As the clock ticked down to zero in both Game Sevens, first against the Philadelphia Flyers and then against the Pittsburgh Penguins, a part of me secretly wanted the New York Rangers to win the Stanley Cup for Alain Vigneault. The former Vancouver Canucks coach inherited a disfigured and disorganized Ranger team that was mucked-up by their previous coach. Does this sound familiar, Vancouver? The players had enough and some demanded a change at the helm or they wouldn’t renew in Manhatten. GM Glen Sather had no choice but to act and fire the fiery John Tortorella.
You would think that the Canucks would heed this warning from New York about Torts before hiring him. Now that he’s been tossed after only one season, the blame for his hiring has been tossed around. No one in Canucks Management, past or present, is taking full responsibility or accountability. Former GM Mike Gillis said the Aquilinis hired Torts, and the owners countered that it was 100% Mike. The best thing new President Trevor Linden did was fire Torts, even if it cost the Aquilinis $2 million a year for the next four seasons. Ditto for paying out Gillis and the departed Roberto Luongo.
Since the season ended, Canuck loyalists are left to wonder what the “bleep” just happened? Rather than re-introduce all of the problems that plagued the Canucks, let’s focus on the now. It’s clearly vital that Linden needs to start firing up the smartphones. Now that the Boston Bruins have been eliminated by the Montreal Canadiens, who were led by former Canuck and current scoring sensation Dale Weise, it’s time for the President to get in touch with Vancouver’s number one candidate, former Canuck defenceman and current Bruin assistant GM Jim Benning.
Benning was part of the Boston brain trust that included President Cam Neely and GM Peter Chiarelli. They were responsible for the Bruins’ rise starting in 2011. Since then, the Bruins have pooled together a fine coaching system, great goaltending, and a variety of snipers, hitters and goons that know how to play fast, intimidating and hard-hitting hockey. This collection wouldn’t have been possible without a sound scout team. Scouting will be another thing Linden will have to review alongside finding a GM and coach.
A question was raised during the playoffs about whether or not the Canucks regretted firing Vigneault. This question is moot because this is an unfair assessment. Picking the right combination of coaches and players is easier said than done. The Canucks under Vigneault were great at the time they gelled as a top contender between 2009 and 2012. The Penguins too had their run, but when the best player in the game scored only one goal in the entire playoffs, fingers will be pointed upwards towards coaching and management. San Jose who blew a three games to none lead in the first round to the LA Kings could also be facing changes in the front office and coaching staff. Washington cleaned up, and Toronto sort-of did.
Having the right combination at the right time is something every NHL team has to deal with. Look at Chicago and Detroit. The Blackhawks won two Cups in four seasons because management and coaching kept the players motivated, and the Red Wings continue to generate great young talent like Gustav Nyquist and Tomas Tatar that contribute when regulars like Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg went down with injuries.
Linden needs to draw his attention to those successes, and then look at what’s available to him. If hired, Benning could show Linden how he could scout for talent the smart way. There is a growing carousel of coaches out there, but it appears that Barry Trotz, Todd McLellan (if fired), and even Dan Bylsma (if fired) are front-runners for now. Should Linden act quickly? Perhaps he should see a fortune teller, use a wee-gee board or a spin the big fortune wheel to help himself with his GM, coaching and scouting selections.
Perhaps it’s best to wait until the playoffs are over before making those decisions. If we are forced to watch former Canucks (LA’s) Willie Mitchell, Weise or Vigneault hoist the Cup this summer, that’s great. Forget about what could’ve been, forget them and move on, Trevor.
PS> Congratulations to Weise and the Montreal Canadiens for dumping the Bruins in Game 7. Local Vancouverite Milan Lucic wished him and Alexei Emelin off well…
A former novice/atom player, timekeeper and fan of the game, Peter has lived and breathed hockey throughout his life, covering hockey happenings in Edmonton, Vancouver, and currently in Saskatchewan. He is now a contributing writer for the Hockey Writers.