Heading into the homestretch of this shortened NHL season, Vancouver Canucks general manager Mike Gillis and head coach Alain Vigneault could be in a do-or-die scenario. Depending on how the rest of the season unfolds, one or both of these individuals may not be back.
For Mike Gillis, the requirement is clear—he must trade Roberto Luongo. The trade deadline is just five days away, and Cory Schneider is proving in every way that he is the man for the job. As I last wrote, it's a buyer's market right now, and the time to trade Luongo is now. The Edmonton Oilers, Tampa Bay Lightning and Philadelphia Flyers are all teams that should be in a playoff position but aren't, and goaltending is a major problem.
And let's not leave out the Florida Panthers (although goaltending is hardly the main issue) or the Toronto Maple Leafs, who, although ranked sixth in the East, are still at risk of missing the playoffs.
Although it is a buyer's market, Gillis must realize Luongo isn't the only talented veteran around, and he needs to act quickly. Buffalo Sabres Ryan Miller has been mentioned as possible deadline bait (although those rumors likely don't carry any wind).
With Jay Feaster finally accepting the reality of his rebuilding Calgary Flames, Miikka Kiprusoff is always a strong possibility and doesn't carry a long-term contract like Luongo.
With younger goalies like Jonathan Bernier and Steve Mason also on the block, potential destinations for Luongo could vanish quickly if Gillis doesn't pull the trigger.
Then, we have Alain Vigneault. While his tenure with the Canucks has been strong, you've got to wonder what role he actually played in their success. I mean, when you've got the league's most dynamic duo on your first line and one of, if not the best goaltending tandems in the league, it's hard to go wrong.
But when you really drill down into his accomplishments, things start to look questionable. First, in year's past, Vigneault has been unconditionally loyal to Luongo—continually giving him the start in dire playoff situations, despite allowing five or more goals the game before.
On the statsheet, Cory Schneider has been gunning for the number one position from game one, but it's only been recently that Vigneault accepted the possibility.
Goaltending has just been one factor in the Canucks' lack of playoff success. Being the best team in the regular season is one thing, but the playoffs are a different game. In the playoffs, opposing coaches and teams identify your strategy and adjust to it—something we haven't seen much of with Vigneault.
Alain's situation isn't as black and white as Mike Gillis', but I believe a first-round playoff exit would ensure the departure of the Canucks' head coach. If he wants to keep his job, he'll need to lead the Canucks through a lengthy playoff run this year.
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