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The winningest coach in Canucks history gets too much credit

Written on May 7, 2013 at 11:08, by HTTN

AV has put up some stellar numbers over his years in Vancouver. But are they his?

With the Canucks down 3-0 to a lower seed in the first round for the second time in two years, it’s easy to say #FireAV. It’s so easy that the hashtag was trending in Vancouver Sunday night.

But don’t forget that over the years it’s also been easy to look at Alain Vigneault’s record in Vancouver – he won the Jack Adams award in his first year here – and say he’s great.

One point I have long argued is Vigneault’s winning record has been built on his goaltenders’ backs, and they’ve made him look much better than he actually is.

One way to separate a team’s performance from its goaltending is to look at its shot differential. The team generating more shots is more likely to win – unless it’s stopped by a better goalie, of course.

Here is a chart of the Canucks shot differential over Alain Vigneault’s years in Vancouver. The rows in red show a negative shot differential, while blue shows a positive differential. The black year is even.

Shot Chart

In of three of the seven years, the Canucks had a negative shot differential, and in one it was nearly even. Notice how the team’s winning percentage outperformed the differential.

Here are Vancouver’s goaltending stats over those years. From the 2010-11 season on, Schneider’s stats are included (second), and this past season I only used his stats as he was the starter.

Goalie Chart

Despite Vancouver’s even shot differential in 2006-07, the Canucks won their division. Alain Vigneault took a lot of the credit with his Jack Adams award. In 2008-09 and 2012-13, the team had negative shooting differentials, yet had goaltending stats ranked 5th and 4th in the league. The team won the division in those years as well, while AV piled up the wins.

The reason I show the above is to erode one of the strongest arguments Vigneault’s supporters use. It’s all about wins and losses to them. I’ve just shown he isn’t the one responsible for the wins at all. In fact, Roberto Luongo and Cory Schneider have delivered the goods and the winning records despite the team’s performance.

On Sunday, AV’s goaltending luck ran out, and he made a decision that turned out to be plainly wrong. Schneider ran out of gas in the third period, then allowing a couple of soft goals, while Roberto Luongo, one of the most consistent and best Canucks this series, sat on the bench.

Back to Vigneault’s decision making process, I have no idea why he messed with the goalies when he should be more worried about the team’s scoring problems. If you want to read more about some of the questionable decisions he’s made this season and series, this article by Jason Botchford will blow your mind.

With the 3-0 hole the Canucks currently find themselves in against the Sharks, consider some of the changes Vigneault could have made:

Imagine Jason Garrison, who found his shot and put up six power play points in 20 games since March 18, was getting double the power play time by being used on the top unit.

Or imagine Zack Kassian was used to play the role Dustin Byfuglien played against the Canucks two years in a row – thwarting one of the league’s best goaltenders.

Or you could imagine Derek Roy and Chris Higgins’ immediate chemistry being fostered, instead of frozen and split up.

Don’t believe it would make a difference? Canucks Army’s Demitri Filipovic concurs with that these assertions make sense not only to our eyes, but on the stats sheet as well.

One or two more goals per game by the Canucks, combined with logically not switching goaltenders in Game 3 and there’s no way Vancouver would be down 3-0 right now.

The typical argument against most of this is “hindsight is 20-20.” True, it is. But if you’re a Canucks fan, chances are you wondered about the Garrison situation too this season, and you probably questioned starting Schneider instead of Luongo in Game 3.

Last year, you wondered why David Booth was playing with the Sedins in the playoffs despite an obvious lack of chemistry (remember?). You wondered why Max Lapierre was being counterintuitively played alongside Alex Burrows and Ryan Kesler when he hadn’t played with them all season long.

In 2010, you wondered why AV didn’t dress seven defensemen against the Blackhawks when Sami Salo was playing on one leg…

Point is, the list of AV mistakes is a long and tiring one to go through. And all of us being perplexed beforehand was foresight, not hindsight.

Over the next few days, a bunch of media and bloggers will jump on board the #FireAV train, saying it only makes sense now, and everything needs to change. The same people who accused AV’s critics of hindsight are just full of it (hindsight, I mean) now.

Any chance Mike Gillis will have the foresight to let AV go before ruining yet another Canucks season?

  • Swedish Meatballs

    Too bad no one is really willing to lay justifiable blame with the beloved Sedin sisters. Want to look up some stats??? Check how many goals they’ve scored in their playoff careers even strength when trailing or tied. Point totals sure look nice when you’re up a couple and you score on multiple power play opportunities. They illustrate how the playoffs are a different season better than any athlete EVER.

    Bottom line – goaltending and coaching ain’t the issue. Top line TIMELY scoring is.

  • Saj

    Good work! You have indeed demonstrated that goaltending has been a big contributor to Van’s success over the years. However, it’s not clear that another coach could have done a better job with shot differential! As such, it’s not clear whether the weakness in this area this year is due to the GM not fielding as competitive a team, or the coach becoming worse. Are there games AV missed due to suspension/health that you can compare his performance to? Or maybe he can be compared to years immediately before (or after) he joined (or left) teams where the GM stayed the same.

  • Zach Morris

    Honestly, it seems like you don’t like AV and are finding ways to justify it.
    I, on the other hand, am openly contrary.
    I think AV started Schneider because a) He is our starting goalie b) As AV correctly mentioned, he is our MVP c) The team did indeed seem to play better in front of Schneider all season d) We wanted the same thing last year, and it was basically the same circumstances.

    For all the talk about mismanaging goaltending, can you imagine the message AV would have sent to his new starter if he still started the old guy?

  • Anonymous

    If AV started the guy who was playing better, the only message it would send is “we need to win this game.” Luongo proved in games 1 and 2 that he was ready, while Schneider was clearly not. He hardly practiced during his time off.

    If you read any of my past posts, you can see that I do disagree with many things AV did. I have never believed he was the right guy to coach the style of team Gillis wants to have (uptempo, high-scoring), and many of his decisions leave me shaking my head, often.

    The aim of this post was to take down the single strongest argument used by his supporters – that his record speaks for itself. Sure, AV has a wonderful record, but how can it even be attributed to him, when his Jack Adams season was due to the magical play of Roberto Luongo? Goaltending is the position a head coach has the least say over, at least when there’s one clear starter, like there was back then.