By the end of their sweep at the hands of the San Jose Sharks, the Vancouver Canucks had descended into contemptible pettiness; whether it was Kevin Bieksa questioning the “Canadianism” of Logan Couture and Joe Thornton for embellishment or the Sedins dwelling on an admittedly poor penalty call in the Game 4 overtime, while having combined for one goal (and seven assists) in seven games against the Sharks this season.
(Never mind the Vancouver Province’s Evil Referee theory.)
Is this how the window closes? Is this how a team that was one win away from the Stanley Cup two years ago calls it a run?
The Sharks’ sweep of the Canucks would appear to signal a period of significant change for the organization, potentially from the goalie crease to the GM box.
What the hell do the Vancouver Canucks do now?
Fire Alain Vigneault
Vigneault has been on a hot seat more than a Floridian lifeguard during his time with the Vancouver Canucks, but the team’s weak divisional opponents and three years of deep playoff runs – including one to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final – gave him a stay of execution.
Now he’s guided the team to back-to-back first-round playoff losses, where the Canucks didn’t just lose but were humbled by the Kings and Sharks. In both cases, the team’s offensive went Sahara: 2.94 goals per game in the 2011-12 regular season became 1.60 GPG in the 5-game loss to LA; a 2.54 goals-per-game in the 2013 regular season dropped to 2.00 in the sweep to the Sharks.
Harrison Mooney, not exactly AV’s biggest critic, thinks it’s time for a change:
I’ve been an Alain Vigneault defender for some time now, mainly because firing a guy the year after a Cup Final appearance because he didn’t do it again would have been bone-headedly panicky, but if the Canucks don’t manage to pull off the miracle comeback, this time around it seems like a reasonable reaction.
One first-round exit is one thing. That happens, even to good teams. Hell, the Canucks were one of four Presidents’ Trophy-winning teams to be eliminated in the first round since the 2005 lockout. Not a one of them was reactionary enough to fire their coach that summer.
But two first-round exits in a row, for a team that’s supposed to be a Stanley Cup contender? That’s cause for dismissal.
If Vigneault goes, is he a scapegoat? Not necessarily. We don’t often agree with Tony Gallagher of The Province – most because his articles descend into tinfoil hat rants about the NHL conspiring against Vancouver – but he’s right about the coach not fitting the talent any longer:
Despite the Canucks being the much better team, the Bruins beat them up and won the Cup and the downhill post-season slide has accelerated in dramatic fashion. Instead of forging ahead and still trying to play offensively with the talent they have - which is really all they can do - the defensive emphasis with such a finesse roster has simply accelerated the downturn to the point where it's clear these guys aren't playing hard enough for Vigneault. How else do you lose so much to teams that finished lower in the standings?
… In reality, he's a solid coach who will work many years in this league. But he's better suited to a bigger, grittier team - with a St. Louis-like approach to trying to get the job done.
The Washington Capitals had a similar crisis of faith under Bruce Boudreau after a lack of playoff success. Two years after he was fired from what had become a defense-first team, Adam Oates jumpstarted the offense and the “window” for the Capitals was no longer closed.
That’s if you think there’s still a chance to win with this group. Or maybe you …
Fire Mike Gillis
Close the window and raise the white flag. Go for total regime change, because this obviously isn’t working anymore.
If you’re looking for someone to blame for the Canucks’ failings, start with general manager Mike Gillis. He dithered with goalie Roberto Luongo and should have traded him for help at forward but didn’t. Instead, Gillis acquired Derek Roy at the Trade Deadline and thought that was enough. Gillis’ decision to get Zack Kassian doesn’t look good, either, but the GM will survive.
In the “construction vs. coaching” debate, Gillis carries more of the blame for this. It goes beyond the two questionable trade deadline deals: The majority of his moves to boost the team’s secondary scoring haven’t panned out. And by that we mean David Booth is closer to a buy out than a spot in the top six.
Gillis can be blamed for being too conservative with his forward group while he’s been aggressive on the blue line (Dan Hamhuis, Jason Garrison). The team’s paid for it.
Trade Roberto Luongo
This is probably going to happen whether the Canucks went out in four, seven or in a later round, but the divorce between the franchise goalie and the franchise needs to happen this summer in order for them both to move. Gillis is going to get peanuts for him from one of only a handful of teams that can afford him and to whom he’d be willing to be traded. Then again …
Trade Cory Schneider
Jim Matheson believes this is the best course of action for Vancouver: Keeping Luongo, trading Schneider. From the Edmonton Journal:
You’ll get stocking stuffers for Luongo with the $40.6 million left on his contract; you’ll get a couple of young bodies for Schneider, who is only 27.
Luongo is almost untradeable unless the Canucks pick up a whack of his salary. Schneider wouldn’t be. Call up GM Paul Holmgren in Philly, who certainly isn’t tied to Ilya Bryzgalov,32, in net; maybe the owner Ed Snider is because he’d have to buy him out at two-thirds of the $34.5 million left over seven years, but the Flyers, always looking for goalies, would jump at Schneider, who has $8.5 million left over the next two seasons.
There will be other accomplished goalies on the market this summer – Ryan Miller being the most prominent – but none are as young as Schneider. He’d bring back a better return than Luongo, due to his contract and the fact he can’t block a trade. But with due respect to Matheson, the idea that the Islanders would deal Kyle Okposo for him tells us Matty hasn’t watched much of that Penguins/Islanders series.
Realize The Sedins Are a Playoff Problem, And Vastly Change The Offense
This is really the crux of the problem for the Canucks at the moment, because if they’re going to win in the postseason they have to suss out the Sedins.
OK, so the Sedins had 3 assists each. But they were not good enough. Henrik had an assist in each of the final 3 games...but had not scored a goal in 14 games. Daniel is even more head-scratching. He is the sniper. He is the finisher. He scored 1 goal in his last 11 games and / or 2 goals in his last 17 games! WHAT? It's true. To paint an uglier picture of Daniel, he has only scored 1 goal in his last 16 playoff games. That is unacceptable. And it will have people asking: can we build a winning team around the Twins? Do other teams have the book on "How To Stop The Sedins?" Are they slowing down? Well, I can assure you that the answers will vary. Public opinion will be divided.
The Sedins will turn 33 before the 2013-14 season starts. While there may be some slowing down from them...it can't be all THAT much. I think the other teams have run the video on these guys and have figured out how to stop them. The bigger, more physical players that cover them often succeed because they will not allow them to cycle. So...either the Sedins adjust, or they will not be effective top line players for this team. Especially not in the playoffs where it matters most.Keep in mind though that next season is the final year of their contracts. And you know what they say about contract years....
Assuming the Sedins rebound … then what? Every other contending team in this league has two better than good lines offensively to roll out. The Higgins/Roy/Kesler line never did, which could speak to Kesler’s health as much as anything. They have 16 goals in their last 9 playoff games having lost eight of them.
How much would life have been different for the Canucks had Shane Doan decided to leave the Coyotes for B.C.? Or if the relationship with Cody Hodgson had been patched? Or if some of the $22.9 million committed to the blue line for next season had been used on, say, an elite power forward?
Oh right … that was going to be Booth.
Personally, I don’t believe the window is closed. The defense is solid. The Sedins will rebound. Either goaltender can provide competence in the playoffs – even after Schneider’s hiccup this season.
My head tells me to fire Vigneault and see how the team reacts. But what option out there would be an upgrade, or a short-term answer? That’s the issue.
What a disappointment. What a conundrum. What a mess.