Canucks and Beyond

Can a Coach Change His Game?

09/11/2008 at 3:36pm EDT

[Note: Updated below with a quote and link about the Sedins meeting with the boss last night.]

Last week, Canucks GM Mike Gillis was on the radio one day, answering a pile of questions about the usual subjects—the state of team, the Sundin situation, the Sedins future, etc. None of what he had to say that day was particularly revolutionary, but still informative.

It also happened that I was at GM Place for a few hours that same afternoon, and hanging around being useless for so long I started thinking about what I would ask Gillis if he wandered into our neck of the building.

This is the question I jotted in my notebook that day as the if-I could-only-ask-one-question-this-would-be-it question:

You’ve made many personnel changes on the ice with this team, yet elected to continue the relationship with Alain Vigneault. You’ve also mentioned how this team will be returning to a more offensive-style game.

Wouldn’t that mean a radical change in philosophy, and isn’t it highly unusual for a coach to adjust in such a way at this point in his career?

Bottom line: What gives you confidence that Vigneault can and will change?

It was my bad luck that Gillis was nowhere to be seen during our photoshoot so the question remains. But today I see that Tony Gallagher of the Vancouver Sun wrote on the same subject, pondering whether a defense-first coach can become more offense-oriented.

Unfortunately Gallagher got sidetracked by his unabashed adoration of the club (*a new affliction for Gallagher, onset the day he saw the back of Dave Nonis sashaying out of Gate 9…) but aside from tossing around some irrelevant insults for Marc Crawford and waxing philosophical about the how it may be “grossly unfair to say the clock is ticking on Vigneault” this season, he at least brought up this little-mentioned issue.

And he gets no answer to his question, either. The closest he comes is in an email response from Vigneault:

“This season it is my intention and the intention of our entire coaching staff to find a strong balance between offence, defence and grit or toughness. If we can find that balance it should enhance our scoring chances and allow us to be more successful.”

Easier said than done. And the coach’s response indicates nothing about how this would happen. “find a balance between offence, defence…” and “it should enhance our scoring chances…” are both nice ideas that sound good but they aren’t any kind of answer. Exactly how does he magically know how to do this now that he didn’t know last year?

Today Gillis was interviewed on Leafs Lunch and spoke of his relationship with the Sedins and their future. Gillis offered a positive impression of his meeting with them yesterday, and said he feels the Sedins have bought into his ideas of “leadership” but I’m not sure how that changes anything with the team. From the outside looking in, it seems like more cliches with hope that things just work out… somehow.

The knock on Vancouver last season, aside from a lack of success in the standings and on the score sheet, was that their brand of hockey lacked entertainment. Gillis is dedicated to changing that, but how does that happen on a Vigneault-led team? Can the leopard change his spots, or is Gillis just deluding himself and/or buying time?

It has been frequently said that Vigneault is on a short leash this season, but as far as I can tell that only means that if he doesn’t produce, he’s fired.

But what I don’t fully understand is why we should believe Vigneault has a prayer of pulling off such a radical change in his style in the first place. And could he even be blamed for not changing his style? How often have you heard of a coach having to do this? Even being able to do this seems like a stretch.

To my mind, turning Vigneault onto offense is like trying to turn Jacques Lemaire into the likes of Marc Crawford… and I think Lemaire would rather you just ran him over with a train before he’d see that happen. Is Vigneault really any different?

Gillis may be keeping AV on a leash, but it remains to be seen whether he can teach an old dog new tricks.

Update 12:59pm PT:

The Sedins didn’t talk contract with Gillis last night, but Daniel had this to say today:

“I felt good after the meeting. I talked to Henrik in the car after and it felt good. Mike is a nice man. I like his ideas on the team. He wants to play a more exciting style of game. We had an open dialogue.”

That he “wants” to play a more exciting style of game was never the question. It’s how he can make this happen that isn’t entirely clear.

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 ChillDistiller in Abel to Yzerman from the entry Today's Practice Lines And Defensive Combos - 4 hours ago
Comment by Ryan in Abel to Yzerman from the entry The Morning Skate - 5 hours ago
Comment by Paul in Kukla's Korner Hockey from the entry NHL Short Notes - 6 hours ago