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Coach Vigneault: to fire or not to fire

After Roberto Luongo, the next biggest decision facing the Canucks this offseason is what to do with head coach Alain Vigneault. The man is the franchise’s winningest coach, a Jack Adams award winner; he led the team to back-to-back President’s Trophies and brought them within one win of the Stanley Cup. But coaches are hired to be fired and they ALL have a shelf life, so is it time to part ways with Vigneault?

There are people looking for a scapegoat after the Canucks’ got the boot from the playoffs after only five games, and of course a natural direction to point that finger, is at the coach. But Vigneault’s head shouldn’t be on the chopping block. It shouldn’t even be close to it.

At his year end press conference, Mike Gillis was supportive of his coach, and it doesn’t sounds like Vigneault is going anywhere.

“It gets exacerbating sometimes, this guy is the winningest coach in the team’s history, we just won two President’s Trophies, lost in the seventh game of the Stanley Cup Final, is that when you decide that you are going to start getting rid of people?” Gillis said.

It isn’t surprising that Gillis would support his coach, but this little delay and the fact that Vigneault didn’t speak at the press conference has me a little worried that ownership might be pushing for, or at least considering, a coaching change. If that’s the case I have a message for Mr. Francesco Aquilini: Don’t do it!

Vigneault is one of the top five coaches in the NHL. And of the current crop of UFA coaches, there isn’t anyone that I would say absolutely, 100 per cent I would take over him.

If Vancouver decides to let him go the Montreal Canadiens will snap him up in a second because they know, like all Canuck fans should know by now, that Vigneault has become a damn good coach, and a guy that most teams in the league would love to get behind their bench. Vigneault is going to win a Cup before his career is done and I prefer it was with the Canucks than the Habs.

This isn’t so much about listing all Vigneault’s accomplishments and saying he has earned another three or four years, although I think he has. This is about maintaining a measured approach, using clear long-term thinking, and giving people a chance to see a job through. After such an inglorious exit in Round one this year, you have to think Vigneault, like the players, will come back hungry next year. The Canucks should give him a chance to exercise the demons of this year’s failure.

Losing is a powerful motivator.

Letting Vigneault go lets the players of the hook. This is a big off season of accountability for players like Kesler Booth and Edler. They need to know that more is expected out of them in the playoffs. Firing the coach says he was partially to blame. The message the players need to hear this off season is that they failed to perform and that is the reason they are golfing in May.

Also, who else is out there?

If you are going to entertain the thought of letting Vigneault go, then you better have a damn good replacement in mind. Who is better? Are you going to go with someone unproven and bring him into a veteran group, who clearly like and respect the current guy? Some young-up-and-comer to teach the Sedins a thing or two? I don’t think so.

That leaves you turning to another veteran voice, an experienced hand to steer the Canucks where Vigneault couldn’t. Marc Crawford jumps to mind. He would fit the offensive-minded coach requirement that Gillis says he values. And it is almost certain that if Crawford had the goaltending the Canucks’ currently enjoy while he was behind the bench he would have gotten the Canucks to a Cup final or two. But Crawford had his chance in Vancouver, and after failures in Dallas and LA (and behind the bench for Team Canada in Nagano – yes, I’m still mad he left Gretzky out of the shootout) the shine has worn off his star just a little.

It’s time to put this debate to rest. Get Vigneault signed to an extension and let’s move on to more important changes like finding a playmaking winger to play on the second line with Kesler.

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