Alain Vigneault was given a two year contract extension on Wednesday. I’m torn on the decision. I don’t love it, but I don’t hate it either.
If you were to have a town hall style debate on Alain Vigneault, it would be easy to make a compelling argument on why he should stay. Two straight President’s Trophies and five division titles in six years would suggest he is an outstanding head coach in the regular season. What about the playoffs you say? Well his record in the postseason is impressive as well.
In five playoff appearances, the Canucks have been good (not great) under Vigneault. For the most part, the Canucks under AV have beaten the teams they should have in the playoffs, and lost to the teams they should have. They beat St Louis (2009), Los Angeles (2010), Chicago (2011), Nashville (2011) and San Jose (2011) as they should have. They were clearly not as good as Anaheim (2007) and Chicago (2010), and lost as expected. They beat Dallas (2007), even though the Stars were probably the better team that season. But it’s the tough losses to Chicago the first time (2009), Boston in the Stanley Cup final (2011) and eight seed Los Angeles that have the anti-Vigneault people upset.
This season’s loss in the first round was particularly concerning. Playing Mason Raymond on the first line to start the series was ridiculous. A lot of other moves can be questioned too, but that might be unfair. Most teams that get eliminated in the first round can have a number of things second guessed.
The thing I haven’t liked about Vigneault in his tenure in Vancouver is that he doesn’t seem to make adjustments within a series in order to combat what the other team is doing well against them. The Canucks have seemed like a team that are what they are, and their opponent has 7 games to figure them out. Sometimes they do (like Boston in 2011), and other times they don’t (like St Louis in 2009). The flip side to this is that teams under Vigneault are usually well prepared to start a series. They have won game 1 in 9 of 11 tries.
It’s very hard to come up with a reasoned argument against Vigneault. His detractors would point to the team not being prepared for game 1 of the playoffs this season. But if you want to do that, you also have to give him credit for his sparkling record in game 1s before this season. With every bizarre line change that doesn’t work out, just remember that he was the only one who thought that Alex Burrows would fit on a line with the Sedins. There’s an argument that young players don’t flourish under him, yet the core group of this team grew under Vigneault.
Vigneault’s record should speak for itself, but somehow I’m conflicted. He has done well in Vancouver, but has he run his course? Every coach has a shelf life, and perhaps he is getting near the expiration date. I don’t think the players will quit on him, but the core of the team has to have seen every motivational tool at his disposal by now.
Another coach could have given the team another dimension and reduced complacency. But that coach would have needed to be competent also. If someone along the lines of Mike Babcock, Joel Quenneville or Dan Bylsma were available, I think it would have been a no brainer to let Vigneault go. As it stands, I don’t see an obvious replacement for Vigneault, so bringing him back is probably the right decision… although I’m biting my lip as I type this.