Canucks and Beyond

Alain Vigneault vs The Canucks

11/01/2007 at 2:40pm EDT

The team’s issues began to spill over publicly when Markus Naslund made a personal observation about the Canucks scoring issues:

“(I)nstead of supporting one another or making a play, we’re either just flipping the puck out or flipping it in and then have to go chasing after it. We’re not getting enough chances and I think we have to work too hard to
get our chances compared to other teams.

“I think we’re throwing away way too many pucks instead of trying to
be creative and not giving the puck away when we’ve got it.”

With Naslund under-producing in recent years, many dismissed his comments quickly, either accusing him of undermining his own team, or suggesting that since he himself wasn’t getting the job done, he had no right to critique the system.

One voice which disagreed with Naslund on a more rational level was Adam Proteau at THN. Instead of the usual knee-jerk attack on Naslund, Proteau simply questioned whether the nature of the team was really built for ‘creativity’:

The problem with that theory is, to truly be creative on the ice, you need a wealth of creative-minded players. And the Canucks possess far too few of those players to convince coach Alain Vigneault to abandon a safer, defense-first philosophy.

Proteau was right. Vancouver is in no position to become some seriously creative offensive team (hell, at the moment I’d argue they’re barely even able to manage a defensive game).

But coach Alain Vigneault evaluated the issue a bit differently. Instead of considering the issues Naslund had brought up—as Proteau had done—he immediately turned to taking swipes at the player without having yet read Naslund’s comments:

Vigneault would not directly address Naslund’s concerns, saying he had not yet read the comments, but he took a veiled swipe at some of his team’s “skill players.”

“A lot of our players are minus players and a lot of those players are our most skilled players,” he said. “Our grinders have as many points and they are doing it by hard forechecking, going to the tough areas. That’s the way the game is played now. You have to have that willingness to want to do that.”

His point is reasonable, but maybe he should have taken the time to read Naslund’s comments before taking “veiled swipes”?

Regardless of whether one agrees with Naslund or not, I think it’s far more interesting that he actually stood up and made these comments at all. It’s the first time I can remember him asserting his role as captain in such a public way.

So, does Vigneault want his team’s captain to be a puppet, or a leader trying to find a solution to the problems?

I’m not arguing that Naslund was right and Vigneault was wrong, only that it’s good the issue was being debated as they challenge each other to find a solution. And the rest of the team might benefit from their captain taking a stand on something, too.

But then the Willie Mitchell incident happened.

After a poor performance by Mitchell, Vigneault immediately resorted to public criticism of his play. And Mitchell—not a player to avoid responsibility, normally—was more immediately concerned about why his coach was calling him out like a rookie in front of the cameras instead of first addressing the issues with him in the locker room.

And why shouldn’t Mitchell be angry? His coach isn’t behaving like someone who wants to find solutions or challenge his players to be better—he’s behaving like a man in a power struggle with his team.

And the one entity that has been in love with Vigneault since he showed up in Vancouver has been the media, so that’s where the coach takes his fight.

Iain MacIntyre via the Vancouver Sun, says it flat out:

It’s safe to assume, however, Canucks players find his personality neither as refreshing nor engaging as reporters do.

For the media, it is always Halloween in Vigneault’s press conferences. Ask a direct question and get a treat: a direct answer.

No tricks, no two-minute soliloquies on winning and losing as a team that make Stephen Harper sound as compelling as the late Dr. Martin Luther King.

More often than not, Vigneault says what he thinks about his players’ performance. And, generally, it is something any reasonably astute observer already knows because the National Hockey League does not play in private, although a Nashville Predators’ mid-week home game comes close.

It’s not the truth that some Canucks players have a problem with. It’s that their coach is willing to share it with - gasp! - the media.

Well, sure, but I don’t think that’s the whole reason. It’s not just that Vigneault shares it with the media; I think it’s that they perceive Vigneault is actually more concerned with the media than with working things out with his own players.

Which is good for MacIntyre, but not so good for addressing Naslund’s concerns about a team that can’t score; or Mitchell’s concerns that Vigneault is talking to the media before talking to him. In Mitchell’s case, he didn’t deny that he played poorly in the game in question; what he said was: “You don’t like to hear about it through the media most of the time. That’s his way of motivating I guess.”

Great for the media, not so great for motivating a veteran player.

Joe Pelletier from Legends of Hockey made a comment on KK the other day which summed up the situation pretty well. He said:

Mitchell’s not happy, Naslund’s voiced some displeasure, and I don’t think any player is terribly pleased with the way Vigneault is treating Trevor Linden.

Obviously we don’t know the real story and likely never will, but Vigneault’s shtick that was so successful last year (and totally reliant on Luongo) is a short term one. But I didn’t expect the signs of revolt to be coming this soon.

Well, I’m not sure it’s a revolt yet, but Joe’s right—that schtick is short term and Vigneault is seeing the reasons for that now.

And if the coach wants to take issues to the media before or instead of addressing them with his players, he’d better not be surprised when those players start addressing their issues in the media, too.

The irony is that when all this started last week with Naslund’s comments, it was many in the media saying that Naslund’s remarks should have been kept in the locker room, not aired publicly.

Apparently there’s one rule for the team, another for the coach.

Create an Account

In order to leave a comment, please create an account.

About Canucks and Beyond

Most Recent Posts

Most Recent Comments

Comment by Paul in Kukla's Korner Hockey from the entry NHL Short Notes - 9 minutes ago