Vancouver Canucks President and General Manager Michael D. Gillis announced today that Alain Vigneault has been relieved of his duties as head coach of the Vancouver Canucks. Associate Coach Rick Bowness and Assistant Coach Newell Brown were also relieved of their duties today.
When the Canucks blew a 2-0 series lead in the 2011 Stanley Cup Final to the Boston Bruins and lost in seven games, the pressure on Vigneault to help the team capture its first championship increased dramatically.
Instead of improving, Vancouver followed its Stanley Cup Final appearance with two consecutive first-round playoff exits, which included eight losses in the team's last nine playoff games. Vigneault spent seven seasons as the team's head coach, but the Canucks advanced past the second round of the playoffs just once in that time.
With the Canucks' championship window rapidly closing, making a coaching change to help this team reach the "next level" was the right decision for the future of this franchise.
Let's look at the five best coaching candidates who should be considered as potential replacements for Vigneault in Vancouver.
Doug Houda (left) converses with Bruins head coach Claude Julien
Doug Houda of the Boston Bruins is one of the best assistant coaches in the league and deserves an opportunity to be an NHL head coach in the near future.
He joined the Bruins in 2006 and has been part of head coach Claude Julien's staff during some very successful times in Boston, including six straight playoff appearances and a Stanley Cup championship over the Canucks in 2011.
Houda's specialty is finding ways to help his team play well defensively in all three zones, and anyone who has watched the Bruins in the Julien era knows how fundamentally sound this team is on defense. Boston has finished sixth or better in GAA in each of the last five seasons, and its penalty kill has consistently been among the league's best in recent years.
As a coach who has Stanley Cup-winning experience as an assistant and a reputation for being able to make game plans and in-game adjustments to help his team succeed defensively, Houda would be a good fit in Vancouver.
Lindy Ruff has been mentioned as a candidate for almost all of the vacant coaching positions around the league.
Given his wealth of NHL head-coaching experience and the impressive success he has achieved at this level, he's a good candidate for a team like the Canucks that needs a respected coach who understands what it takes to win consistently.
In 14-plus seasons with the Buffalo Sabres, Ruff made the playoffs eight times, including two appearances in the Eastern Conference Finals and one Stanley Cup Final appearance. When he was fired by Buffalo in February, Ruff's 571 wins were the most among active coaches.
He has lots of experience dealing with star players and understands what it's like to be under pressure to get results in a traditional hockey market.
Vancouver needs to be a tougher, more physical team to reach the Stanley Cup Final from a very competitive Western Conference and to maintain its success in a Northwest Division that is rapidly improving.
Ruff's style of hockey includes responsible defense, physical play and a level of accountability among the coaches and players. As a no-nonsense coach with experience and a history of playoff success, Ruff would be a good fit for a veteran team such as Vancouver.
If the Canucks decide to go with a young coach who doesn't have a proven record of success at the NHL level, then Dallas Eakins is their best option.
He has done a wonderful job with the Toronto Maple Leafs' AHL affiliate (Toronto Marlies) over the last two seasons, leading them to the Calder Cup last season and another playoff berth this year. Eakins' record with the Marlies since the start of the 2011-12 season is an impressive 87-47-8.
The 46-year-old coach recently addressed his future, per James Mirtle of the Globe and Mail:
Dallas Eakins: "I'm fully aware there's been some coaching changes and there's opportunities out there. Will we look at them? Absolutely."— James Mirtle (@mirtle) May 22, 2013
The biggest reason why Eakins should receive strong consideration for this job is his ability to develop young players, including former first-round picks.
Many of the young players who played important roles on the Leafs this season, including leading scorer Nazem Kadri and top-four defenseman Jake Gardiner, developed their skills under Eakins in the AHL.
Eakins does a tremendous job preparing players on the ice with his great teaching skills and focus on strong fundamentals, and he makes sure his guys are taking care of themselves off the ice with proper training and conditioning.
As a team that needs to usher in a new generation of stars and get younger at several different positions, the Canucks would greatly benefit from Eakins' ability to build confidence in young players and help them reach their full potential.
Either way, Eakins probably won't be in the AHL for much longer.
Larry Robinson was hired as an assistant coach by the San Jose Sharks before this lockout-shortened season, and he's made a substantial impact on the team's success.
Two of Robinson's objectives with the Sharks this year were to improve the team's play defensively and make the power play more effective.
He's accomplished both of these goals, evidenced by the fact that San Jose had the seventh-best power play in the NHL during the regular season and ranked sixth in both GAA and penalty killing.
Through the first eight games of the Sharks' postseason run, their power play has the most goals of the remaining playoff teams and the second-best success rate with the man advantage.
The Sharks are a more physical team and tougher to play against this season compared to recent years, and Robinson is a major part of that.
Robinson is a great teacher with an outstanding knowledge of the game, but most of all, he's very well respected among players and fellow coaches. As a former Stanley Cup champion as a player and head coach, Robinson understands what it takes to win the best trophy in sports.
His career playoff record is 31-21, and as the head coach of the New Jersey Devils, he went 31-17 in two playoff appearances, both of which resulted in Stanley Cup Final appearances (one win, one loss).
If the Canucks are going to hire a veteran coach to replace Vigneault, it should be someone who has previous championship-winning experience as a head coach. This is why Robinson should be one of the best candidates for Vancouver.
At this stage of his career, being an assistant may be a more enjoyable role for Robinson, but the opportunity to take over a legitimate Cup contender such as the Canucks may be appealing to him.
Dave Tippett is in the final year of his contract with the Phoenix Coyotes according to Mark Spector of Sporrtsnet.ca, and if the team's ownership issues result in him testing the free-agent market, you can bet he will be the most sought-after head coach of the offseason.
If I were to rank all 30 NHL head coaches, Tippett would certainly be in my top three. He has done an amazing job helping the Coyotes contend in the Western Conference even though the team has one of the lowest payrolls in the league according to Capgeek.
Tippett has made the playoffs in eight of his 10 seasons as an NHL head coach, including three postseason appearances in his four years with the Coyotes.
He's a great teacher, a fantastic motivator and his success in Phoenix has earned him a lot of respect around the league. He gets the most out of his players on a consistent basis.
His defensive style of hockey has regularly produced results in Phoenix. Some people have criticized him for not finding ways to help the Coyotes score enough goals to win in the playoffs, but to be fair, Tippett has been given very little to work with in regard to top forwards during his time in Phoenix.
Anyone who takes the Canucks job has to be able to block out distractions that are created from within the team, from the fans and the media because expectations are so high in Vancouver.
The Coyotes have gone through lots of relocation/speculation rumors and bankruptcy distractions throughout Tippett's tenure in Glendale, but he's always been able to help his players focus on the team's on-ice goals.
Tippett's experience, teaching skills and ability to manage distractions make him the ideal candidate for the Canucks' head-coaching vacancy.
Nicholas Goss is an NHL Lead Writer at Bleacher Report. Nick was a credentialed reporter at the 2011 Stanley Cup Final and 2012 NHL playoffs, and he is also a credentialed writer at the 2013 NHL playoffs in Boston.