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Right Man in the Right Place

After many long meetings, Mike Gillis feels he has the right man behind the bench and offers Alain Vigneault a contract extension.

Thursday, 22.05.2008 / 3:40 PM / Features
By Jeff Paterson
As the weeks became a month and rumours about his future with the Vancouver Canucks started to swirl, Alain Vigneault insists he didn’t look around the National Hockey League at the other coaching vacancies that were starting to pop up and wonder if he should be looking elsewhere. The head coach of the Canucks, who was granted a one year extension through the 2009-10 season, says in his heart there was only one job he wanted – the one he already had.

“As we moved through the process, I was feeling stronger and stronger about me staying here and about me wanting to stay here,” Vigneault told the Vancouver media on a conference call Thursday morning from his off-season home in Hull, Quebec. “I always made it very clear to Mike even though right now there are some jobs out there; the only place I want to coach is with the Vancouver Canucks. I love the city, I love the fans, I love the people in our organization and I want to win a cup here.”

Vigneault says he knew that with wide-spread change at the top of the organization this off-season, he – like everyone else in a position of importance – would be subject to a review. It’s only natural when a new general manager like Mike Gillis assumes control that he’ll need some time to assess what he has to work with.

And part of that process involved several meetings between Gillis and Vigneault before the two agreed to move forward together.

“They were great meetings. Mike’s an up front and direct person and it was two people who were trying to get to know each other. We discussed everything from philosophy to how we manage people to how we can make the Canucks the best possible team to win the Stanley Cup,” he says. “The first two weeks I was there (in Vancouver after Gillis’ hiring), we had long, couple hour meetings every day and we did that for two straight weeks. I always felt confident in my abilities and felt pretty good about the culture impact that we’ve had here in my two years. And I just expressed those things with Mike. It was a good process. It covered every base and I felt as we were moving forward it looked like I was becoming his guy.”

That was made clear to Vigneault earlier in the week when Gillis not only told him he’d be retained, but also offered him the one year contract extension. The news wasn’t all good, however, because as Vigneault learned of his fate, he also learned that the Canucks planned to relieve two of his assistant coaches -- Mike Kelly and Barry Smith -- of their jobs.

“As hard a day as it was for me yesterday, this is about moving forward and getting better. We feel that to get better, we have to make some adjustments,” he says.

Those adjustments will come in the form of new bench help, although the head coach says it’s far too soon to start speculating on who’ll fill those spots. Vigneault also says that even though he and his new boss spent weeks discussing the Canucks’ future, they spent very little time addressing the way the hockey club would actually approach the game next season.

“We really didn’t talk about style of play in our meetings that much. The style of play that you try to put forward depends on the personnel you have available. I think that we’re going to play the style that’s going to permit us to win. Obviously, we’re going to put a system in place that suits the personnel we have,” Vigneault says. “Most of the meetings were spent making sure that we felt comfortable. I didn’t know anything about Mike Gillis before. I had never had any type of dealing with him in the hockey world and to tell you the truth, I didn’t know many people that knew him. He seemed to be really organized and direct in a non-provocative way, I really liked those two components of the way he conducts himself. As the process moved forward, I was feeling more and more at ease with what I was hearing from him. “

Vigneault admits he’d like the team he has to work with next season to have more grit than the group he worked with last season. But more than anything, he’d like a much healthier hockey club than he had last year. And with contracts expiring and free agency looming, Vigneault knows there’ll be new faces in place when the team assembles for training camp in September.

“It’s going to be different just because of the way the NHL is now. We’re no different than 75% of the league right now. We’ve got two big dates ahead of us – the draft and July 1st,” he says. “The (recently concluded organizational) meetings in Las Vegas were great. There was a bunch of brain-storming not only going over our rosters, but the rosters of every team in the league and all of the players who might be available. The whole organization is working together on all the possible scenarios that will allow us to put the best possible team on the ice right now.”

And as far as coaching that team is concerned, Alain Vigneault feels Mike Gillis got the right man for the job – the man he already had in place.