 7 on Wednesday).
We understand the preceding paragraphs have branded the writer an apologist-hack because true nobility in sports lies with demanding people get fired, if only to mollify the outraged.
But you should understand also that this kind of tinfoil-on-the-head braying only reinforces the belief to people in Edmonton and other places that Vancouver is full of kooks and Canuck fans are as arrogant and self-entitled as the hockey team is accused of being.
If the Canucks can get better by firing easily the best coach they've had, by all means pass the blindfold and cigarettes. But unless the Detroit Red Wings are going to punt Mike Babcock – and why wouldn't they because they lost in the first round, too? – it's hard to imagine any of the small handful of coaches in Vigneault's class being available as a potential upgrade.
There is always the whim of ownership to consider, but Gillis has shown no inclination to fire his coach.
Now, whether Vigneault wants to stay is another question. He has a year left on his contract and there are other jobs out there that come with a little more money and a lot fewer headaches than the Jack Adams Trophy winner gets in Vancouver. And it's curious that Vigneault is choosing not to participate in Mike Gillis' post-mortem press conference this morning at Rogers Arena.
Count on the coach being the first question put to Gillis.
There will be a lot of other questions.
Assuming Vigneault isn't about to ask out of his contract so he can bolt to the Montreal Canadiens, the most serious issue may be whether the Canucks are now behind the curve in how the NHL has veered back towards defensive play – far different that the neutral-zone trap of the Dead Puck Era but equally effective at stifling scoring.
Consider the teams already out of playoffs in the Western Conference: Vancouver, Detroit, San Jose Sharks, Chicago Blackhawks.
Consider the teams advancing: Nashville Predators, Phoenix Coyotes, St. Louis Blues and Los Angeles Kings – ranked eighth, 18th, 21st and 29th in scoring this season.
Will power plays come back next season or is the obstruction and interference that was officiated back into the NHL in the second half of the year staying?
And, as for staying, does Gillis want to?
He has aged about 10 years during his four as GM, is increasingly dismayed or frustrated by things he is powerless to control and has quietly slipped towards the final season of a five-year contract without any rumblings of an extension.
Regarding the roster, clearly it is in the interest of everyone involved to find a place where deposed starting goalie Roberto Luongo wants to play and see if he can fetch assets in return. Cory Schneider must be signed before he is exposed to free agency. And, regardless of which way the Canucks believe the NHL is headed, they need to get younger or risk a Calgary Flames-like crisis in two years.
Judged on the last two weeks and the last two years, the Canucks need changes, but not a demolition.
“We had a good regular season but that's not what we were looking for,” captain Henrik Sedin said long after Sunday's overtime elimination. “We looked at post-season success and we didn't get there. We played five games and we have nothing to show for it. [But] a good team is built with patience. You can't rebuild because you had an off-year [in the playoffs]. You've got to look at the big picture here. We've got a lot of guys we know can play better. If you look at the good teams around the league, if they have an off-year in the playoffs, they still stick to their guys because that's what made them successful.”
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