I Watched This Game: Canucks vs New York Rangers, April 1, 2014

In honour of Alain Vigneault returning to Vancouver for the first time in the regular season since getting the boot last May, I will be using the word “real” throughout this intro, both correctly and incorrectly.

The Canucks were real good in this game, playing with a real intensity as they tried to keep their playoff hopes real alive. They got in on the forecheck real quick and created real scoring chances. They looked like a real hockey team with a real first line and for a real short time it was real exciting.

Unfortunately, it all came crashing down to earth in a real hurry. Even as they looked real good, they still couldn’t put pucks into the net, with the woeful power play giving the Canucks meagre playoff hopes one final kick in teeth, giving up a shorthanded goal to seal the loss. It may seem like this whole season has been a bad dream, but it’s real real. Also real real? The fact I watched this game.

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Fearful symmetry: Schneider, Luongo, Tortorella, Vigneault all debut with three-goal loss

In a bit of fearful symmetry from Thursday night’s games, the key components of the two biggest stories of the Canucks’ off-season all lost by three goals in their first games with their new teams. Note that I’m including Vancouver as a new team for Roberto Luongo, because he was basically off the team before Cory Schneider got traded.

Opening night for the Canucks, Devils, and Rangers all fell on Thursday, so Luongo and Tortorella made their season debuts on the same night as their counterparts in New Jersey and New York.

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Vancouver Canucks expected to hire John Tortorella, completing head coach trade with New York Rangers

In New York City, Alain Vigneault is being touted as an upgrade over John Tortorella. This, in itself, isn’t a surprise. After all, Tortorella’s abrasive style had worn out its welcome in the Big Apple, particularly with the media, and Vigneault comes with some impressive credentials to his name.

What is surprising, however, is that one of the big reasons he’s being touted as an upgrade is because he’s an offensive coach. In fact, Glen Sather specifically said that Vigneault “loves the offensive game” in the press conference introducing the new head coach. That will come as a shock to Vigneault’s biggest detractors in Vancouver, who bemoaned his tendency to lapse into boring, defensive hockey at the drop of a hat.

Meanwhile, the coach for whom Sather considers Vigneault an offensive upgrade is on his way to Vancouver to coach the Vancouver Canucks.

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Spitballin’ on Kassian’s favourite snack, Ballard’s patience, and Booth’s new Twitter account

Spitballin’ (or Super Pass It To Bulis: All In, if you love adventurous acronymizing) is a feature that allows us to touch on a multitude of things really fast, because in the world of hockey, there are always lots of things to find and colour. Here are a few quick topics.

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Spitballin’ on Canucks fan Dustin Brown, Vigneault’s next destination, and Burrows on Twitter

Spitballin’ (or Super Pass It To Bulis: All In, if you love adventurous acronymizing) is a feature that allows us to touch on a multitude of things really fast, because in the world of hockey, there are always lots of things to find and colour. Here are a few quick topics.

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Daniel Wagner talks Alain Vigneault and the Canucks coaching situation with CIVL’s Mike and Jere [PODCAST]

My good friends Mike Murie and Jeremy Wiebe host CIVL radio’s official sports talk show, Mike and Jere on the Air. It’s a thoroughly enjoyable show and both Mike and Jeremy have a very broad base of sports knowledge.

On Sunday night, I joined them for the entire hour-long show, discussing the firing of Alain Vigneault, Rick Bowness, and Newell Brown, as well as a few of the head coaching candidates for Vigneault’s former position.

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Report: Alain Vigneault, Rick Bowness, Newell Brown fired by the Canucks

Earlier this morning, Harrison asked just how long Mike Gillis was going to drag out the decision on what to do with Alain Vigneault. Apparently the answer was “this long.” Louis Jean from Quebec outlet TVA reports that Vigneault, along with associate coach Rick Bowness and assistant Newell Brown, has been fired by the Canucks.

I, for one, am shocked.

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20 potential replacements if Alain Vigneault gets fired

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.

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Will Alain Vigneault lose his job if the Canucks lose again? (Yeah, probably)

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 3 of Lost. I mean, it was still the same show as last year, and it still had its high points — the second consecutive Presidents’ Trophy, the flashforwards — but all things considered, it was messy, confusing, and decidedly underwhelming.

And, unlike the writers of Season 3 of Lost, 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.

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Alain Vigneault: Schneider has a ‘body injury’; but what is the body, really?

The playoffs are just a couple games away, which means it’s time for teams to get vague about injuries. While NHL teams are maddeningly non-specific about injuries at the best of times, the playoffs bring out the slimy politician in every coach, as no one wants to give the opposition any clue as to what injury a player has suffered, lest they target that injury in subsequent games.

A player could blatantly break his leg, with the bone sticking out through his hockey pants, and his coach would describe it as a “lower body injury.” A player with a literal hole punched out of his chest wouldz have an “upper body injury.” At one point, after Rick DiPietro suffered a clear head injury, his coach diagnosed him with “general body soreness.” Seriously.

But Alain Vigneault took the next big step in ambiguity on Wednesday: when asked about Cory Schneider’s injury that will see Luongo start Thursday, backed up by Joe Cannata callup, he refused to even say if the injury was to the lower or upper-body. It was just… to the body.

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Pros and cons of Alain Vigneault: a way better list than the lame one that other blog did

Some called the Canucks’ visit to Minnesota the biggest game of the season. I guess it was, although it seems silly to call a game where the worst-case scenario was a tie for first place with 24 games remaining all that big. But you can understand how Vancouver fans, who aren’t used to the Canucks even being in a game for first place in the division, might make it out to be a bigger deal than it was. At the halfway point in the season, a dogfight for first in the Northwest is like seeing a shooting star. You want to make a wish on it.

For many, that wish was for the Canucks to put in a dominating performance, which they haven’t done in a while now, and really re-assert their superiority over the Wild. But instead, they hardly showed up.

Who is to blame for this no-show? Alain Vigneault, says the chorus that’s been calling for Vigneault’s head ever since he lost the Stanley Cup Final he coached the team to in 2011 like a sap. He’s bad at his job, they say, which is why he’s yet to win one of those championships he always has his team contending for.

So is it time for a breakup? On Monday, Thomas Drance tackled this question the same way Ross tried to decide between Julie and Rachel in Friends episode “The one with the list”: he made a list, examining Alain Vigneault’s pros and cons. The problem, unfortunately, is that Drance’s list was woefully incomplete. So we’ve decided to make our own:

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Humour: the language of winners, but only when they’re winning

In sports, the secret to keeping the media off your back is simple: play well. Like, really well. Do that, and there’s really nothing anyone can do to criticize you. Heck, stupid as it sounds, the things you do and say that would otherwise be criticized will probably be held up as a reason you’re succeeding.

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Alain Vigneault rides the point thief as Luongo gets third straight start

In an interview with the Vancouver Sun’s Cam Cole back in mid-January, Mike Gillis was candid about the state of his team early in 2013. “The way we were constituted to start this year,” Gillis said, referring to the absence of ice-tilters Ryan Kesler and David Booth, “We just needed to get through this first 2-3 weeks.”

In the same breath, Gillis added, “and neither of our goalies was particularly sharp in the first two games.”

That’s your Rosetta Stone to the Canucks’ current goaltending controversy. Gillis and coach Alain Vigneault know that, without a second line and without all-situation influencer Ryan Kesler, the team isn’t strong enough to win every game on merit and skill. But fortunately, they have two goaltenders capable of making up the difference.

Schneider and Luongo may not have shown it in that first weekend set, but they certainly have since, and when they have, they’ve stayed in goal. It really just makes sense. If someone is stealing you points during a time when you admittedly need points stolen, why would you turn around and start the other guy?

You wouldn’t, and Alain Vigneault hasn’t. Wondering why Luongo is getting his third straight start Friday versus Chicago? For the same reason Schneider got his third straight start Sunday in San Jose. Vigneault is riding the point thief.

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3 thoughts brought to mind by Alain Vigneault’s contract extension

On Wednesday, Alain Vigneault signed a two-year contract extension with the Canucks, which means that he is slated to be with the team for the next three years. Or, as some fans might put it, the Canucks are stuck with him for three years. Harrison basically summed up my opinion on the contract yesterday, but here it is again: Vigneault good. Winning good. Fire bad.

But the contract extension brought up a few other thoughts on the most successful coach in Canucks history.

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Canucks extend Mike Gillis; Alain Vigneault to follow?

The long awaited, much-ballyhooed meeting between Mike Gillis and the Aquilini Ownership group has taken place, and we have news to report: the Canucks’ General Manager has emerged from this meeting … still the Canucks General Manager.

The team announced Monday that Gillis’s contract as president and GM of Canucks Sports and Entertainment has been extended, although the duration of the new contract was not announced.

(This leaves the door wide open for endless speculation over the term. Is it a two-year extension? If it a 50-year extension!? There’s simply no way of knowing.)

I don’t have much to say about Gillis’s extension by itself. I’ve gone on record many times as saying I like the guy, so I’m happy to see him remain in charge. He’s made some mistakes in his time — with two years to evaluate it, we can safely say the Keith Ballard trade has been a bust, and the David Backes/Steve Bernier offer sheet scenario was a bit of a fiasco, in retrospect — but I like the way he runs the team overall, from the emphasis on advanced stats and other metrics, to the way the team manages the cap, to the way he and his assistants are always scheming bend the rules of the Collective Bargaining Agreement.

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The people versus Alain Vigneault: a case study in terrible ideas

You have to give the Canucks some credit. In just two short seasons, they’ve managed to reduce the Presidents’ Trophy to nothing. Last year this team proved that clinching it doesn’t guarantee a Stanley Cup win; this year they’re on the brink of proving that neither does it guarantee even a single playoff win. That’s impressive.

But Canuck fans are not impressed, and with the number one seed in danger of being swept by the LA Kings, you can understand why they’re looking for somebody to blame right now.

I’d blame Duncan Keith, who knocked Daniel Sedin, Vancouver’s only true elite winger, out of the lineup on a dirty, predatory hit in the season’s final stretch. Considering what it did to the team’s line combinations, powerplay, and overall identity, I’d say Keith is a pretty good target for derision.

But to hear Canuck fans tell it, the real problem in this series is that Alain Vigneault is being outcoached as usual. I am gobsmacked by the thoughtlessness behind this line of rhetoric.

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Video: Alain Vigneault talks playoff goalies, gigglefest, and the Presidents’ Trophy on After Hours

Alain Vigneault was the guest on Hockey Night in Canada After Hours Saturday, and you have to think the timing was just right. With the regular season coming to a close, the Canucks having just clinched their second consecutive Presidents’ Trophy, and AV’s inevitable transition into his dry, unforthcoming, and short “playoff mode” on the other side of a good night’s sleep , he was in a particularly chipper mood.

Keep that in mind when watching the interview. It isn’t the most compelling of the recent Canuck appearances on After Hours, but it’s AV at his breeziest, and that’s something we likely won’t see again for quite some time. Not long after this segment, the clock struck midnight and the Vancouver head coach turned into a grumpy pumpkin. But for one more night, at least, he was all rosy cheeks and chuckles. Enjoy.

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The real winner in the Cody Hodgson trade was Alexander Sulzer

A quick perusal of the comments section on our recent Cody Hodgson trade post shows that it wasn’t quite well-received. There were two predominant criticisms: 1) Cody Hodgson is God, and 2) Alex Sulzer is twice as God. I suspect there’s no convincing those of you who espouse the former, so let’s jump straight to the latter.

Several people objected to my (conscious) choice to ignore the back half of the deal, the D-for-D swap of Alexander Sulzer for Marc-Andre Gragnani. After all, this part looks like a massive win for Buffalo as well. Sulzer has been the most prolific scorer of the four men moved, with 9 points in 15 games and 5 points in his last 3. Who in the Sam Hill saw that coming?

Canuck fans are up in arms. You’d think Sulzer was dipped in the River Styx on his way to Buffalo. But if he was, someone was holding him by his defence.

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Quotes Taken Out of Context: Alain Vigneault edition

Today in Quotes Taken Out of Context: Alain Vigneault touches on the problem with mornings.

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Sixteen legitimate reasons to fire Alain Vigneault

In case you haven’t noticed, Vancouver fans and media can be a fickle bunch. The Canucks’ struggles over the last several weeks have everyone on edge, looking for the slightest provocation to heap scorn and ridicule on the boys in blue and green. (For instance, if your psyche is the least bit frail, I don’t recommend reading Tony Gallagher’s recent columns, as they will likely send you into a funk that is funkier than Bootsy Collins on bass).

For Alain Vigneault, however, the vitriol has been aimed his way all season. According to some fans, Vigneault is hanging on to the Canucks’ coaching job by his fingertips and every single one of his decisions is a foot smashing down on his fingers. According to these fans, if the Canucks don’t make it to the Western Conference Final, Vigneault should be fired. If they don’t make the Stanley Cup Final, Vigneault should be fired. If they don’t win the Stanley Cup, Vigneault should be fired fired fired.

None of these things are legitimate reasons to fire Alain Vigneault, but don’t worry Vigneault-haters: we have 16 legitimate reasons to fire him.

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How do the Canucks coaches record scoring chances?

We have known for some time that the Canucks management and coaching staff pay attention to advanced statistics, though it’s generally thought that they have their own internal analysis rather than simply using what is publicly available through Vic Ferrari’s timeonice.com and Gabriel Desjardins’ behindthenet.ca.

While Mike Gillis and the rest of his team tend to keep mum on specifics, Gillis talked about the analytical revolution in baseball when he was first hired by the Canucks and about being an unconventional manager, and there have been numerous other hints that indicate that the management team uses some form of advanced statistics. Of course, Gillis has also said that applying sabermetrics to hockey just doesn’t work. How much of that is bluster and how much is true remains to be seen.

On Monday morning, however, we did get a tiny glimpse at one of the numbers that Alain Vigneault uses to judge his players. He was asked a question about Chris Higgins and he briefly talked about scoring chances. While we’ve heard Vigneault mention scoring chances before, he actually got specific in regards to Higgins.

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It’s Meme Time! Alain Vigneault laughs at things

When Alain Vigneault launched into a giggle fit during Sunday’s game against the Dallas Stars, the video went viral like crazy. Apparently people can’t get enough of an NHL coach, who is normally grim and serious during a game, laughing like a fool.

He was supposedly laughing at Vernon Fiddler’s impression of Kevin Bieksa’s angry face, but I don’t buy it. Fiddler’s impression was amusing, sure, but not enough to make someone laugh in such an uncontrollable fashion. He must have been laughing at something else. Here’s my guess:

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Maxim Lapierre totally lied to Vigneault to get in the shootout

While Maxim Lapierre picks up a few goals every season, he isn’t exactly known for his scoring. So it may have seemed odd to see him come out as the first shooter in Saturday’s shootout against the Colorado Avalanche. After all, scoring in the shootout had already been a struggle for the Canucks; how was sending out a fourth-line energy forward going to make things better?

So why did Alain Vigneault choose Lapierre? Simple. Lapierre lied to him.

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Vigneault/Kesler tiff falls short of a spat or quarrel

fter the disappointing loss to the Anaheim Ducks on Sunday night, Canucks’ coach Alain Vigneault was asked about the performance of Ryan Kesler, who has been struggling of late. With just 3 points in his last 8 games, Kesler has not looked like his dominant self.

Part of Vigneault’s response was that Kesler needs “to use the players around him a little bit more so he can get into open space.”

Understandably, the media wanted to get Kesler’s take on the issue, so they cherry-picked the statement and brought it to the Canucks’ centre to see what he had to say. He was a little miffed:

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Alain Vigneault is about as clever as Dave Bolland

If your main source of Canucks news is Pass it to Bulis, you’re probably under the impression that the Canucks are incredibly witty, clever, and fond of silly jokes. After all, the Canucks give silly animal nicknames to each other, photoshop each other naked, and ruin each others’ interviews. Meanwhile, Kevin Bieksa is one of the best quotes in the NHL and Keith Ballard has unparalleled self-deprecating dry wit, and Roberto Luongo is surprisingly willing to joke around.

Since Alex Burrows and Maxim Lapierre are two of the best chirpers on the team, it would be completely understandable if you thought that all French Canadians are great at chirping. Unfortunately, Alain Vigneault proved that wrong.

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