Following the first-round loss for the Vancouver Canucks on April 22, there were rumors suggesting it is time for head coach Alain Vigneault to go.
In this segment, I will analyze the situation that exists in Vancouver to see which direction is optimal for the Canucks.
Update: If Alain Vigneault becomes available after the meetings with GM Mike Gillis, and the Canucks decide to let Vigneault go, then the Montréal Canadiens will make Vigneault one of their top candidates for the next head coaching job.
Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin stated that he does not have a list right now (it is his first day on the job), but if the 2008 Jack Adams Award winner becomes available, Vigneault is bilingual and will be a prime candidate if not the heavy favourite.
To begin our discussion, please be reminded that the Vancouver Canucks are the back-to-back President's Trophy winners from 2010 to 2012. This marked the first and second time in franchise history that the team has finished first-place overall in the NHL standings.
If the Canucks look at Alain Vigneault's body of work, it has been quite remarkable. Vigneault was a coach initially hired by former-GM Dave Nonis in the summer of 2006. Vigneault was hired to bring accountability and transparency to the players in the dressing room, and he coaches more of a two-way, puck-pursuit strategy compared to his predecessor Marc Crawford.
Vigneault hired associate coach Rick Bowness to help him with the team. Vigneault and Bowness were colleagues way back in 1992 with the expansion team Ottawa Senators. The two adopted a team that featured strong Swedish leadership led by Captain Markus Naslund, Henrik and Daniel Sedin and defenseman Mattias Ohlund.
Also joining the Canucks during the same summer as Vigneault and Bowness was goaltender Roberto Luongo from Florida. He arrived with Lukas Krajicek and a sixth-rounder in a trade for Todd Bertuzzi, Alex Auld and Bryan Allen.
In Vigneault's debut season, 2006-07, the Canucks finished 49-26-7 for a 105-point season to win the Northwest Division. Roberto Luongo finished a great first season in a Canucks uniform, winning a career-high and franchise-record 47 wins, which surpassed Kirk MacLean's 38-win season.
In 2007-08, the Vancouver Canucks struggled desperately to score goals. They finished 25th in the NHL with 213 goals that season. The team signed a few free agents in the summer, including Brad Isbister and Taylor Pyatt, who played with the Sedins. Markus Naslund continued to slide offensively from his career peak 2002-03 season when he won the Lester B. Pearson (known as Ted Lindsay award today) and was nominated for the Hart Memorial Trophy. The Canucks ended with 88 points and last place in the Northwest Division.
In May, 2008, Canucks owner Francesco Aquilini fired Dave Nonis, and later announced the signing of General Manager Mike Gillis. Gillis was previously a player agent, representing players like Markus Naslund and the late Pavol Demitra.
When Gillis joined the Canucks, he went through an extensive interview process with the incumbent Canucks head coach to discuss many topics, including whether their game philosophy was the same. Alain Vigneault eventually managed to retain his job and directed the team until today.
Vigneault stands as the winningest coach in Canucks history, and he has developed as a head coach at the NHL level. In the beginning, skilled players had difficulty generating offense under his system, but in 2011, the team ranked No.1 on the power play and scored the most goals during the regular season with 262.
The 2011 playoffs is now a trademark of his career. Vigneault's team defeated the Chicago Blackhawks, Nashville Predators and San Jose Shark to advance to the Stanley Cup Finals against the Boston Bruins. The team had two opportunities to capture its first ever Stanley Cup in franchise history, but ended up just short.
In the 2011-12 season, Alain Vigneault had a lot of changes that were outside of his control. Firstly, Ryan Kesler's hip surgery hindered his start to the season and much of the games he played. Kesler was never quite the same player as he was against the Nashville Predators. Also, Vigneault lost speedy winger Mason Raymond to a severe back injury caused in Game 3 against Boston in June. Raymond definitely is not the same player he was two years ago when he scored 25 goals.
Lastly, the Canucks saw the departure of defenseman Christian Ehrhoff, who was the top Canuck point man on the power play. A lot of the struggles to score were due to variables outside of a coach's control.
During the playoffs, the Canucks originally hoped that Daniel Sedin could play in Game 1. However, the left-winger missed three games against the Los Angeles Kings until he joined the team for Game 4. For a coach trying to find offense, it is impossible to replace goal production from the current Ted Lindsay Award and Art Ross Trophy winner.
The power play struggled to generate any sustained pressure, and the five-on-five generated a limited amount of chances on this June's Vezina Trophy finalist Jonathan Quick.
If the Canucks want to change something this offseason, then Alain Vigneault be the result. Ryan Kesler was questioned by Farhan Lalji of TSN at the end-of-season media session saying, "Do you think [Vigneault] should be back?"
Kesler replied, "I like him as a coach. We have a good relationship. I like him, yeah."
If the Canucks listen to the fans' opinion on this issue, that's one more vote for "Yes."
Thank you for your support for the Vancouver Canucks, and it has been a pleasure to cover the Offseason Blueprint for Change over the course of this week. I hope you enjoyed it.
In case you missed it earlier:
Part 1 of Canucks Offseason Blueprint for Change on Changing Player Personnel
Part 2 of Canucks Offseason Blueprint for Change on Increasing Team Toughness
Part 3 of Canucks Offseason Blueprint for Change on Addressing the Defense
Part 4 of Canucks Offseason Blueprint for Change on Improving the Power play