The Canucks find themselves on the brink of an historic sweep in Los Angeles Wednesday night. Never in the history of the Presidents' Trophy has its winner failed to win a single playoff game.
Needless to say, when that's the kind of history you're flirting with, someone will be calling for rolled heads, and in the case of the Vancouver media, the Queen of Hearts is usually columnist Tony Gallagher of The Province. Tuesday, he argued that a first-round exit should be reason enough to show coach Alain Vigneault the exit:
Because of his long tenure enjoyed as head coach of the Vancouver Canucks, it might be a useful exercise to mount something of a defence for Alain Vigneault after another season whereby it looks all but certain his team is going to come to another crashing, miserable end in the NHL playoffs.
Those who worship the ground the man spits on will doubtless come out of their boots trying to keep him around because he's an easy man with whom to work. So there will be plenty of "save the Presidents' Trophy winning coach" material, and rightfully so because his regular season record is very, very good.
[...] Bar-ring a recovery of historic pro-portions in this series however, it says here this group, however comprised next year, deserves to hear a different voice.
It's worth noting that Gallagher's been after Vigneault all season. In the preseason, he lost it over the linemates Vigneault gave rookie Cody Hodgson. Gallagher called for Vigneault's firing on March 21, just prior to the Canucks winning eight of 10 and the Presidents' Trophy. And heck, even the columnist's tweets seethe with dislike for Vigneault.
You just knew that he was going to return to his agenda with the Canucks on the brink of elimination.
But he might be right. Vigneault has been with the Canucks since 2006-07, and with the team and several members of the core on the verge of taking a step backwards in the postseason for the first time since 2007-08, Mike Gillis could very well get impatient and decide it's time to change the voice, something he has yet to do since taking over the reins as GM of the Canucks.
That said, Gillis has been extremely patient and pressure-resistant with Vigneault in the past when people have called for the coach's head, such as during an eight-game losing streak in 2008-09. Here's hoping he exercises that same patience here, because I disagree with the assertion that Vigneault should be on the hot seat.
There's this curious rhetoric that each of Vancouver's postseason eliminations over the past four years has been due to some failure in coaching, even though anybody with even an ounce of sense could tell you that the 2008-09 and 2009-10 Blackhawk teams had far more depth and were just flat better, and that last year's Bruins were seriously underrated, close to completely healthy, and the beneficiary of a goaltending performance for the ages.
Furthermore, the primary argument for firing Vigneault, as I see it, is that he hasn't been fired yet. This is absurd. I understand that coaching stints don't typically last as long as Vigneault's has in Vancouver, but unless we're afraid the man is going to achieve tenure, that's not a reason to remove somebody that's doing a good job.
The Canucks had their best season in franchise history just last year, and they won a second consecutive Presidents' Trophy this year. How is one first-round ouster enough to get a coach with that kind of track record fired? Two years in a row, maybe. A regular-season regression next year, maybe.
I like Alain Vigneault as a coach because he thinks outside the box. Granted, that's what gets him into so much trouble in the Vancouver market, and will get him into trouble in any other market.
Vigneault doesn't formulate his opinions based solely on the eye test. He clearly employs advanced statistics, and makes a number of his decisions based on underlying possession numbers. Earlier this season, he defended Chris Higgins' play by telling the media the winger was plus-5 in scoring chances over two games, a number that correlated with his Fenwick rating over that stretch.
He was fully aware, from the outset of this season that, at this point in time, Cody Hodgson could only thrive with extremely sheltered minutes, and when he created an environment in which Hodgson thrived, he was panned for failing to give the rookie more ice time, as though Hodgson was succeeding in spite of him.
Any sage coach could see that Hodgson, who was on the ice for 40 percent of Buffalo's goals against after the trade, was an exploitable, defensive liability. But Vigneault was panned for being that sage coach.
Meanwhile, fans hated his decision to play Mason Raymond on the second line ahead of Hodgson, even though the decision was supported by possession numbers. And currently, he's being criticized for his decision to keep Ryan Kesler and David Booth together on the grounds that they have no chemistry, even though Booth's Corsi rating when he's on the ice with Kesler is the best on the team.
Vigneault is a fabulous coach using tactics well ahead of the curve, but his decisions leave anyone who chooses to dismiss advanced statistics scratching their heads. That's fine and well if a team is winning, but when a group projected to return to the Stanley Cup Final finds itself on the verge of being bounced in four, it's a lot harder to defend those tactics.
And it could cost Vigneault his job.