With the Canucks putting the finishing touches on their 40th anniversary regular season, there has been much talk about the various awards and trophies the Canucks are going to add to their cabinet. Like his brother did last year, Daniel Sedin is on the verge of locking up the Art Ross and is also a solid candidate for the Hart. (Only two players outside of the top two in NHL scoring have won the Hart in the modern era, his odds are good.) Kesler has made his case for the Selke again this year, Luongo would not be an unreasonable Vezina finalist, and the Canucks have sealed the deal on the Presidents Trophy.
But amidst the trophies and records, there is, in my mind, one man responsible for the Canucks successes this season: coach Alain Vigneault.
It seems like just yesterday that fans were calling for Vigneault’s head with almost as much vehemency as they did Bieksa’s. Now, all seems to be forgotten as the former Jack Adams award winner has lead the Canucks to the top of the Northwest Division, Western Conference and NHL – locking up all three titles before any other team in the Western Conference had even clinched a playoff spot. His work to give the Canucks their fourth Northwest Division championship in five seasons, their first President’s Trophy in their 40-year history, their first 50-win season, a franchise record for points in a season has been impressive.
Some of his off-ice moves have been equally impressive and even more impactful. He had input on Mike Gillis’ decisions to bring in Newell Brown and replace Ian Clark with full-time goalie coach Roland Mellanson. With AV’s coaching, Brown has helped the Canucks’ special teams – both the powerplay and penalty-kill – establish themselves among the league’s best while Mellanson has helped Roberto Luongo to the most consistent season of his career and has trained the Canucks netminders to be the best one-two punch in the NHL.
Significant kudos need to be given to his in-season coaching to get the Canucks to the point they are today. After losing six defenceman in three weeks, Vigneault’s team went 7-2 in that span. Rotating through 14 blueliners this season, Vigneault has fostered a system that boasts the leagues lowest goals against per game and highest goals scored per game. Now, while part of that is due to an improved goalie tandem, there is no doubt his blueline has been responsible as well. Despite a rash of injuries and issues and a rotating cast on the fourth line, he has consistently iced a team that amplifies their strengths and minimizes their weaknesses.
Some of the players we’ve seen Vigneault’s biggest impact on have been guys like Andrew Alberts. After being brought in during last year’s trade deadline, Alberts played like a deer in headlights and Canucks fans were calling for his head. Vigneault’s attention to Alberts has helped him fit the blueline mould. Until his injury, Alberts has been moderately consistent this season and has given the Canucks a physical element in front of Luongo; despite missing 37 games, he still leads all Canucks’ d-men in hits. Vigneault’s created synergy between the players’ styles and transitioned guys like Ballard into a new role with minimal side effect.
There’s no doubt the Canucks successes this year have been in large part to their superb play, but there’s even less doubt in my mind that Vigneault is directly responsible for it.