VANCOUVER – Alain Vigneault has resolved his future in Vancouver. Now, he wants to help the Canucks figure out what went wrong this season.
The veteran coach signed a contract extension with the Canucks on Wednesday, ending any speculation on whether he would be back behind the NHL team’s bench next season.
“We’re looking for some solutions—and we’re going to find those solutions,” said Vigneault from his off-season home in Gatineau, Que., during a conference call.
The Canucks did not disclose terms, but Vigneault said it was a two-year extension.
The Canucks have posted the league’s best regular-season record for the last two seasons under Vigneault, but his job status was unclear after Vancouver was bounced from the first round of the playoffs by the eighth-place Los Angeles Kings.
Analyzing the season publicly for the first time since the team was eliminated, Vigneault said the Canucks were not able to play “in the moment” to the same extent that they did while advancing to the 2010-11 Stanley Cup final.
The long playoffs a year ago took their toll mentally and physically, and the club was never able to repeat its early-January win over the Boston Bruins, when all players had their “best game” against the team that denied the Canucks the Cup.
Vigneault said the Canucks suffered from the same woes that befell the Pittsburgh Penguins and Detroit Red Wings when they made long runs to the finals. He and general manager Mike Gillis plan to dissect the problem more thoroughly to avoid a repeat in the future.
“We’re trying to see if, maybe through a bit more scientific approach to different elements, we will be able to get our team in a better situation to have success here as we move forward,” Vigneault said.
If Vigneault could have a “do-over,” he said he would respond differently to Daniel Sedin’s concussion. Sedin missed eight games after taking an elbow to the head from Chicago Blackhawks defenceman Duncan Keith in March.
Vigneault said he discovered only two days before the start of the playoffs that Sedin would not be available for Game 1. Had he known differently, he would have made earlier adjustments to the struggling power play and line combinations that generated little production.
“It’s a lesson that with head injuries you never know,” Vigneault said. “It’s something with moving forward I am going to deal better with. I learned a valuable lesson on that and I think it will make me a better coach.”
Vigneault said a shoulder injury was not to blame for centre Ryan Kesler’s lack of offensive production. Kesler has since undergone surgery to repair a torn labrum, but Vigneault said the club’s medical staff had treated the injury to the point where he could play effectively.
Vigneault, a 51-year-old Quebec City native, had come under criticism after the Canucks were eliminated early after reaching the Stanley Cup final last season. He has guided the Canucks to a 287-155-50 record, the highest winning percentage in franchise history (.634) and five Northwest Division titles.
But he was entering the final year of his contract and risked becoming a lame-duck coach if he did not get a new deal.
“Alain has built a foundation of winning with this franchise and I feel he can continue to build on that foundation to achieve our ultimate goal,” Gillis said in a release.
After Gillis signed his own new contract earlier this month, he made it clear he wanted Vigneault back for more than just one season. But questions were raised after Vigneault did not appear at a news conference with Gillis in early May.
The coach said he did not attend because he was not ready to assess the season, wanted to talk to his players and needed some “down time.” Vigneault said Gillis told him that day he would likely return.
However, the GM had to determine his own future first, and a meeting between Gillis and owner Francesco Aquilini was put off for two weeks “for whatever reason.” In the interim, it was speculated that Vigneault might return to the Montreal Canadiens, the first NHL team he coached.
Vigneault, recalling that he had to wait six years, and coach in junior in the meantime before getting another NHL chance with the Canucks, said he gave no thought to going to another club.
“I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else,” he said.
Now, the Canucks have a chance to progress further under his watch. During Vigneault’s six seasons with the team, the Canucks have recorded five 100-point seasons. Vancouver has made five playoff appearances with Vigneault, who has won more playoff games than any coach in franchise history (33).
Veteran players, including Alex Burrows and Kesler, with whom Vigneault has had a sometimes testy relationship, hoped for his return, contending major changes are not needed.
“He’s done a really good job with this group,” Burrows told the Canadian Press after players cleaned out their lockers last month. “I feel that guys like him. He brings good things to the table.”
“We have a good relationship and, obviously, I like him,” added Kesler.
With the contract extension, Vigneault remains as the fourth longest-serving current NHL coach. Only Lindy Ruff of the Buffalo Sabres (since 1997), Barry Trotz of the Nashville Predators (1998) and Mike Babcock of the Detroit Red Wings (2005) have been with their clubs longer.
Before joining the Canucks, Vigneault coached a season with their former Manitoba Moose farm club. If he remains under his new contractual runs through its full term, he will have spent a decade with the Canucks organization.
He believes the coaching stability will pay off on the ice.
Now that he has signed Vigneault, Gillis can turn to his club’s goaltending situation. The Canucks have two capable starters in Roberto Luongo and Cory Schneider, who played most of the playoff games. Schneider, a pending restricted free agent, is in line for a big raise and Luongo has said he is willing to waive his no-trade clause, if necessary.
Gillis also has several other pending restricted and unrestricted free agents to deal with, including Mason Raymond (restricted) and Sami Salo and Sammy Pahlsson (both unrestricted).
He and Vigneault must also decide how to replace Kesler, who is expected to be out until December.
Vigneault and Gillis want all of the team’s assistant coaches to return.