Saturday, March 29, 2008

Calling Out The Coach

My apologies for disappearing for a few days. It had nothing to do with being depressed over the Canucks' now four-game losing streak, but everything to do with Shaw and my Internet service going down for the 1,406th time in four months.


Since Alain Vigneault was hired as the Canucks' head coach last season, he's made it a habit to call out players for poor performances. After four consecutive losses where the Canucks have looked as bad as they've ever looked, I think it's time to call out the coach himself.

I think Vigneault has lost the room. His players look lost on the ice. They look like they don't know where to go and what to do. Their defensive coverage in front of the goaltender is horrible. Their offense is non-existent. They've given up a ton of odd man rushes. They've given up goals due to bad line changes. Simply, they're not playing together. There could be a variety of different reasons for these, but I believe first and foremost is a team that has tuned out the coach.

For almost two seasons now, Vigneault has the Canucks playing his system. And that's fine because the team has certainly had success with it. But what about the times where the system isn't working? There are, of course, many games within the games and a good coach knows to adapt to any situation. Especially in these last four games, Vigneault hasn't done that. Win or lose, he coaches the same game. Sure he juggles his lines more than Mario Lopez juggles his models, but at times when the system isn't working against a particular team, a coach needs to focus his group and adjust his attack.

Case in point was last night against the Wild. When the Canucks needed to kickstart their game on the powerplay, how many times did we see the dump and chase? How many times did the Canucks retrieve the puck? How many scoring chances did they produce as a result? The answers are: all game long, not very often, and almost none. When the Canucks fell back 2-0, why didn't the coach activate the defense? He should know as well as every other Canucks fan that sitting back and waiting for Minnesota to make a mistake wasn't going to happen.

The other night, after the Avalanche tied up the game in the second, the Canucks were noticeably rattled and started running around their own zone. Where was Vigneault's timeout to focus his team? Or what about when the Avalanche scored another goal a minute later? And another goal just four minutes after that?

Tiny details and perhaps a bit of 20/20 hindsight thinking, but the coach needs to be able to read the game and have a feel for the game.

He also has to have a feel for his players.

A few days ago after the loss to Calgary, Tony Gallagher brought up that, with the Canucks down 3-2, their goaltender pulled and obviously needing to score to tie the game, Markus Naslund wasn't on the ice. On the ice in the final minute: Sedin, Sedin, Kesler, Pettinger, Morrison and Edler. Markus Naslund's final shift in that game - he scored a goal in that game, by the way - came with three minutes left.

While Naslund would be the first to admint that he hasn't had a banner season offensively, he still has 24 goals. That's still second-best on the team. That's still 54th in the league. It's not a great total, but it's not bad. And it's still more goals than guys like Jaromir Jagr, Brendan Shanahan, Chris Drury, Patrik Elias, Ryan Getzlaf, Alexander Frolov and Jonathan Cheechoo have. When the Canucks needed a goal, why didn't Vigneault put him out there? In that same Calgary game, seven Canucks forwards had more ice-time than Naslund. Heck, Mike Weaver had more ice-time than he did. Like Trevor Linden is finding out, and especially for a lead-by-example kind of guy like Markus, it's hard to be a leader when you're not on the ice. It's hard to ask a player to be more confident when you don't instill confidence in him.

But probably the most troubling thing about this is what seems to be a disjoint between Vigneault and some of the veteran leaders of this team. It was refreshing when Vigneault came in and wasn't afraid to name the guys who he thought didn't play well. For the younger guys, that was probably a good approach as they still needed to know what the expectations are at the NHL level. For the guys that have been around, they may well have taken that approach as a slap in the face.

Let's look at the list of players that we know, at one time or another, have questioned the coach's tactics: Naslund, the Sedins, Willie Mitchell and Matt Cooke (when he was here). Trevor Linden, while he has been diplomatic, is surely wondering the same. Even Roberto Luongo, if I'm not mistaken, popped off once. Their one thing in common? They're the leaders of this team. We know Vigneault loves his grinders, and probably rightly so given what he has gotten from the likes of Ryan Kesler and Alex Burrows, but if he truly wants his best players to be his best players and his leaders to be his leaders, he also has to adapt his style to enable that.

By the way, the only other Canucks coach I know that has elicited this much reaction from the leadership group? Mike Keenan. And he loved his Harry Yorks and Brian Noonans too.

Now, the season isn't quite over yet. Given their inconsistency this season, it's not out of the question for them to pull out of this funk, win their last four games - all at home - and make the postseason with some momentum. When they do that, I'll give Vigneault his due credit. For now however, he needs to be called out as much as his players.

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, 6:20 AM


At March 29, 2008 1:07 PM, Blogger Canuckfan said...

I agree 100%. I think Vigneault lost this room a while ago. His constant line juggling and line matching are evidence of behind-the-bench panic. We've known for 2 years that he can't coach offence, and the last few games suggests he can't coach defence any more either.

I say bid Viggy adieu. Where's Pat Burns when we need him?

At March 29, 2008 1:21 PM, Anonymous alix said...

This is what I've been trying to articulate for ages, but you did a better job than I probably would have. I Totally agree. Calling out Alex Burrows at the end of last year worked for him, but I don't think it worked with anyone else. I think AV has worn out his welcome.

At March 29, 2008 4:36 PM, Blogger antro said...

I agree some blame has to go on Vigneault's shoulders, and so I like your post. But why did he lose the team? Why did it work last year so well? I don't think it's just calling out players, b/c in the end, you just play, and when things go well (like Nov, remember?), no one complains.

So what changed from last year to this year? And why can't AV adjust like we think he should? I don't really have answers, but I think that the injuries are part of it.

At March 29, 2008 4:40 PM, OpenID vancouverviewpoint said...

Spot on, as usual, JJ.

When it comes down to it, I think AV has a lot to answer for concerning the Canucks precipitous collapse.

At March 29, 2008 6:20 PM, Anonymous Temujin said...

You're right that he shouldn't be limiting Naslund's ice time as much as he has, but I don't know if you can say he has "lost the room".

There are a lot of things wrong with this team (as you listed in the third paragraph), but I wouldn't put coaching at the forefront. Blame the players. They haven't performed.

At March 29, 2008 6:33 PM, Anonymous GZ Expat said...

I think Matt Cooke's comments when he was traded were eye opening and I am sure there are many others in the room that feel the same way.

The Canucks have turned very boring to watch. Dump it in...put someone in front of the net...fire a puck at him and hope it bounces in. I just finished transcoding and watching the 1980 Olympics gold medal game and not once did I see that sort of play go on...what has happened to the game? Hell, I just popped in a 2003 playoff game against St. Louis and there wasn't much of that.

At March 30, 2008 5:50 PM, Blogger Temujin said...

Viggy says all practices from here until the end of the regular season are optional. What are your thoughts on that?

Doesn't sound like the decision of a coach who feels he has lost his room :-)

At March 30, 2008 6:43 PM, OpenID ocenbrez said...

I agree somethnig is up with the coach and team. I think there is problems on all sides currently. I was also thinking about some of the players attitutdes at the beginning of the season. There was a bit of an air of "we'll be in the play offs without much effort and then we'll get serious" with some of the players.

I can't understand why AV hasn't pulled Nazzie and made him a healthy scratch the way he has quickly pulled others ie Shannon or why he persisited with Nazzie with the Sedins when it was negatively impacting the Sedins play more than benefiting Naslund's.

BTW, where did the Sedin's call out AV? I can't remeber hearing/reading that one.

At March 30, 2008 10:56 PM, Anonymous alix said...

Well now I'm confused...Heh. A 6-2 win seems like maybe the Coach isn't a total nut job. I'm 50/50 now I guess.

At March 31, 2008 6:13 AM, Blogger hoopsjunky said...

I don't think there's any relation between making practices optional and how I feel he's lost this team. I'm thinking he just feels that rest is more important than anything else at this point of the season. Who knows?

Vigneault's approach worked last year because the Canucks didn't make the playoffs the year before and were willing to try anything. It was fresh, but like anything else, it can only be effective for a period of time. How many times does a Willie Mitchell or Markus Naslund want to hear the coach tell the media that they've screwed up? Or that they didn't play good enough? There's a reason many coaches don't do this - they can get a short-term fix and perhaps light a fire under a guys' butt, but long-term you wonder if it's just playing on their psyche.

At March 31, 2008 12:45 PM, Blogger Rinslet said...

I believe the Calgary game... they couldn't put Naslund ou there since the Canucks took 3908423840293753845 straight penalties in the 3rd period. That's why he didn't get the ice time until it was too late and the Flames were already up 3-2.

As for ocenbrez: Why hasn't AV scratched the Twins when they were in their slump? (Trust me, I don't believe it was Nazzy's fault at all they were in that slump. If you looked at their play in that period... it was really the Twins just playing poorly. Penalties, bad defensive coverage, passes not connecting) Why hasn't AV scratched Bieksa for playing poorly? Or Pyatt for missing 9324394823 scoring opportunities?

Because having Naslund on the ice, even when he's not putting up a point each game, is better than putting another grinder in. In this team, Naslund is still Top 3 in points. In a team that already has a scoring disorder, why take away one of those 'scorers', no matter how much fans thinks he blows.

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