The Vancouver Canucks, upset by the Kings in the first round of the playoffs, hope to get back there by keeping the same one.
Preaching the importance of continuity, the Canucks on Wednesday announced a two-year extension for Alain Vigneault, keeping the franchise’s coaching leader under contract for another three seasons in total.
"When players understand that coaches, ownership and management are all working together for the same common goal, and they see that stability with management and coaches, then they buy into where we are trying to go," Vigneault, who has already coached the Canucks for six seasons, said during a conference call after the deal was announced.
That announcement, which came as little surprise after president and general manager Mike Gillis again declared his support when his own extension was announced two weeks earlier, keeps Vigneault as the fourth longest-serving coach in the NHL, trailing only Buffalo’s Lindy Ruff, Nashville’s Barry Trotz, and Detroit’s Mike Babcock.
Vigneault believes that kind of continuity is important. He pointed to the record since Gillis arrived four seasons ago, citing the status as one of the top-two NHL teams in wins, points, goals for and against, and number of playoff rounds, and said it’s "because every one is working together."
"The players understand that, get that, and know who’s in charge," he said, "And that’s why I believe we’ve had the success and why I believe we’ll have even better success as we move forward."
Vancouver has made the playoffs in five of Vigneault’s six seasons as coach, won five Northwest Division titles, the last two Presidents’ Trophies as the NHL’s top regular-season team, and made it to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final last spring. The 51-year-old Vigneault, who spent a season coaching the Canucks’ AHL affiliate before taking the top job, has a 287-155-50 record with Vancouver for the highest winning percentage in franchise history (.634). But many thought his future in doubt after losing to Los Angeles in five games, especially when he left town afterwards without addressing the media.
"Basically I wasn’t ready for it," Vigneault said of not addressing the media alongside Gillis two days after the playoffs ended. "It was too soon."
Vigneault said he’s "known since that first day that Mike wanted me back," but that his future remained uncertain until Gillis determined his own. That came after a meeting with ownership that was delayed two weeks, and Vigneault flew back to Vancouver last week for meetings with the management group.
"We were pretty much together about everything hockey-wise, contract wise," said Vigneault, who added that all of his assistant coaches will return. "Just a couple details to iron out and we got that done yesterday."
Hockey-wise, Vigneault defended his team, pointing to their ability to win a second Presidents’ Trophy, and saying they didn’t get enough credit for doing so coming off an appearance in the Cup Final.
"We got every team’s best game," Vigneault said. "We were the Stanley Cup finalist and we were a measuring stick, just like the Boston Bruins were a measuring stick. … So I believe we did a lot more good than what was perceived out there."
As for the playoff letdown against the eighth-seeded Kings, Vigneault pointed back to his preseason prediction that any team from the tough Western Conference would be capable of winning the Stanley Cup.
"I think I am being proven right," said Vigneault, adding he’s talked to other coaches, including Babcock, about the challenge of following up a long playoff run the next season. "Come playoffs, there is a mental awareness, a mental state, that as a player you have to be able to put yourself into, and for whatever reason it was challenging for our group to get in that state and we were a little bit off. It was very disappointing how it ended, but we're looking for solutions."
Vigneault did have one regret -- not better preparing to start the playoffs without leading scorer Daniel Sedin, who missed the first three games – all losses – with a concussion before having an impact the final two.
"I believed he was going to be ready for the playoffs," Vigneault said of Sedin, who missed the final nine games of the regular season. "I would have handled it differently as far as line combinations and power-play personnel. I learned a valuable lesson."
It didn’t sound like the Canucks, who play more of a puck-possession game, are quite ready to concede an overhaul of style or systems is needed, even with defensive teams like Phoenix, Los Angeles and the New York Rangers in the NHL’s final four. But Gillis has already talked about getting bigger to win more of the net-front battles that are becoming so key to playoff success.
"Without a doubt -- L.A., they were a big team, they were a physical team, they were a defensive-oriented team first, and it certainly has paved the way for them to have quite a bit of success," Vigneault said. "We’re sort of debating right now – debating may not be the proper word – but we’re exchanging what are our best options as we move forward."
As for doing so with the same coach – and same voice – behind the bench, Vigneault doesn’t think it’s a problem.
"I believe for myself and our players, especially our core group that has been with me since the beginning, we’re all searching for the same thing and that’s to win," he said. "Our guys are very mature, very professional, they understand the process, the commitment, needed to be one of the best teams on a consistent basis. They want what our fans want, what we all want: To win the Stanley Cup and that makes my job, I don’t want say easier, but it is a lot of fun to come to the rink every day when you have a group working together to that long-term goal."