The President’s Trophy winning Vancouver Canucks will face elimination for the second straight game Sunday at home. The odds of coming from behind a 0-3 deficit in a playoff round rank somewhere around 25-1 and knowing that, the hounds are baying at Alain Vigneault’s heels. It’s always that way.
Forget about the fact Vigneault has guided the Canucks to two straight President’s Trophies and to the seventh game of the Stanley Cup final, it’s the here and now that counts. Somebody has to pay and, history tells us, coaches go before general managers. Ask Jacques Martin or Perry Pearn.
I’m not going to get into the wisdom of firing a coach with a 25 year history who has led his team to the Canucks two best seasons in franchise history and is three time nominee and one-time recipient of the Jack Adams Awards as the NHL’s coach of the year. This is about what happens if Canucks general manager Mike Gillis does fire Vigneault.
This is about the Canadiens coaching situation which is very much up in the aire and has been overshadowed by Serge Savard’s search for a team general manager. To put things in their proper order, Savard will recommend to Geoff Molson his choice for general manager. The new general manager, since he will be in charge of the success or failure of the team, will choose the new head coach.
And that gets us back to Vigneault. The conventional wisdom which started with the title of the Thomas Wolfe novel, is “You Can’t Go Home Again”, says that bringing back a former employee is a no-no. Still, if Vigneault becomes available, the Habs might consider bringing him back for a second stint as head coach.
Consider Vigneault’s situation when he came to the Canadiens for the first time. He took over a sinking ship captained by Rejean Houle; a team that had unloaded Patrick Roy for a group of second tier players and with each succeeding trade was sinking deeper into mediocrity. Vigneault stepped into a disorganized mess created by team president Ron Corey, Houle and his coach Mario Tremblay. He took the team to the second round of the playoffs the first year before missing them entirely the next two seasons, the second of which he dealt with 500 man-games in injuries and wound up with a winning record and was one of three nominees for the Jack Adams award. Nevertheless, twenty games into the next season he was part of a housecleaning that included Houle.
Conventional wisdom at the time of his firing was Vigneault was an inexperienced coach. Maybe so. Although most of the Canadiens failures were the result of incompetence above his pay grade, as so often is the story.
Vigneault, after two and a half years of inactivity got back into the game. He became the first coach of the QMJHL’s Prince Edward Island Rocket which was, and is co-owned by Serge Savard and his son Serge Jr. Two years later he took over the Canucks farm team in Winnipeg and a year later replaced Marc Crawford as head coach of the Canucks.
The Canadiens, notoriously have given French Canadian coaches their first NHL jobs, subsequently fired them and with Montreal experience under their belt, watched them succeed elsewhere. Since speaking french is a legitimate part of the Canadiens head coaching job-description, it might be time to think about allowing a former coach come home again especially one with a resume as deep as Alain Vigneault. First, the Canucks have to take the easy out and blame him for all of the team’s playoff failures.