In a “results-orientated business,” two consecutive ejections in the first round of the playoffs spelled the end of head coach Alain Vigneault’s seven-year tenure in charge of the Vancouver Canucks.
Vigneault, who won more games than any other coach in the team’s mostly unremarkable four-decade history, got the team to the brink of the Stanley Cup two years ago, but thereafter failed to lead the squad to victories when it really counted. Blamed can equally be heaped upon the likes of the Sedin twins, and on the management of team president/general manager Mike Gillis – but it was Vigneault who bore the immediate brunt of the underachievement.
The firing of Vigneault, and assistants Rick Bowness and Newell Brown, came 15 days after the Canucks were swept by the San Jose Sharks, and a year after the Los Angeles Kings beat the Canucks 4-1. The back-to-back losses – and not even coming close – against lower-seeded teams was the primary reason cited for the change.
“That’s the most immediate and logical change that you can make,” Gillis said Wednesday, of the firings and his theme of a “reset” of the team announced after the Sharks series.
In the two weeks Gillis pondered change, there was a building hue and cry among commentators for swift action. The GM, in a press conference at Rogers Arena, indicated it would be another stretch of time before the Canucks make a decision on a new head coach, which is the same style of the team owners, the billionaire Aquilini family, which quietly and deliberately built its fortune in real estate and other industries over a half-century.
So while the likes of highly regarded minor-league coach Dallas Eakins (Toronto Marlies) will likely be courted by other teams, Gillis insisted he would not rush the decision.
“Today has been a bad enough day. Can you give me a couple just to clear my head?” said Gillis, in a navy-blue suit, his hands folded on the table, in answer to a question about what type of coach the team will pursue, an established-name or someone new (such as the 45-year-old Eakins).
Vancouver is a place where coaches will want to work, Gillis suggested, so the Canucks have some luxury to take their time. He said the team is “stable, profitable,” in a city that cares for hockey, which makes Vancouver “a very attractive place for a coach to come and coach.”
Two other teams need new coaches: The Colorado Avalanche appear close to hiring Hockey Hall of Fame goalie Patrick Roy, whereas the Dallas Stars and new GM Jim Nill haven’t made a big move yet.
Vigneault will likely be among the names Dallas considers.
In a statement, Vigneault said: “I hope to coach again in this league.”
Gillis suggested he leans towards a younger coach, with a more open mindset.
“The NHL is changing and evolving rapidly,” the GM said – and noted there is basically little choice but to use young players and watch them make mistakes on the ice, due to the salary-cap crunch that will be felt by all teams – and especially by the Canucks.
As he did two weeks ago, Gillis again emphasized his “reset” of the roster would not be radical. He remains committed to his primary players. Though he did not name names, it is clear the established roster will likely be complemented by the players such as Nicklas Jensen and Frank Corrado.
“You know, we have a really good core group of players, solid players, solid people, and we need to surround them with some younger, skilled players that can contribute,” Gillis said.
Vigneault, who turned 52 last week, arrived in 2006, after the Canucks had missed the playoffs – and helped lead an era of excellence for the franchise. The team made the playoffs six of seven years, and won the Northwest Division the past five years.
After the one missed playoffs, 2007-08, it was then-GM Dave Nonis, now in charge in Toronto, who was fired. Gillis decided to keep Vigneault. Vancouver thereafter posted its best regular seasons in team history.
“[I] only wish,” Vigneault said in his statement, “we were able to win the Canucks’ first Stanley Cup.”