by Scott Taylor
Yesterday’s announcement of the firing of Canuck coach Alain Vigneault was certainly inevitable, though, in the minds of many, not deserved. Canuck President and General Manager Mike Gillis was sacrificing his coach to save himself many said. It is Gillis, who deserves the scrutiny many will say. And not Vigneault, the media friendly long-term coach, who has easily amassed the best coaching record in franchise history.
And certainly Gillis’ body of work requires plenty of critical appraisal at this point. And that will most certainly come. If it already hasn’t. It was obvious from Gillis’ demeanour yesterday that he is clearly feeling the heat.
But the time for a coaching change in Vancouver had long passed. Despite Vigneault’s gaudy record as Canuck boss, his day was done. Witness the following.
Since the Stanley Cup loss to Boston two years ago, the number of sixty minute efforts expended by his squad could be counted on one hand. The President’s Trophy and divisional titles in that span were buoyed by a weak schedule and strong goaltending. We won’t go so far to say his team had tuned him out, but they had become a mostly complacent crew, fully exposed in their consecutive first round playoff exits to lower seeded opponents.
Inconsistent Player Development
During his time here, Vigneault displayed an inability to consistently nurture young talent. In the salary cap constrained world, getting contributions from young players with small salaries is paramount.
To his credit, Vigneault developed the likes of Ryan Kesler, Jannik Hansen and Chris Tanev. But more strikingly, players like Cody Hodgson and Zack Kassian could never find their way out of his doghouse. The rift with Hodgson, in fact, began when Coach Vigneault accused the rookie of faking what turned out to be a serious back injury.
Clearly, young players who were committed to defense first (like Tanev and Hansen) would be in the good books of Vigneault, while those with creative offensive instincts (Hodgson and Kassian) would be forever shackled. At yesterday’s press conference, Gillis acknowledged the importance of getting contributions from younger players going forward, a passive indictment of Vigneault’s record in that regard.
Repeated Playoff Failures
Many will remember Coach Vigneault as the man who coached the Canucks to within a game of the Stanley Cup. History will show, however, that his teams notoriously under achieved in the playoffs.
His Canuck teams played in twelve playoff series (with home ice advantage in ten of them), winning six times. More recently, they have lost ten of their last 11 playoff games despite being the favourite. And most tellingly, their playoff elimination game record during his seven years at the helm featured only eight wins in 21 attempts - a glaring signal that his team could not play their best when it mattered most.
Hired to be Fired
Finally, and most importantly, coaching changes work. The history of sport does not feature stories of immeasurable patience in your coaching staff being rewarded with championships. It simply does not happen. In fact, the opposite is typically true. Of the last ten Stanley Cup champions, the average tenure of the head coach has been two seasons. Three times in that period, the winner has featured a coach in his first season with the club.
So after seven seasons, Coach Vigneault winds up where all coaches eventually do. He had tremendous opportunity here, one that was left mostly unfulfilled. And on that basis, while amassing the best record in franchise history, will not be remembered as the greatest Canuck coach ever. By no means is he solely responsible for this organizational failure, but he is certainly the most easily accountable at this moment in time.