VANCOUVER – Vancouver Canucks general manager Mike Gillis is in no rush to name a replacement for fired coach Alain Vigneault.
“I don’t have a timeframe,” said Gillis during a news conference Wednesday after Vigneault’s dismissal was confirmed. “We just are focused on getting the right person, moving ahead and executing a plan that we have that is going to get us back to the level that we expect.”
Despite guiding the team to many unprecedented achievements, Vigneault paid the price for his NHL team’s early exit from the playoffs the past two seasons.
“I am proud of many of the things we accomplished as a group these past seven seasons in Vancouver and only wish we were able to win the Canucks’ first Stanley Cup,” said Vigneault in a statement. “I am a career coach, and it is what I love to do. I hope to coach again in this league and will always have good memories of my time and the fans in Vancouver.”
The club also fired assistants Rick Bowness and Newell Brown as the expected fallout from the Canucks’ first-round sweep at the hands of the San Jose Sharks finally came to pass.
Gillis said he was responsible for the dismissals, and that the ownership group, headed by Francesco Aquilini, did not pressure him to make the moves. The GM said he wants a coach who emphasizes the upbeat, offensive style of play—like Vigneault did.
But it’s clear that Vigneault will be extremely hard to replace.
The Canucks’ all-time leader in coaching wins—he led the club to six Northwest Division titles, two Presidents’ Trophy titles and an appearance in the 2011 Stanley Cup final.
But Vancouver was eliminated in the first round of the playoffs in the last two seasons despite having home-ice advantage, including the four-game loss to the Sharks. It was the first time in 12 years that the Canucks were swept in the post-season.
“We’re in a results-oriented business and if you look at the last two playoffs we’ve been in, we were the higher-seeded team but lost the first two games at home,” said Gillis.
“We lost consecutive games in the last two playoff years, and there comes a point in time where the message has to change and we have to be better. And we simply didn’t get the result we expected.”
Vigneault leaves with a 313-170-57 regular-season record over seven seasons in Vancouver, but a 33-32 record in the playoffs. He thanked Gillis, the Aquilini family, other Canucks executives and players as well as former GM Dave Nonis, who hired him, and former Canucks executive Steve Tambellini.
“The past seven years have been an honour for me to coach and work for a great franchise in a wonderful Canadian city,” said Vigneault. “To work in a city with such passionate and loyal fans is a privilege—I enjoyed every moment of it.”
Still, it’s a bitter end to a largely positive tenure in Vancouver for Vigneault, who skillfully guided his team through the demands of this year’s lockout-shortened season. He kept a difficult goaltending situation from becoming a major distraction and secured home-ice advantage in the playoffs for the fifth straight season.
But in the end, he could not coax more goals out of secondary offensive players that displayed plenty of heart but limited scoring skill.
Vigneault, a 52-year-old Quebec City native, was awarded the 2007 Jack Adams Award as the NHL’s coach of the year.
When he arrived in 2006-07 after a season with the AHL’s Manitoba Moose, the Canucks were looking to regroup after missing the playoffs. He was also looking to prove himself after being fired from his first NHL head-coaching job with the Montreal Canadiens in 2000-01.
In his first season, he guided the Canucks to a division title and a spot in the second round of the playoffs before they were eliminated by the Anaheim Ducks in five games—with four decided by one goal.
The Canucks missed the playoffs the following season due to a collapse down the stretch. After the season Nonis was fired and replaced with Gillis, who decided to keep Vigneault on rather than bring in his own coach.
“People wanted him fired five years ago,” Gillis said. “I kept him, and we worked well together and achieved success.”
Vigneault guided the Canucks to their third Stanley Cup final berth in franchise history in the 2010-11 season. They took a 2-0 series lead at home, but eventually lost in seven games to the Bruins. The Game 7 loss at home sparked a riot in Vancouver’s downtown streets.
The final foreshadowed a shift in goaltending that would become a headache for Vigneault. Cory Schneider periodically replaced struggling starting netminder Roberto Luongo in the series. Until then, Luongo had enjoyed hero status in Vancouver with his No. 1 designation never in doubt.
Vigneault answered endless questions about his goaltenders, especially after Schneider displaced Luongo in the first round of the 2011-12 playoffs as the Canucks lost in five games to the Los Angeles Kings.
The uncomfortable situation was supposed to be resolved after Luongo agreed to waive his no-trade clause prior to this season, but Gillis was not able to get the deal he wanted prior to a bitter lockout that shortened the regular season to 48 games.
Along with the goaltending situation, Vancouver has failed in recent years to develop its draft picks into reliable NHL players. Whether that is a failing of the coach or the general manager is up for debate.
But Gillis tacitly acknowledged that his future with the team could be in question if the next coach does not produce the desired results.
“This is a market where expectations are extremely high,” he said. “We have to meet them. And, I understand completely what making this decision means—for us as an organization and for me personally.”
Notes: Canucks centre Jordan Schroeder underwent off-season shoulder surgery and is expected to recover by the start of the 2013-14 season. Gillis said no other players should require surgery for their ailments. … Goaltending coach Rollie Melanson was retained. “I think Rollie works very well with Cory Schneider,” said Gillis. “He gets results in there.” … Gillis indicated management, along with the new coach, will have input in the hiring of the next assistant coaches.