The Vancouver Canucks fired head coach Alain Vigneault on Wednesday, less than two years after he guided the club to the seventh game of the Stanley Cup final.
Vancouver was the first team eliminated in the NHL playoffs this month, the first time in 12 years it was swept in the post-season, this time courtesy the San Jose Sharks. The Canucks, who finished seventh in the 30-team league in points this season, have been ousted in the first round the past two years despite having home-ice advantage.
"We have made the very difficult decision to relieve Alain Vigneault, [and assistants] Rick Bowness and Newell Brown of their coaching duties today," Canucks president and general manager, Mike Gillis said in a statement. "Alain, Rick and Newell worked tirelessly to lead this team to great on-ice success. I am personally grateful to each of them and their families for their commitment to the Canucks and the city of Vancouver and wish them continued success in future."
In the end, Vigneault could not coax more goals out of secondary offensive players that displayed plenty of heart but limited scoring skill. The Canucks ranked in the top five in goals scored the three previous full seasons, but finished just 19th in that category this season. They ranked in the bottom 10 on the power play and in face-off percentage, and were unable to hold several leads.
Since Vancouver beat Boston to take a 3-2 series lead in the 2011 Cup final, the Canucks have lost 10 of their last 11 post-season games. They were downed in five games in 2012 by eventual champion Los Angeles despite earning the Presidents' Trophy for a second straight season as the top regular-season team.
"I would like to take this opportunity to thank the Aquilini family, Mike Gillis, Lorne Henning, Laurence Gilman, Stan Smyl, Victor de Bonis and the entire management, scouting, training and front office staff with the Vancouver Canucks," Vigneault said in a statement. "The past seven years have been an honour for me to coach and work for a great franchise in a wonderful Canadian city. To work in a city with such passionate and loyal fans is a privilege — I enjoyed every moment of it.
"Over the past seven years, I have made many good friends in Vancouver and had the chance to coach quality players who cared deeply about their profession and were committed to winning. I am grateful to the players and their families for the sacrifice and dedication they showed in an effort to be the best they could be. Watching as many of our players started families, became fathers and grew as men, on and off of the ice, was equally rewarding."
Vigneault, 52, made the bold decision last spring against the Kings of starting goalie Cory Schneider over Roberto Luongo, the one-time captain whose contract runs through 2021-22.
While many agreed with the decision, it created a melodrama that has lasted a full year. Gillis was unable or unwilling to trade Luongo this season.
"People wanted him fired five years ago," Gillis said. "I kept him, and we worked well together and achieved success."
The firing comes less than a year after Vigneault was signed to a contract extension. He has two years remaining on the deal, according to Hockey Night in Canada's Elliotte Friedman.
6 division titles
Vigneault, a Quebec City native who previously coached the Montreal Canadiens, succeeded Marc Crawford behind Vancouver's bench.
Vigneault's regular-season record over his tenure was 313-170-57, with the Canucks winning their division six out of seven seasons. The team's all-time leader in coaching wins, Vigneault also led the club to two Presidents' Trophy titles.
He led the Canucks to just their third-ever Stanley Cup final appearance.
Vigneault leaves after transforming Vancouver from a struggling club into a perennial contender. He was also recognized for his role in turning the Canucks around when he was awarded the 2007 Jack Adams Award as the NHL's coach of the year.
When he arrived in 2006-07 after a season with the American Hockey League's Manitoba Moose, the Canucks were looking to regroup after missing the playoffs. He was also looking to prove himself after being fired from his first NHL head-coaching job with the Montreal Canadiens in 2000-01.
In his first season, he guided the Canucks to a division title and a spot in the second round of the playoffs before they were eliminated by the Anaheim Ducks in five games, with four decided by one goal.
Although the Canucks missed the playoffs the following season due to a collapse down the stretch, they rebounded in 2009-10, again reaching the second round before losing a bitter six-game series to Chicago.
The next season, he guided the Canucks to their third Stanley Cup final berth in franchise history. They took a 2-0 series lead at home but eventually lost in seven games to the Bruins. The Game 7 loss at home sparked a riot in city streets.
The final foreshadowed a shift in goaltending that would become a headache for Vigneault. Schneider periodically replaced the struggling Luongo in the series. Until then, Luongo had enjoyed hero status in Vancouver with his No. 1 designation never in doubt.
Vigneault managed to prevent any potential rifts between Luongo and Schneider and limited distractions to the team as the goalies became close friends.
He answered endless questions about his goaltenders, especially after Schneider displaced Luongo in the first round of the 2011-12 playoffs as the Canucks lost in five games to the Los Angeles Kings.
The uncomfortable situation was supposed to be resolved after Luongo agreed to waive his no-trade clause prior to the 2012-13 season, but Gillis was not able to get the deal he wanted prior to a bitter lockout that shortened the regular season to 48 games.
When play finally resumed, the Canucks struggled at times with the demanding schedule and battled numerous injuries. But they managed to pull away from the Minnesota Wild in the race for the Northwest crown and home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
Vigneault guided his club to eight wins in its last nine home games, including a 3-1 victory over first-place Chicago that secured the Canucks' fifth straight Northwest title.
But Schneider was injured in the Chicago game and didn't come back until after the first two games of the San Jose series.
Luongo was solid in the first two losses in Vancouver, but Vigneault went with Schneider when the series switched to San Jose.
Schneider struggled in the third period of Game 3, allowing three quick goals, and mishandled the decisive shot in Game 4 in overtime before Patrick Marleau poked home the loose puck for the series-clinching goal.
Along with the goaltending situation, Vancouver has failed in recent years to develop its draft picks into reliable NHL players. Whether that is a failing of the coach or the general manager is up for debate.