Jeff Paterson: Back to make more history
Amid speculation that he might be eyeing the vacant coaching job in Montreal or perhaps the openings in either Calgary or Edmonton, Alain Vigneault put the rumours to rest by agreeing to a two-year contract extension to remain the head coach of the Vancouver Canucks.
Speaking to the media on a conference call from his off-season home in Gatineau, Quebec, Vigneault made it clear that the job he has is the only one he’s wanted all along.
“I’ve been with Vancouver six years and I was in between jobs for six years from the time I went from Montreal to Vancouver. There are only 30 of these jobs available. I know how hard they are to get and when you’ve got them, you do everything you can to keep it especially when you’re in a great market like we have in Vancouver where everybody is so passionate about the game,” Vigneault says.
“I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. I think I’ve got a great vote of confidence from ownership and management and I don’t intend to let anybody down. I’m going to do what I do every day and that’s come to work, happy to go to work, being really positive and trying to get the best I can out of the group and that’s not going to change and I wouldn’t want to do that any place other than Vancouver.”
In six years on the job – after a season coaching the organization’s top farm team in Winnipeg, the 51-year-old Vigneault has guided the Canucks to a record of 287-155-50, back to back President’s Trophies, five Northwest Division titles and five seasons with 100 points or better. It is easily the longest sustained run of regular season success in franchise history.
Missing from the list of accomplishments is a Stanley Cup championship. Vigneault, of course, got the Canucks to within a victory of the game’s biggest prize a year ago only to fall short in Game 7 against the Boston Bruins. But the coach feels strongly that by maintaining continuity within the organization, the Canucks remain on the right track to reaching their ultimate goal.
“When players understand that ownership, management and coaches are all working together for the same common goal and they see that stability then they buy into where we’re trying to go,” he says. “Ever since [General Manager] Mike [Gillis] has been here if you look at the team’s record, everybody’s working together. Players understand that and they know who’s in charge and that’s why I believe we’ve had success and that’s why I believe we’ll have even better success here as we move forward.”
While some had wondered about the hold up in announcing Vigneault’s extension, the coach says he knew from the time the season ended that he would be back behind the bench. Vigneault had not spoken publicly since the moments immediately after the team’s disappointing Game 5 first round exit to the Los Angeles Kings.
The general manager met the media two days later, but Vigneault was nowhere to be seen. He said that he was still trying to process how such a successful regular season had ended so quickly in the playoffs.
“The reason I didn’t meet the media that day was because I wasn’t ready for it,” Vigneault explains. “It was too soon. I wanted to talk to the players, I wanted to talk to my staff and I wanted to have a little down time. I’ve known since that first day that Mike wanted me back and I believe that ownership has a lot of faith and confidence in me.”
The Canucks have also shown confidence in those around the head coach. Often after an early playoff departure changes are made behind the bench. But Vigneault says his entire staff will return to help him in 2012-13.
“At the end of the year, Mike and I talked about that, and he asked me how I felt my staff had done throughout the year and I thought they’d done a real solid job,” he says. “I wanted everybody back and obviously he felt the same way so that’s where we are with that.”
And now Vigneault and his coaching staff can get to work on trying to figure out where things went wrong for the Canucks this past season and how they can parlay such regular season success into victories in the games that matter most.
The coach believes – as the 2010-11 team showed – the Canucks aren’t far off reaching the loftiest heights, but he knows his challenge is to get the team to the top of the mountain. Together they climbed almost all the way there. But they’ve got to find a way to scale that final summit and plant the Canucks flag at the top of the hockey world
“In the last four years, we’re the team that’s played the most playoff rounds. We haven’t won the ultimate prize, but I believe and I think our staff and management believes that overall that 95% of the process that we’re using has enabled us the last two years to be the best team in the NHL,” Vigneault says.
“For us, that’s the best preparation you can have as far as moving forward and getting into the playoffs. I’ve been asking a lot of questions and looking at teams that have had past success. We need to help our players both physically and mentally get to where they need to be come playoff time. We didn’t finish first overall by playing subpar hockey. On some nights, some parts of our game could have been better but there were a lot of good parts but overall I don’t think, as a group, that we got the credit the guys deserved.”
With a two-year contract extension in hand, Alain Vigneault is intent on taking care of some unfinished business. He and the Vancouver Canucks have come a long way in his six years at the helm. The hoping is that next season will be seventh heaven.
Vigneault on the Canucks 2011-12 season:
I believe we got every team’s best game. We were the Stanley Cup finalists and along with Boston, we were a measuring stick. Throughout that 82 game process we finished first in the NHL. So I believe we did a lot more good than was perceived out there. Our team was continually compared to the season before and that made it challenging for our group and we needed to do a better job of handling that.
Vigneault on the first round loss to the Los Angeles Kings:
We weren’t able to get in that state of mental awareness that you need to have. We’re trying to find solutions to that. We’re trying to see if there is a more scientific approach to different elements that will allow our team to get in a better situation to have more success here as we move forward. It was a challenging year. In my mind obviously it was very disappointing how it ended, very disappointing to our fans, very disappointing to us. We’re looking for solutions and we’re going to find them and move forward and try to have a very solid year with a better finish.
Vigneault on handling Daniel Sedin’s late-season concussion:
I made a mistake in Daniel Sedin’s case. Through the information I was getting from our medical staff and from Daniel, I thought he was going to be ready for the playoffs. Throughout the whole things we felt it was just a matter of days for Danny to come in. And those days became weeks and then I found myself with two games left in the regular season that there might be a possibility that he might not be there. So for me, it’s a lesson and it’s something that moving forward that I’m going to deal with. If I had been under the impression that he wasn’t going to be ready, I would have handled that situation a little differently. Not a lot differently, but a little differently in terms of line combinations and power plays. I learned a valuable lesson on that and I think it’s going to make me a better coach as we move forward. At the end of the day, that’s my responsibility and I take full responsibility for it.
Vigneault on Ryan Kesler’s playing with a sore shoulder:
That was not in our mind the reason for his diminished production. That shoulder wasn’t 100%, but our medical staff and Ryan did a great job of maintaining the strength. The injury wasn’t the reason his production fell. His rehab, and the way stayed on top of that, permitted him to play at the same pace that he was used to. But for whatever reason, and those are things we’re looking into, his performance slipped this year and we’ve got to get on top of that and get him back to where he was before that.
Vigneault on using both goaltenders in the playoffs:
What happened in the playoffs would be an indication of what might happen moving forward. Cory’s development from last year to this year, he’s improved. And the reason Roberto was playing so many games is because he’s a great goalie and he deserved the starts he was getting.