If, as it seems it should, Roberto Luongo and Alain Vigneault deserve much of the credit for making the Canucks Northwest Division champions then it stands to reason that the man responsible for making those two members of the Vancouver Canucks deserves some praise as well.
Everyone talks about Luongo and Vigneault. Nobody wants to say much about the job Dave Nonis did deconstructing and then reconstructing his hockey club in less than 12 months. At the same time last summer, the third-year General Manager put his neck on the line and put his stamp on the hockey club firing a successful head coach and replacing him with a guy who hadn't worked in the National Hockey League in six seasons. And he also parted with a sizeable package of assets to land what he felt his hockey team needed most - stability between the pipes.
The rest, as they say, is history. History, as in almost indisputably the best goaltender the Canucks have ever had in franchise history and all of the things Roberto Luongo did to make this one of the winningest Canuck teams in the organization's 37-years of existence.
"It was an interesting year," Nonis told the Team 1040's Tom Larscheid in a between period interview during Sunday's regular season finale in Phoenix. "When things weren't going great in November, the coaches and players didn't change what we were asking them to do. It would have been really easy for them to say: Hey listen, this isn't really working for us' and then go off in their own direction. But they didn't do that. They stuck with it and it turned around relatively quickly, I thought."
Most of the turnaround was rooted in the performance of Roberto Luongo whom Nonis had made no secret he thought highly of for years. But there were no guarantees that by getting Luongo the Canucks would become the team they have. That was certainly the hope, but Dave Nonis has been around the game long enough to know there are no certainties in hockey. And early in the season many wondered if Nonis had sacrificed too much offence and spent too much money to get Luongo and start the makeover of his team from the goalnet out.
No one's wondering that now.
"He is remarkably competitive. He's competitive in practice. He's competitive in every thing he does and I believe it's the reason he's as good as he is," Nonis says of Luongo. "Roberto has the feeling that he's never going to get beat. I think it's something a lot of goalies have to a point, but I've never seen anyone as competitive as he is and it's helped our group. There's no question about that."
Luongo has been the backbone of the hockey club and has provided the foundation for Nonis' other key off-season acquisition to thrive. Performances like those Luongo has routinely provided the Canucks can make a coach look pretty smart on a lot of nights. But Alain Vigneault, with his no-nonsense, team first approach and his knack of successful line-juggling, has done enough on his own to validate his promotion from the Manitoba Moose. And he's making Dave Nonis' first coaching decision look like a good one.
"One of the things we did look at when we were interviewing for the head coaching position was accountability. I think it kind of goes hand in hand with hard work," Nonis says of the pull-no-punches style Vigneault used to lead the Canucks to a 49-25-7 record and a division title in his first season behind the bench. "We wanted to have a group where there was no grey area. That they knew exactly what was expected. If you do what's expected, you're going to play, if you don't, you won't. Alain's very good about telling his guys about what he wants. He's not a yeller or a screamer, but it's very clear. And if you do it you're going to get your ice time."
There's no question that Alain Vigneault and Roberto Luongo have been huge parts of the Canucks success this season - and undoubtedly they'll play big roles in any run the Canucks have when the playoffs begin on Wednesday. And for that they'll be saluted. But Canucks fans should also remember the man who brought those two into the fold.
Jeff Paterson is a Team 1040 broadcaster and a regular contributor to the Georgia Straight. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org