By Allan Muir
The Canucks have finally bid farewell to head coach Alain Vigneault, associate coach Rick Bowness, and assistant coach Newell Brown.
Vancouver's season ended on May 7 with a four-game sweep at the hands of the San Jose Sharks, so it's nice to see Mr. Dithers, er, GM Mike Gillis, finally get around to putting the staff out of its misery.
After consecutive first-round ousters, the news of the dismissals could surprise only those who assumed that Gillis would continue to delay the inevitable until the pool of high quality replacements had been skimmed by the Colorado Avalanche and Dallas Stars, leaving the Canucks to settle for someone else's leftovers. Sort of like how Gillis has gone about adding spare parts to his roster in an effort to spackle over some significant structural flaws during the past two seasons.
Gillis sent an email to season ticket holders last week promising that there would be "difficult decisions including roster adjustments and changes in personnel." It was assumed that the severance of Vigneault's tenure would be the least difficult of those decisions, but Gillis either had other, more pressing matters to deal with or he hoped that the coach would tire of waiting for the axe to fall and turn in his key without being asked.
Either way, the process throws Gillis' competence further into question. Look at Jim Nill in Dallas. He's on the job less than two weeks, studying the organization from the ground up, and he's able to make a timelier call on Glen Gulutzan. It's not just a matter of professional courtesy that Gillis owed Vigneault as much. It furthers his reputation as someone incapable of making a tough call. Not exactly a prime quality for someone in his position.
But hey, here we are. Finally. Vigneault and his staff now are free to pursue other options. One would suspect that he'll get a call from Nill, who is said to be casting a wide net to ensure the best possible hire for the Stars. Although the impact of his message had dulled during his seven-year term in Vancouver, there are few who would say that Vigneault isn't a high-end candidate for any coaching job that opens up. He's likely to get a long look in Dallas.
Gillis would do well to follow in the rookie Nill's footsteps. There are two ways to go there, and the only way to ensure that he makes the right call is to spend time with all the top candidates.
There are good arguments for going with a seasoned bench boss like former Sabres' coach Lindy Ruff, current Detroit assistant Tom Renney, former Thrashers' coach Curt Fraser, or maybe even San Jose's Larry Robinson. The Canucks are likely to remain a veteran-heavy squad moving forward, and an experienced voice might be better suited for getting the most out of it.
But it would take some real courage to tab one of the game's rising stars for the job. Chicago Wolves coach Scott Arniel deserves a look. Dallas Eakins of the Toronto Marlies is widely regarded as the brightest young mind available, with a four-year track record of developing draft picks into legitimate NHL prospects for the Maple Leafs. AHL Coach of the Year Willie Desjardins of the Texas Stars or Luke Richardson of the Binghamton Senators also qualify as bold options capable of bringing a fresh approach to the organization.
The question is: will Gillis make a gutsy call knowing that this is the hire he's staking his own job on, or will he play it safe? Probably not a question at all, is it?