For Canucks, there’s no Mr. Perfect on coaching carousel
Final four purported to be John Tortorella, Lindy Ruff, John Stevens and Scott Arniel
VANCOUVER — If the Vancouver Canucks absolutely had to have as their coach any of the numerous candidates they’ve interviewed, chances are the National Hockey League team would have him hired by now.
Maybe it will soon.
General manager Mike Gillis had more than rule changes on his to-do list when he attended Wednesday’s National Hockey League meetings in Boston. TSN reported Tuesday the Canucks were down to a final four of coaching candidates – Lindy Ruff, John Tortorella, John Stevens and Scott Arniel — but none seems ideal.
After four weeks and probably a dozen interviews, the Canucks’ final four are the same as their starting five, minus Dallas Eakins, who went to the Edmonton Oilers.
The flaws of the remaining candidates vary. Ruff is a good coach but an uninspiring figure, the volatile Tortorella a Stanley Cup-winner who could blow up on the Canucks – or blow up the Canucks. Arniel’s only NHL head-coaching experience was a disappointing season-and-a-half in Columbus. Stevens, another low-key figure, spent the last three seasons as an assistant in Los Angeles after he was fired in Philadelphia slightly more than three years into his only NHL head-coaching gig.
Tortorella would be a provocative hire. But none of these coaches, in the absence of significant roster changes by Gillis, is likely to captivate the Vancouver market or instantly elevate the stature of a team that won five straight division titles under Alain Vigneault.
If you ask me — shockingly, Gillis isn’t — Stevens is the least imperfect. He is not the pushover some made him out to be with the Flyers, but nor is he volatile like Tortorella. He worked in Los Angeles under a couple of coaching elders with starkly different styles, Terry Murray and Darryl Sutter, and is probably going to be a better head coach the second time around.
But the Canucks are not the only team hiring. Just as the New York Rangers had to wait for Vigneault, who was also pursued by the Dallas Stars, the Canucks may have to wait for Stevens or Tortorella.
We know the feeling.
BLUESHIRTS AND GREEN: When Vigneault is officially introduced as the Rangers’ new coach — Friday morning, according to The New York Post – the 52-year-old’s $2 million annual salary will put him among the highest-paid in the NHL. But it’s not the salary that so impresses Vigneault’s coaching colleagues, but the term – five years.
It’s all about timing. Vigneault quickly became the preferred choice of both the wealthy Rangers and the Stars, under a new owner determined to return the Texas team to the top of the NHL.
Apparently, general managers like the Rangers’ Glen Sather and Stars’ Jim Nill view Vigneault as something far more than the overmatched dolt portrayed by some of his critics in Vancouver. Vigneault is, as he was, one of the best coaches in the NHL. His new job and paycheque reflect that.
NO DRAFT DO-OVERS: Milan Lucic is hard to miss. But, of course, the Canucks missed him in the 2006 draft.
When he’s on his game, which is about every shift he takes in the Stanley Cup playoffs, Lucic is the best power forward in the NHL – a prototype for the physical, ferocious offensive threat every general manager covets. Teams get built around players like Lucic.
But the Canucks’ failure to claim Lucic, who grew up under their noses in east Vancouver and played junior for the Vancouver Giants, illustrates not shoddy judgment on draft day, but the organization’s history of rash decisions at the trading deadline.
The Boston Bruins “reached” forward in the draft to select Lucic 50th in 2006, in the bottom half of the second round. The Canucks had no second-round pick that day because general manager Dave Nonis, desperate to get his struggling team to the playoffs, had traded the 38th and 46th picks to acquire goalie Mika Noronen from Buffalo and defenceman Keith Carney from Anaheim.
Carney played 18 games for the Canucks, Noronen only four, and neither was seen again after Vancouver missed the playoffs anyway. Lucic has played nearly 500 regular-season and playoff games for Boston and is trying to win his second Stanley Cup.
Those misspent draft picks characterize the last decade of Canucks management, as GMs Nonis and Gillis sacrificed a dozen draft picks from Rounds 2-4 in the pursuit of mostly short-term help for the playoffs.
It’s also largely why there is a generation gap in Canuck player development, a looming crisis for the franchise unless Gillis finds a way to replenish the roster with younger players.
Alas, he has no second-round pick to help him in next Sunday’s draft in Newark. Gillis traded it this spring to rent centre Derek Roy, who gave the Canucks 16 games and three goals.
GOALIE GLUT: The Los Angeles Kings are shopping talented backup goalie Jonathan Bernier as the Philadelphia Flyers contemplate the biggest contract buyout in NHL history — two-thirds of the $34 million US netminder Ilya Bryzgalov is due over the next seven years.
Coupled with a salary cap contracting by 8½ per cent, player developments like these are why it’s likely to be even harder this summer for the Canucks to trade $64-million goalie Roberto Luongo than it was a year ago.
The Toronto Maple Leafs’ willingness before this season to surrender a prospect and Tyler Bozak for Luongo is the kind of offer, derided by many a few months ago, that may never come again. Getting Bozak would have negated Gillis’s need to make the Roy trade, so at least there would be a second-round pick available next week for finding the next Lucic.
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