Apr 242012

I’ve officially changed my stance. In my previous post, I thought that Vigneault should be given the benefit of the doubt, having led the Canucks to two straight Presidents’ Trophies and a Finals appearance. But after Mike Gillis’ press conference today, I’ve done a complete 180.

Where’s the motivation?
From The Vancouver Sun:

“I really felt the game in Boston for some reason was such an emotional and challenging game, it was almost like playing a Stanley Cup final game in the middle of the season and from that point on I don’t think our team ever really collectively got their emotions together.”

Does anyone else find that quote as troubling as I do? I noted before that Vigneault, a master line-matcher, really has trouble motivating his teams, and it never seems like the Canucks peak at the right time. This isn’t the first time the Canucks felt like they were playing in the Finals when it clearly wasn’t the Finals.

When the Canucks’ celebrated after Alex Burrows’ OT winner over Chicago, it felt like they had just won the Stanley Cup despite it being a first-round series. The Canucks had been hung up on Chicago for so long that they never achieved the same emotional high in any of the subsequent series. If anything, that win over Chicago allowed the team to breathe a sigh of relief (“they’ve slayed the dragon!”) rather than let out a cry of triumph.

A mid-season regular season clash between Boston served as sweet revenge, but compared to the Finals, the game was inconsequential, yet to the Canucks, it seemingly meant the world. All of the Canucks were engaged in the play and a team not exactly known for brawling wasn’t scared to start putting fuel to the fire. It’s troubling that the Canucks can’t treat the series against the Blackhawks like any other series, or treat the game against the Bruins like any other regular season game. Check out the clips below.

So, already in two instances Vigneault has failed to motivate his team at the right time. Isn’t that reason enough to think that he won’t get it done? I see the Canucks and I don’t necessarily see a team with a lot of confidence because they can’t seem to differentiate between regular season hockey and playoff hockey, and that’s on the coach. The Canucks just can’t get hung up on previous losses, and if the Canucks treat next season’s games against the Kings like it was the Finals and can’t manage to sustain an emotional high at the right time later in the year, I’m not confident they can win it all…

Sure, the Canucks may be ahead of the curve in analytical systems and whiteboard strategies, but if there’s anything uniquely special about hockey is that every single playoff team has a shot at the Cup. That can’t be truer than this year, where the West is now completely wide open. I can’t see Craig MacTavish behind the Canucks bench (mainly because he’s forever associated with the Oilers), but he’s now familiar with the organization and may follow the same route as Vigneault and get promoted to the big club. The Canucks need a coach that can really push buttons and I think MacTavish is one of those. NHL players are expected to motivate themselves to a certain extent (Claude “Watch the first shift” Giroux clearly doesn’t need any help), but I’ve yet to see Edler, Malhotra, and other role players turn up the temperature like Shawn Thornton in Boston or Matt Hendricks and Jay Beagle in Washington.

The Mike Gillis era
That last sentence above was probably more a shot at Gillis than Vigneault, and if you look at Gillis’ body of work, it’s decidedly average. All the key pieces there today (Sedins, Burrows, Kesler, Edler, Luongo, and even Schneider) are remnants from the Burke/Nonis regime, and I don’t think it was particularly hard to convince Dan Hamhuis to come home. It also came to light today that Cody Hodgson wasn’t happy, which wasn’t surprising, although I did write a piece awhile back about how Gillis’ strategy to pick players based on personality isn’t really panning out.

The key quote from Gillis:

“I spent more time on Cody’s issues than every other player combined on our team the last three years. We made a determination that he didn’t want to be here; we built him into something we could move.”

So, other than asserting that Hodgson was being a big baby, the other important note is that the Canucks decided Hodgson didn’t want to be here, not Hodgson himself.

The part that interests me most? That the Canucks showcased Hodgson in December and January, where I think he played some of his best hockey (19 points in 26 games). That’s the kind of production the Canucks needed in the post-season, some scoring depth that Malhotra, Pahlsson, or Lapierre couldn’t provide down the middle. So again, my big question is, why deal him then? It was clear that given more minutes and a higher tolerance for rookie mistakes, Hodgson was going to be a pretty productive player. Once Vigneault loosened the leash a little, Hodgson flourished, yet the Canucks still felt that he was too much of a headache to keep around for a couple months. There’s ample opportunities to trade him in the off-season. There’s no reason to roll the dice now, and I think that’s exactly what the Hodgson trade was – a gamble, a bet that Zack Kassian could somehow be the Milan Lucic-type force that we lacked last season. And that backfired pretty hard.

Luongo or Schneider
The other story that’s getting the most play is Luongo’s acceptance that his tenure in Vancouver might be over. If I were him, I’d move elsewhere too – I think going to Schneider for Game 3 was the tell-tale sign because Luongo wasn’t the reason the Canucks lost the first two games. Vigneault went to Schneider for the sake of making a change, not necessarily to protect Luongo from criticism, as Vigneault claims. Don’t forget in the January game vs. Boston, Vigneault elected to go with Schneider rather than Luongo.

To me, there’s no question that keeping Schneider’s better for the team, but if you’re Gillis, the return for trading Schneider is so much better than Luongo. Teams know the Canucks have to unload one goalie, which gives them less leverage. There’s no way the Canucks can go into next season thinking that Luongo and Schneider would be okay with a 50-50 split in starts. You’d be wasting a valuable commodity. My bet is that Luongo goes to Tampa, but for what, I don’t really know. Ryan Malone has a no-trade clause and I don’t think the Lightning will give up Brett Connolly after already giving up Carter Ashton. Don’t think Luongo goes to Toronto, for all you rumour mongers. If Luongo didn’t like the media attention here he certainly won’t like it in Toronto, and if he wants a Cup, the Leafs are near the bottom.

  One Response to “Canucks post-mortem, part 2”

  1. […] ARMCHAIR HOCKEY: Jason Chen with the second part of his Canucks post-mortem. […]

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