Canucks and Beyond

Let's Blame the Players

01/14/2009 at 4:03pm EST

Why not? It’s the easy thing to do.

Not enough goals? Offense isn’t trying hard enough. Not enough saves? Goalies/defense are getting caught with their pants down. (bye-bye Curtis Sanford…).

Quite honestly, there are plenty of valid criticisms about how the Vancouver Canucks have been playing recently, but there’s a whole lot of blame to go around, too. And after a performance like last night’s, coach Alain Vigneault‘s act is wearing thinnest of all.

From Tony Gallagher in today’s Province:

Then Taylor Pyatt returns to the lineup from injury after going 10 games without a point before getting hurt, and he’s promptly given a spot in the top six. Then Pavol Demitra is sent to start the game on the fourth line where he fits like O.J. Simpson’s gloves just because like so many of the other forwards he’s struggling. As Tom Larscheid put it on the telecast, “It’s an insult to a player of his calibre.”

“I was kind of surprised to start on that line,” Pyatt said after the game.

Kyle Wellwood was another who spent a few games on the fourth line where he doesn’t fit, and people wonder why his production has dropped off. If they wanted to send either of these guys a message, sit them out. But putting them where they have virtually no chance to succeed makes very little sense.

Is it any surprise that the players who have come through this Luongo-less stretch the best have been Alex Burrows and Ryan Kesler and the Sedin twins, all of whom have escaped the endless line juggling?

(Honestly, if Gallagher keeps writing stuff I generally agree with, I’m going to have to send him flowers of apology for 5+ years of bashing).

Sean Zandberg at Waiting for Stanley ponders the issue as well, wondering if players should be benched instead of putting them on lines that don’t work, but personally I think both options miss the point.

The issue at hand is coaching, and are we going to say that the only recourse Alain Vigneault has is to punish the players rather than teach them or work on systems and find chemistry (as Sean also points out)? Is punishment the only option AV thinks he has available to him? Is that all that ‘coaching’ means to the Canucks staff?

The team (or at least the majority of the Canucks mainstream media machine) has seemingly been full of approval and self-congratulations at the ass-whooping that the coaches gave the the team on Monday. A lot of yelling and screaming on the ice, apparently. Assistant coach Rick Bowness playing the bad cop.

Whip those players into shape! Get them off their lazy butts!

What a bunch of tosh.

For some reason, the default position of Vigneault’s coaching philosophy is to fall back to the mentality that he’s coaching a junior team full of precocious children who have no idea what they’re doing and no awareness of how serious this situation is.

At the AHL level, that might fly, but at the NHL level and with this team? It didn’t fly well last year and it’s not working so well now.

And it’s not that I give a toss about insulting players of “calibre” either—they’re grown ups and they can take it—but I don’t think it’s very effective. Stuffing a player like Pavol Demitra on a line with Darcy Hordichuk says more about a childish coaching staff having a temper tantrum than it does about Demitra’s recent performance.

The whipping the Canucks got from the NJ Devils was their own doing, of course. They stumbled into that game like race horses that had no idea of where the finish line was. Hell, they looked like they were racing backwards for two furlongs before figuring out that reaching the finish line required a forward motion.

But every racehorse needs a jockey with a clue. And while Alain Vigneault seems to delight in ‘riding’ his players, he doesn’t always appear to know where he’s heading.

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