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Wednesday, May 22, 2013
Vigneault a victim of the blame game

By Scott Burnside


So Vancouver Canucks GM Mike Gillis fed head coach Alain Vigneault and assistants Rick Bowness and Newell Brown to the lions.

Hardly a surprise.

That's what happens when a talented, Stanley Cup-hopeful team goes 1-8 in the playoffs over the past two years. The Canucks owned home-ice advantage in both series, and lost the first two games of the series at home both times.

Someone has to pay the price for that kind of underachievement.

And let's not forget, Vigneault was inherited by Gillis when Gillis took over five years ago. Every GM should get to hire at least one coach before any final judgments are issued on his tenure.

But does anyone anywhere think this was strictly a coaching issue? Does anyone think that as this team stands now it's simply a matter of getting a new voice behind the bench?

Maybe Gillis, who met with the media in Vancouver on Wednesday afternoon and opined that people have been after both him and Vigneault for the past five years, actually believes that.

And while Vancouver does have its own unique dynamic with the media and a fan base still waiting for the franchise's first Stanley Cup, is there a GM in Canada or any major American market who doesn't feel the same kind of pressure to produce and, moreover, to answer when there are failures?

Maybe in the coming days and months Gillis will be vindicated with this move.

Maybe someone like Dallas Eakins comes in and takes this team to the greatness foretold when the Canucks advanced to the seventh game of the 2011 Stanley Cup finals. Or maybe it's Lindy Ruff who does it. Or Dave Tippett, pending the resolution of ownership issues in Phoenix.

Alain Vigneault
Alain Vigneault took the fall for Vancouver's recent failures, but there's more blame to go around.
But if the media and the fans are this day feasting on Vigneault, this is without question a failure that extends far beyond Vigneault's game plans and his inability to get his team to play at a higher level in the postseason.

Gillis shares that burden of failure, having presided over a team that has fallen in a shocking manner from the ranks of the NHL's elite.

Gillis grossly miscalculated the trade market for goalie Roberto Luongo and in the end couldn't even give the veteran netminder away at the trade deadline, despite his best efforts to peddle Luongo to Toronto for a couple of draft picks.

And so the one issue that absolutely needed to be dealt with -– moving Luongo in order to allow Cory Schneider to fully grow into the starting role bequeathed to him at the end of the disappointing first-round loss to Los Angeles last April -- remained the elephant with pads that never left the Canucks' dressing room.

Think the Luongo market will pick up before the start of free agency? Ha.

When you get swept as the Canucks did at the hands of the San Jose Sharks, with Schneider allowing nine goals on 75 shots in two losses to close out the series after Luongo started and played well enough in the first two games, let's just say no other GM is going to be throwing Gillis a life preserver.

Unless he is prepared to use a compliance buyout on Luongo, which brings with it a host of salary-cap issues, Gillis is going to have to eat some of Luongo’s salary and/or take on some other team's contract baggage.

And it's not as if the Canucks don't already have some of that kind of baggage. Winger David Booth has two more years at $4.25 million, defenseman Keith Ballard has two more years at $4.2 million, and Vancouver has five more years of Jason Garrison at $4.6 million, for the former Florida Panther who recorded zero points in the playoffs after taking a long time to get going during the regular season.

According to Capgeek.com, the Canucks are already at the cap threshold for next season with 17 players under contract.

The addition of center Derek Roy at the trade deadline didn't pan out at all –- he had one assist in the Sharks series -– and Roy will likely be headed somewhere else this summer as an unrestricted free agent.

So this promises to be an interesting and perhaps seminal summer for Gillis and the Canucks.

There are still too many elemental pieces on the Canucks' roster to dismiss them entirely. The Sedin twins -- Henrik and Daniel -- are cornerstone players, even if they combined for zero goals in the four-game sweep by the Sharks.

Center Ryan Kesler has proved to be as good a two-way forward as there is in the game, but his durability remains a nagging problem. Kevin Bieksa, Alexander Edler and Dan Hamhuis represent what should be the defensive foundation of a contending team.

But there remains the overwhelming feeling that this isn't a team that has simply hit a speed bump like the Pittsburgh Penguins or Chicago Blackhawks have the past couple of years. Rather, Vancouver is a team that with no obvious second wave of young talent on the horizon is on the verge of seeing its window to glory quickly closing and a window to uncertainty opening.

Maybe it was time for Vigneault to go. He won a Jack Adams Award as coach of the year, and led the Canucks to a pair of Presidents’ Trophies and a Cup finals berth, but they blew series leads of 2-0 and 3-2 to Boston in the 2011 Cup finals and couldn't get out of the first round the next two years.

It was likely time for change, even as it seems likely Vigneault will find NHL employment elsewhere quickly, whether in Dallas or Colorado, depending on whether the Avalanche hire Patrick Roy.

But if the clock ran out on Vigneault in Vancouver on Wednesday, then the same clock is now ticking loudly in the ear of Mike Gillis.