Coaches await turn on carousel
Whether Vigneault will stay in Vancouver may depend on movements elsewhere
Their general manager is on more solid footing than the coach, ownership is miffed at another spring in which Stanley Cup expectations weren’t met and there’s expected to be a shake-up of some sort in the hockey operations department — whether it involves the bench boss or his assistants.
This is the situation in San Jose. It parallels the uncertainty in Vancouver.
Depending on how the coaching dominoes fall, it’s not a stretch to suggest that Todd Mclellan and Alain Vigneault wouldn’t last a day on the open market if they’re not retained by their respective clubs.
The Canucks would covet the offensive-minded Mclellan, as would the Calgary Flames, just as much as the Montreal Canadiens would welcome Vigneault back for a second crack with the storied NHL franchise.
Doug wilson received a vote of confidence from ownership Wednesday and said all the right things at the end of the season about his level of admiration for Mclellan. But the Sharks GM didn’t extend a vote of confidence to his coach.
Mike Gillis said he has confidence in Vigneault, but also pointed out some of the team’s shortcomings and it ultimately depends on how ownership views the shortfall in performance and the loss of lucrative postseason profits. Neither Gillis nor Vigneault have received votes of confidence yet, but you expect the architect to return. And that’s where it gets interesting.
As strange as it may seem, Mclellan and Vigneault have leverage because they would be difficult to replace and it might be easier to change some pieces around them. Once the emotion subsides in both cities — that may have much to do with Gillis and owner Francesco Aquilini not meeting until Monday, after the Canucks were eliminated April 22 — then a rational approach can take place.
As much as Gillis must convince ownership that he’s mapping the right course with the window to win it all shrinking, his support of Vigneault may fall on deaf ears. Like the Sharks and Mclellan, if the Canucks go in another direction, do they find a caretaker coach to simply direct the core the next two seasons — like Chicago Wolves coach Craig Mactavish — or do they get somebody for the long haul like Scott Arniel, who has been in the system and is scouting for the Canucks?
Or do they wait for the NHL coaching carousel to start spinning and see what becomes of a disgruntled Joel Quenneville in Chicago?
Vigneault has a year remaining on his contract and can rightfully ask for another three-year extension and maybe more. But would Aquilini be willing to make that kind of a commitment to a coach who has lost eight of his last 10 playoff games and four straight at home?
The fact that Vigneault wasn’t present at the season-ending address by his GM, hasn’t spoken, and left town last week after the quick playoff exit could mean a number of things. Maybe the coach has to cool off as much as ownership. Maybe he already expected that vote of confidence and a contract extension and that associate Rick Bowness will be retained.
Add the ongoing speculation in Montreal that the bilingual Vigneault is a perfect fit to complement new GM Marc Bergevin — especially with a coaching style that would keep the Canadiens in games and perhaps get them back to the postseason after finishing last in the conference — then you can understand the void of information in Vancouver and even San Jose until some dominoes start falling.
Wilson said following a fivegame series loss to St. Louis that he believes in Mclellan. Gillis called Vigneault an excellent coach but it doesn’t mean much in the big picture because the ultimate decision will come from above.
In the interim, it’s easier to fathom that special-teams problems for both franchises are already in focus.
The Sharks savoured their secondranked power play but are lamenting a 29th-ranked penalty kill, and that will likely mean the assistant coach will be jettisoned to improve that vital part of the game.
The Canucks’ once-vaunted power play finished fourth but that was misleading. Directed by Newell Brown, it struck four times in a memorable win in Boston on Jan. 7 and was operating at a league-leading 24.4 per cent.
But through the predictability of those drop passes through the neutral zone and being too stagnant in the offensive zone, the numbers plummeted.
The Canucks went just 16-for117 (13.6 per cent) after the Bruins triumph, and the power play was blanked 13 times in the final 18 games and was a paltry 3-for-21 (14.3 per cent) in the postseason.
Vigneault could point the finger of blame at his assistants, but he’s not wired that way. He’ll accept the heat because it comes with the territory.
He’s not alone. The accountable Tom Renney is without a new contract in Edmonton and Oilers general manager Steve Tambellini seems to be in no rush and is on his way to the world championship tournament.
What if Team Canada GM Kevin Lowe and coach Brent Sutter strike up a good relationship? And Flames GM Jay Feaster is already putting out coaching-hire rumour fires in Calgary.
Whether current coaches are retained or released, we just need that first domino to fall. The rest could quickly follow.