This may sound surprising, but it’s entirely possible that Mike Gillis doesn’t fire Alain Vigneault after the Canucks’ second straight first round exit. While it makes more sense than ever (and perhaps for the first time ever) to let Vigneault go, Gillis has had opportunities to fire him and bring in his own choice for head coach in the past and chose to keep him around.
There’s one argument against firing Vigneault that you’re going to hear a lot in the coming days: who do you replace him with? Why bother firing the head coach if there’s no one out there who’s as good or better? It’s an argument that has been made in the past as well, even by myself. It’s also completely bogus.
The Ottawa Sun’s Bruce Garrioch was the latest to bring up this chestnut, even suggesting that Mike Gillis thinks the coaching market is thin.
— Bruce Garrioch (@SunGarrioch) May 8, 2013
It doesn’t hold any water. There are a vast number of viable NHL head coaches out there, either unemployed or working as assistant coaches in the NHL or head coaches in the AHL or major junior. Not all of them are good options for the Canucks, but the sheer number available puts to lie the idea that there is no one out there who could replace Vigneault if he was let go.
The argument was no more viable in the past. If Gillis had chosen to fire Vigneault before this season, coaches like Bob Hartley, Ken Hitchcock, Bruce Boudreau, Michel Therrien, and Kirk Muller were all available, and those were just the former NHL head coaches. Who really knew who Paul Maclean was before the Senators hired him as their head coach? Maclean had been a coach for years and was an assistant in Detroit, and has been a superb head coach in Ottawa.
I’m not saying that Vigneault should be fired, by any means. He has been a fantastic coach for the Canucks, guiding the team through some of the most successful seasons in franchise history. But the idea that there would be no one to replace him is fundamentally flawed.
The following coaches just scratch the surface of available candidates for an NHL head coaching job.
Guy Boucher: After tremendous success in Major Junior and the AHL, Boucher was hired by the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2010 and led the team to a 46-25-11 record and the Eastern Conference Finals. He was praised for his tactical acumen and had many surprised that he didn’t receive more votes for the Jack Adams award. Then the Lightning failed to make the playoffs and got off to a poor start this season and he was fired. I, for one, would like to see how he would do coaching a team with decent goaltending.
Lindy Ruff: Ruff was the head coach in Buffalo for a whopping 14 seasons, but was fired in his 15th after a 6-10-1 start. He coached the Sabres to the Stanley Cup Finals back in 1999 and to the Conference Finals three other times. In his last five seasons, however, the Sabres failed to make the playoffs in three of them and lost in the first round in the other two. He has never coached a team that spends to the salary cap, however, and has a sterling reputation.
Guy Carbonneau: In his first season as head coach of the Canadiens in 2006-07, they missed the playoffs. The next season, Carbonneau coached them to a division title, then lost in the second round of the playoffs. Carbonneau was the runner-up for the Jack Adams award to Bruce Boudreau. The next season, he was fired, even as the Canadiens eventually made the playoffs.
Andy Murray: Currently coaching college hockey at Western Michigan, Murray previously coached the Kings and the Blues. He was a runner-up for the Jack Adams award in 2009 after guiding the Blues from 15th in the conference at the All-Star break to the playoffs, where they promptly got swept by the Canucks.
Ron Wilson: Wilson is a hard coach to judge. He coached the 1997-98 Capitals to the Cup Finals and was behind the bench for some of the Sharks’ best regular seasons, even as they never made it to the Finals. Then he got hired in Toronto to coach the Maple Leafs and got fired partway through a fourth straight unsuccessful season. Do you judge him for his failure in Toronto where he had very little to work with? How much credit do you give him for USA’s silver medal in the 2010 Olympics?
Jacques Martin: Martin is one of the most experienced coaches available, but he’s faced criticism that he hasn’t been able to adapt to the realities of the post-lockout NHL. Still, the Ottawa Senators never missed the playoffs while he was behind the bench, leading them to four 100+ point seasons. He may be too defensively-oriented to fit with the Canucks, however.
Brent Sutter: Sutter had some success coaching New Jersey, but flamed out in three seasons with Calgary. How much of that should be on him, however, rather than , no success in Calgary, but how much blame should he receive for that and how much should be on his brother, Darryl, the General Manager? By all accounts, Sutter is a fine coach and deserves another shot at an NHL head coaching job.
Don Hay: The current coach of the Vancouver Giants had two brief stints as an NHL head coach, getting the Coyotes to the playoffs in 1997 and lasting 68 games with the Flames in 2000-01. Hay’s success in the WHL has been impressive, leading the Giants to a Memorial Cup in 2007 after winning it twice with the Kamloops Blazers. His name is frequently brought up for an NHL coaching job, but the question is how interested he is in returning to the NHL.
Mike Keenan or Marc Crawford: Just kidding. Sort of.
John Stevens: After a stint as the Philadelphia Flyers’ head coach, he was hired as an assistant with the Los Angeles Kings, focussing on defence and the penalty kill. The Kings have been among the league leaders in penalty kill percentage and goals against while he’s been behind the bench and he won the Stanley Cup with the Kings in 2012.
Larry Robinson: Robinson was the head coach for the New Jersey Devils’ 2000 Stanley Cup and their 2001 loss in the Finals. Other than a previous stint as the Kings’ head coach, he’s mostly been an assistant, joining the San Jose Sharks this past season. He was credited with the Sharks’ improvement on the penalty kill as they went from 29th in the league in 2011-12 to 7th in 2012-13.
John Anderson: Anderson was a very successful AHL coach with the Chicago Wolves, but his only shot at a head-coaching job in the NHL was with the sad-sack Atlanta Thrashers. He’s currently an assistant coach with the Phoenix Coyotes under Dave Tippett.
Brad Shaw: Shaw’s only shot at being a head coach was as an interim coach for the New York Islanders. He’s been an assistant with the St. Louis Blues since 2006 and was voted as the assistant coach who most deserved to be a head coach in the 2011-12 NHLPA player’s poll.
Scott Gordon: Gordon was given no chance to succeed in his first job as an NHL head coach, as he was hired by the brutally awful New York Islanders in 2008. He was previously the AHL coach of the year in 2008 and seems like a good candidate to make his way back into the ranks of NHL head coaches in short order. He’s currently an assistant coach with the Leafs.
Tom Renney: Renney is an unlikely candidate, not because he’s a particularly bad coach, but because of the optics. Renney had some success coaching the New York Rangers, but most recently coached the Edmonton Oilers to last and second-last place finishes. He’s currently serving as an assistant with the Detroit Red Wings, however, which isn’t a bad place to be.
AHL and Junior coaches
Dallas Eakins: Eakins has been repeatedly rumoured for multiple NHL coaching jobs and they’ve picked up again recently. He has coached the Toronto Marlies for four seasons, losing in the Calder Cup Finals last year.
Willie Desjardins: It may be his first year as a coach in the AHL, but it seems likely that Desjardins won’t be coaching in the AHL for very long, as he was just named the AHL coach of the year and will be a likely candidate for several NHL coaching jobs in the near future.
Troy Ward: Ward has been a fantastic coach in Abbotsford and was rumoured for the Calgary job before the Flames hired Bob Hartley. Flames Nation went over the many reasons why should have gotten the job and most of them are good reasons for another NHL team, like the Canucks, to take a look at him.
Mike Johnston: Johnston was an assistant coach with the Kings and Canucks and has now proven himself as a head coach with the Portland Winterhawks in the WHL, leading them to two Western Conference finals. He may not have any connection with Gillis, but he is familiar with the Canucks organization.Tags: Alain Vigneault, Blogs are for lists