Last week esteemed (admittedly not always around here) coach Alain Vigneault surpassed Marc Crawford as the winningest bench boss in team history. While he is the most successful coach in franchise history, declaring him the greatest is likely premature.
Vigneault surpassed the win total in roughly a full season less than it took the chirpy Crawford. In the end, it’s an accomplishment of note despite the fact he has had the good fortune of presiding over the most talented collection of Canucks ever assembled.
Ultimately, what has impressed us about Coach V is his willingness to change his team’s style to accommodate the mix of players (not to mention the wishes of Mike Gillis). Indeed, his lofty victory total owes more to his ability to adapt through two management regimes than anything else.
You will recall the early AV years that featured Roberto Luongo at his peak and a pop gun offense. Those teams took lots of penalties too, particularly fighting majors, adopting the on ice temperament of Vigneault, a hard rock defenseman in his day.
When Mike Gillis arrived on the scene, it became clear that the model for this franchise was going to be based on the likes of the Detroit Red Wings, as opposed to say, the New Jersey Devils (Dave Nonis’ pursuit of Roberto Luongo was based on the speculation that he was the next Martin Brodeur).
And under AV’s watch the team transformed from a tight checking highly penalized team to one that succeeded by turning the other cheek, whilst making the opposition pay on the scoreboard with a lethal power play. This new found discipline left the team with a record breaking regular season and a brush with the Stanley Cup.
Equally impressive has been AV’s ability to hold the attention of his players for much longer than his predecessor; Crawford having lost the room long before he was finally canned - some might say as far back as the 2003 playoff meltdown against the Minnesota Wild. Though in fairness to Crawford, Vigneault hasn’t had to deal with the likes of Todd Bertuzzi.
So suffice is to say Vigneault gets full credit for outperforming the likely overrated Crawford, but is he the greatest Canuck coach ever?
Under Pat Quinn’s tenure the franchise came just as close to a Stanley Cup win as last year’s edition. And had Quinn not handed the keys to the car to Rick Ley, and later Tom Renney, Vigneault might still be chasing Quinn for the most Canuck coaching victories instead of having passed Crawford.
And even if Vigneault should bring home the ultimate prize, it is unlikely he will be immortalized at Rogers Arena with the larger-than-life statue that salutes the contributions of Roger Neilson, an actual coaching pioneer.
The Stanley Cup, of course, is all that matters to the franchise at this point. And in that regard, the jury is still out on Vigneault.
As much as this team was one win away from immortality last season, they were also one goal away from blowing a 3-0 series lead against the Chicago Black Hawks, a collapse what would have certainly cost AV his job. And after leading the Stanley Cup Final series 2-0 and then 3-2, they were outscored 9-2 in the final 2 games with the Cup hanging in the balance.
His playoff elimination game record of 7 wins and 11 losses is poor and while it is marred as much by hot and cold goaltending performances from Roberto Loungo as anything else, it is this record that will ultimately tell the tale on his coaching tenure for a team that has never been more poised for a championship.
Vigneault’s story, despite the relatively lavish victory totals, is still unfinished. It will end either heroically with a Stanley Cup championship or tragically with Vigneault remembered mostly as the guy that couldn’t win the big game.