Photo by Don Smith, who clearly understands the narratives at play here and smartly snapped a Getty photo that will accompany them perfectly.
Alain Vigneault coached the Vancouver Canucks to a Presidents’ trophy and Stanley Cup Final appearance in 2010-11, but his follow-up season was about on par with Season 8 of The X-Files. I mean, it retained a lot of the core elements — Gillian Anderson, the Presidents’ Trophy — but all things considered, it just didn’t have the same magic. Plus no David Duchovny.
And, unlike Season 8 of the X-Files, which closed a mediocre season with a thrilling finale, Vigneault’s Canucks were unable to flip the switch towards the end. As a result, a large segment of the Vancouver fan populace demanded that he be fired.
That was unreasonable. The Canucks were still an excellent team, they won the regular-season for the second year in a row, and they got bounced by an LA Kings group that got hot at just the right time and made minced meat of every other opponent they faced after Vancouver. It was a disappointingly quick ouster, to be certain, but Vigneault didn’t deserve to lose his job over it.
When he didn’t, with the club announcing a two-year contract extension for him, those that disagreed turned up the vitriol. The result: this entire season has been filtered through the lens of mounting fireable offences for Alain Vigneault, and we’re not talking about substantive criticism, we’re talking about childish hostility.
Vigneault has had his faults and he’s made some baffling decisions this year. (Using Andrew Ebbett over Jordan Schroeder, leaving Luongo in to get shelled in Game 48, and holding Jason Garrison off the first powerplay unit were all things a Harrison-coached Canucks wouldn’t have done. Although a Harrison-coached Canucks would probably be wildly incompetent for other reasons, so there’s that.)
But while there have been valid points of criticism, there have also been some serious reaches borne from agenda.
One example: starting Cory Schneider in Game 3. Vigneault had two choices there.
1. Ignore the fact that Schneider was healthy and start Luongo. Had he done that and the Canucks had lost, Vigneault would have been ripped mercilessly for going back to Luongo and not giving his no. 1 goaltender a chance to put the team on his back, because what coach looks off his healthy number one and starts the other guy?
2. Start Schneider. Do that, and he would be criticized both for putting in a cold Schneider and for pulling Luongo when the losses weren’t his fault. He did and he was, which was ironic, since Vigneault did the same thing last year when everybody was calling for it under basically the exact same circumstances.
I want to say it was a no-win situation, but there was a situation in which he could have won in Game 3: if the Canucks had won in Game 3.
But they lost. In spectacular fashion. It was awful.
Now the club is on the verge of being swept like so much kitty litter, and it’s a safe that bet that Alain Vigneault is going to take the fall. I’ve been an Alain Vigneault defender for some time now, mainly because firing a guy the year after a Cup Final appearance because he didn’t do it again would have been bone-headedly panicky, but if the Canucks don’t manage to pull off the miracle comeback, this time around it seems like a reasonable reaction.
One first-round exit is one thing. That happens, even to good teams. Hell, the Canucks were one of four Presidents’ Trophy-winning teams to be eliminated in the first round since the 2005 lockout. Not a one of them was reactionary enough to fire their coach that summer.
But two first-round exits in a row, for a team that’s supposed to be a Stanley Cup contender? That’s cause for dismissal.
If seeing Alain Vigneault fired hadn’t been the objective for many fans and media members at the paper that’s easier to hold, he might have gotten credit for some of the adjustments he made to keep this team competitive despite key injuries and get them to the playoffs at all — with home-ice advantage, at that. (They promptly frittered it away, but still.)
All that said, if Alain Vigneault’s tenure as the Canucks’ head coach is over with one more loss, it’s deserved. Eight first-round losses in two postseasons will do that to you.
The Canucks’ window isn’t closed. Not hardly. There likely won’t be major changes in personnel, and they’ll return next year with:
In other words, it’s just their bottom-six forwards that need sorting out, and they have a goalie that could net them some help there in a trade.
But one change they will make, unless Alain Vigneault buys more time with four consecutive wins beginning tonight — which isn’t impossible, just improbable — will be behind the bench. And if they do, unlike last summer, this summer it’ll make sense.Tags: Alain Vigneault