Canucks’ Alain Vigneault ‘sharp, ready’ to go … but what about his team? (with video)
‘I think we’re all basically going into uncharted waters’
VANCOUVER — Lady Gaga and her minions had the rest of the building, so Alain Vigneault’s welcome-back media scrum Friday was relegated to part of an upstairs lounge at Rogers Arena.
The Vancouver Canucks’ head coach entered the room and suggested a group hug.
Reporters probably would have accommodated him, too, if not for the tight quarters — not only because in the normal course of things, he rarely returns fire without a smile on his face, so the media actually likes him. (For God’s sake, don’t tell the boss.)
And not only because of his occasional Yogi Berra-isms, like Friday’s best: “When I got here, the [Sedin] twins were 25 years old, both of them.”
But also because, amid the NHL lockout’s general sense of betrayal by millionaire hockey players and billionaire owners, the thousandaire coaches were held blameless.
It helped that they stayed in deep cover, most of them, by design and under orders to be inconspicuous and mute.
But it was no act, Vigneault said.
“Coaches and management, we were not really part of this process where they asked our opinions,” he said. “I might be different than the other coaches in the NHL, but I’m one of the most veteran guys in there now, and the only thing I knew was going on was what you guys in the media were telling us.”
In other words, he heard heavily spin-doctored leaks from both sides, and hardly any truth. So like the rest of us, he had no idea when, or if, a solution might come.
He moved back in with his parents in Gatineau, Que., for a couple of weeks while contractors were doing renovations on his home, tidied up when he had his buddies over to watch TV and drink sarsaparilla, and waited.
Scouted the farm team some in Chicago, flew to Vancouver to spend part of each month in meetings, then flew home. And waited some more.
The daily routine wasn’t too inspiring.
“After I worked out in the morning, and shovelled after I got back from the workout because there was tons of snow, it was ... long,” he said. “To tell you the truth, I’ve watched all the former Nordiques-Montreal games, I’ve watched the ’72 [Summit] Series, because it was always on RDS. I can tell you that, to me, the game looks a lot quicker now than it did back in ’72 when all those great players were out there.
“But it was long.”
It was long, and now time is short. Especially so for the Canucks, with their aging roster and shrinking window of opportunity, with their room full of skaters who mostly eschewed playing anywhere else during the lockout and are going to camp on Sunday in good practice shape, but competition-cold.
As Vigneault responded to the various challenges his team will face out of the gate, it was, frankly, harder than it ought to have been to envision this Canucks team as a Stanley Cup contender.
Apart from the 100-per-cent in-conference schedule, which is going to make travel exponentially harder on the western teams — “Cry us a river,” they are saying in Winnipeg, where the Jets are playing in the Southeast, and every road game will be in the Eastern time zone — there is the Roberto Luongo elephant in the room, and a lineup of forwards that, as current constituted, probably won’t make opponents lose much sleep. At least, not until Ryan Kesler returns from wrist and shoulder surgeries.
Nothing wrong with the first line of Henrik Sedin between his brother Daniel and Alex Burrows, and the checking line, with Chris Higgins and Jannik Hansen on Mac Lapierre’s flanks, looks solid enough.
But the second scoring line is a shambles — they badly need a centreman to take over some of what Kesler offered, while playing between two huge disappointments of 2011-12, David Booth and Mason Raymond.
The centre could come back in a deal for Luongo, but Luongo is still here, eight months after the organization made it abundantly clear that his No. 1 spot would henceforth belong to Cory Schneider.
So what was left for Vigneault to say about that, other than: “Right now, I have two top-end goaltenders, probably the best duo in the NHL, and I think I’ve shown in the past that I know how to use both goaltenders for the benefit of the team.”
(That hiss you hear is the sound of Luongo’s tires deflating.)
Moreover, the short lead-in to the season makes it difficult — for any team, not only the Canucks, who don’t have a lot of obvious cracker-jack prospects, in any case — to bring new players into the lineup.
“I think we’re all basically going into uncharted waters,” Vigneault said. “We all have expectations that guys are going to react to this thing the right way, but with a five or six-day training camp, we don’t really know what we’re going to get.
“Obviously, we’ve got a veteran group, and hopefully we’ll be good to go.”
If the Canucks have an edge, it’s that they have already done the science on energy conservation — they have a “sleep doctor” and have dealt with a compressed schedule and long absences from home as recently as 2010, when they were forced out of Vancouver for several weeks by the Olympics.
But every Western club is used to the vagaries of travel and goofy scheduling. And while we’re on the subject, let’s save a little sorrow for the Eastern Conference teams that can no longer package trips to Winnipeg with a three or four-game Western swing.
It’s a one-off now, a two-and-a-half hour flight from the next nearest conference market, unless visiting teams play double-headers there.
Meanwhile, the coaches await the ratification of the new CBA, hoping the provisions in it don’t tie their hands too tightly. The schedule will be hard. Getting rest will be hard. Fitting in adequate practice time will be hard.
All that notwithstanding, Vigneault can’t wait for his seventh season in Vancouver to begin.
“Some guys say this (coaching) is not like riding a bike, but for me ... I’m sharp, don’t worry about it,” he said. “I’m ready.”
The last time the NHL came out of a lockout into a 48-game regular season, Vigneault said, “Bones (associate coach Rick Bowness) and I were in Ottawa, but we had a training camp and exhibition games, and our guys came back at about this same time.
“But now, a lot of the players haven’t played for 6-7-8 months, so how this is all going to unfold, we’re going to find out in a very short period of time.”
Those 1995 Ottawa Senators, incidentally, won nine games with Bowness as the head coach and Vigneault his assistant. The bar is set a little higher here.
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