Canucks and Beyond

Report: Vigneault Dumps Assistant Coaches

05/22/2008 at 12:50am EDT

From TSN:

Sources tell TSN that the Vancouver Canucks have terminated assistant coach Barry Smith and it iss believed that fellow assistant Mike Kelly has also been let go.

Canucks’ head coach Alain Vigneault delivered the news this afternoon, perhaps indicating his future with the Canucks is no longer in question.

At this point, the TSN report finishes up with “Details to follow,” so nothing is very clear. But if this is true, it’s a very strange decision for the Canucks…

[8:57pm PT: Updates below; 12:00am PT more updates]

As TSN suggests, if Vigneault is delivering such news, then it stands to reason that his future is no longer in question and he’s staying with the team for at least next season. Which wouldn’t be that big a surprise, but it makes you wonder what he’s told his new GM Mike Gillis in the grilling sessions he’s been enduring for the last two weeks.

And it makes me wonder if the assistant coaches are just sacrificial lambs.

A poster on HF Boards proposes this possible conversation between Vigneault and Gillis, and I’ll admit that something similar crossed my own mind:

Gillis: What went wrong last year Alain? Why did you guys miss the playoffs? Where did the offence go?
AV: Er…....Barry….Smith?
Gillis: And the piss poor defence?
AV: Er…...Mike Kelly?
Gillis: Sounds good to me.

From where I stand, either you accept the premise that coaching was a factor in the Canucks performance this past season, or you believe that coaching was not to be blamed—or that at least it can be redeemed and given another shot.

But what you don’t do is decide that it is the coach’s assistants that are to blame for everything, and then continue to keep their boss on his throne.

If the TSN story is true, and no exceptional explanation is provided by the team, I suspect this is going to backfire on the Canucks and Vigneault in particular.

Update 8:57pm:
TSN has reworded their story, adding a quote from Brendan Morrison, indicating further confirmation of both the banished assistants, and of the head coach who has somehow managed to float through this little drama without a scratch:

There had been speculation that incoming general manager Mike Gillis would clean house however with Vigneault delivering the news to his assistants it appears that his future with the organization is no longer in question.

“I wouldn’t say it’s shocking, when Gillis was hired he said he was going to have a thorough inquiry into the whole organization .. and you expected some change somewhere along the line.” Canucks forward Brendan Morrison told Vancouver radio station The Team 1040 on Wednesday.

Update 12:00am PT—May 22:
A formal announcement is forthcoming. From Elliott Pap, Canwest News:

The Vancouver Canucks are expected to clarify today their coaching plans for the 2008-09 NHL season, and apparently they don’t include assistants Barry Smith and Mike Kelly.

“We will be announcing something (today),” general manager Mike Gillis said Wednesday night. Gillis would not confirm that Smith and Kelly have been fired, which was reported on TSN’s website Wednesday. “No comment,” Gillis said.

Asked if his entire coaching staff would be announced today, he replied: “No.”

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