Canuck bench boss is a member of NHL’s coaching elite, despite what you think
-by Samir Javer
Alain Vigneault is no stranger to the criticism that comes with coaching in hockey-mad Canadian cities. Currently in his seventh season behind the bench for the Canucks, fans and media have often called for his head, most loudly after the team’s first-round loss last spring.
The Sabres’ firing of longtime head coach Lindy Ruff on Tuesday marked the end of an era — the longest-tenured active coach was let go after sixteen seasons. To put it in perspective, 170 coaching changes have taken place since he was hired in 1997.
Ruff’s dismissal is symbolic in Vancouver, as the decision means Vigneault now stands as the third longest-serving active coach in the NHL, behind only Nashville’s Barry Trotz and Detroit’s Mike Babcock.
Following last season’s playoff bust, the Canucks gave Vigneault a two-year extension, a deal that had many cringing. Apparently critics forget he is one of the most accomplished coaches in the entire league.
A quick reminder of AV’s achievements in Vancouver:
Through 507 regular-season games, Vigneault has a record of 295-158-54. Upon conclusion of the 2011-12 season, he owned the highest winning percentage in franchise history at 0.634. His 295 wins is a Canucks record, eclipsing Marc Crawford’s 246 (AV’s coached 507 Canucks games, while it took Crawford 529 games to set his record).
In his first season in Vancouver, Vigneault was awarded the Jack Adams Award as the NHL’s Coach of the Year, a trophy he was nominated for again in 2011.
While five Northwest Division titles in six full seasons in Vancouver is already an outstanding achievement, Vigneault has led the Canucks to the top of the entire league in each of the last two seasons, as they’ve captured the President’s Trophy both years.
Perhaps his greatest triumph: in 2011, his Canucks were just sixty minutes away from the franchise’s first-ever Stanley Cup.
Cynics will be quick to point out the Cody Hodgson nightmare and his unpreparedness for the 2012 playoffs without the injured Daniel Sedin, but no head coach comes without his shortcomings. Vigneault’s successful winning record speaks for itself.
With regards to Hodgson, his demands for more ice time were inevitable. Vancouver had two premier centers ahead of him in Henrik Sedin and Ryan Kesler, and the 23-year-old would’ve never fully flourished.
On the Sedin note, unpredictability and uncertainty are a trademark of concussions, so the coach is not entirely at fault for entering last year’s playoffs without a clear plan in mind.
Let’s explore how drastically Alain Vigneault has transformed the Canucks during his seven years in Vancouver.
Consider the evolution of the Sedin twins. When the Canucks hired their new coach back in 2006, they were second-line forwards struggling to succeed, hidden beneath the likes of Markus Naslund, Brendan Morrison, and Todd Bertuzzi. Following Vigneault’s arrival, the Sedins emerged as one of the most lethal duos in the league.
Henrik exploded with a 112-point season in 2009-10, bringing home the Art Ross and Hart Trophies, and Daniel blossomed with a 104-point season the following year, winning the Ted Lindsay Award and his own scoring title.
The Sedins’ success can easily be pointed to the end of their enduring search for a perfect linemate. It was Vigneault who chose Alex Burrows to play as their winger in a game against St. Louis in early 2009. Burrows found the back of the net that game, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Burrows has flourished into one of the most proficient scorers in the league, having achieved a career-best 35 goals in the 2009-10 season. Ryan Kesler, meanwhile, was a bottom-six forward before the Vigneault era. Ever since, he has taken the league by storm, netting 41 goals and winning the Selke Trophy in 2010-11.
Vigneault’s crop of young players, ranging from Alex Edler to Chris Tanev to Zack Kassian and of course, Cody Hodgson, have all blossomed into premier players.
With such an extensive array of accomplishments, it’s puzzling why so many would like to see the most successful coach in Canucks’ history shown the door.
As general manager Mike Gillis eloquently said last April, “It gets exasperating sometimes. This guy’s the winningest coach in the team’s history. He’s got two President’s Trophies. He lost in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final. Is that when you decide it’s time to start getting rid of people?”