Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Crawford Canned

While the Vancouver Canucks were slumping their way through the season, I asked if the team had the right mix of players, and if so, is Marc Crawford still the right coach for them. Today, Dave Nonis, at least in part, answered that question.

The move isn't surprising. After a season of failed expectations, everyone expected the team make some changes. Rightly or wrongly, Crawford is the first casualty.

The Canucks hired Crawford in 1999, the season after the team finished 24 games under .500 (23-47-12). The team posted 30, 36, 42 and 45 wins in his first four seasons as head coach, then won the Northwest Division in 2004. Crawford is the winningest coach in Canucks history (246 wins), but for whatever reason, could not translate the team's regular season success into the playoffs.

Eric Duhatschek (Globe and Mail) said that, in firing Marc Crawford, Dave Nonis took the easy way out:
Dave Nonis took the easy way out Tuesday – and that's not the same thing as saying that Nonis's decision to fire Marc Crawford as the Vancouver Canucks' head coach was easy. In Nonis' short tenure as the Canucks' general manager, loyalty is a quality that he clearly values. It's why he kept, more or less intact, the team he inherited from Brian Burke - in order to give the players a chance to win a championship that they themselves believed was within their grasp.

When they failed to do so – and even the most pessimistic of observers couldn't have imagined a scenario where the Canucks would actually miss the playoffs this past season – something had to give. For now, that something – or that someone – was Crawford, the man that landed in Vancouver after winning a Stanley Cup with the Colorado Avalanche and presided over a mostly successful program in his seven years at the helm.

The wheels came off this year and in the end, Nonis found himself facing the age-old dilemma. Does he fire a lot of players (difficult, considering how many them had underachieving seasons and/or possess no-trade contracts)? Or does he tie the can to the coach whose voice, frankly, a lot of them had tired of hearing, probably even before the season began?

After a week of reflection, Nonis took the less risky path and Crawford probably saw it coming all the way. Intuitively, Crawford would have understood that Todd Bertuzzi, the Canucks' most controversial player last season, would be playing for a different coach next year. It just wasn't clear if that would happen in Vancouver, or somewhere elsewhere in the NHL. Nonis didn't commit to trading Bertuzzi yesterday, but the fact that Crawford is now out of the mix will make it far easier to retain him, if that's the way the organization wants to go.
Barry Melrose (ESPN) adds:
I think coaches are fired way too quickly in the NHL, I've always thought that. It's way too easy to blame one guy, but that's the way the league is. When you don't win and you're not where you're supposed to be as a team, someone has to pay the price, and it's usually the coach.

Pat Quinn lost his job a week ago, and now it's Marc Crawford.

I know some have said that this decision came down to the Vancouver Canucks "choosing" between Crawford and Todd Bertuzzi. I don't believe that. I wouldn't be surprised if the team still moves Bertuzzi this summer. But when you move a player like Bertuzzi, you better get something good in return. Because when Bertuzzi is on his game, he can be one of the best in the world. At the same time, the Canucks might take a chance and keep Bertuzzi in the hopes that a new coach can get to him.

But back to why Crawford is out. The team just didn't play well, especially down the stretch. The team lost six of its last eight games, and the Canucks didn't play with the same intensity as their opponents. It seemed their opponents wanted to be in the playoffs more and Crawford couldn't get the team fired up.
This was something that Brendan Morrison alluded to after the team's final game against the Colorado Avalanche:
The Canucks said they saw a different Crawford this year, one who had mellowed during the lockout, one who was trying a new, more hands-off approach.

"He wasn't as hard on guys as he was in the past," Morrison said. "I think that was part of his plan -- to put the onus on guys in the room to take over the team and hold each other accountable."

There were only a handful of times during games, practices and postgame interviews when Crawford showcased his fiery, emotional side.

Other than Morrison, he didn't publicly call out a player during the season, something he often did in past years.

"There is no question that, at times, he was more lenient than he had been in the past," Morrison said.
Perhaps, too lenient.

Comments/Questions: Feel free to post in the comments section or email me at gocanucksgo10 (at) hotmail (dot) com.

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posted by J.J. Guerrero, 10:46 PM


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