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It's That Time Again

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If you are familiar at all with my mindset ever since I started this blog, it's been basically this:

1. I bash every team
2. I trash the Canucks when appropriate
3. I dislike Alain Vigneault as Vancouver's coach

I'm a team-specific blogger, so #1 goes without saying. And I prefer brutal honesty delivered like a Boogaard punch to a Fedoruk face, so #2 makes sense. And #3? Ohh...#3.

I provided my best salvo on this over the summer but it appears an update is necessary.

When Gillis didn't can Vigneault over the season, he said it was because, in part, they shared the same philosophy of how to build an elite team. I tend to believe Gillis. But is Vigneault holding up his end of that bargain?

It would take the rosiest of colored glasses for anyone to pretend the Canucks are elite. On a good night? Absolutely. On most nights? No. And against the Devils? Despite their spirited comeback, not even close.

As we know, this team's strength is in net and they are only truly elite when Luongo's play propels them in that direction. But that's what superstars do, they make winning contagious and elevate the play of those around them like you or I scratch our crotch. It's just a natural thing for them.

But others need a little push. It may not come directly from the pearls of wisdom a coach personally gives them, but maybe from the situation he puts them in, their linemates, putting them out there in the shootout, whatever.

Vigneault isn't a bad coach, but his absolute saving grace has been his old boss dropped Luongo in his lap. Ignoring Lui, he's had two and a half seasons to get this group working, a lifetime for some hockey coaches. Has he been given great assets to work with? Not really. An uninspired Naslund leading the likes of Bulis, Chouinard, Ritchie and Isbister is hardly the stuff that makes playoff dreams a reality; nor is trying to get Bernier to hit the broad side of a barn and Demitra to remove his head out of his ass (but, for the record, he did last night against the Devils). But I was under the impression that a coach has to get the best out of his players.

Exactly like last year, there have been games where the Canucks simply don't show up. Only this year they started that nasty trend in December. It's not a stretch at all to guess they simply may not be listening or hearing Vigneault anymore.

When I wrote that piece I linked to above over the summer, I referenced this which asked:

When a team loses seven of its last eight games -- including several no-shows -- with a playoff spot in the balance, questions have to be asked.

Permit me to extend that to now:
When a team loses six of its last eight and goes 3-5-2 in its last ten (the second worst in the conference next to St. Louis who, coincidentally, also beat them) -- including a no show in the first 30 minutes of a game after their coaching staff sent them 'a message' in practice -- with a playoff spot (four points from being tied for 11th in the conference) in the balance, questions have to be asked.

I can hear the AV supporters now: "the Luongo injury! It's not Vigneault, this team has had crap goaltending." I think Sanford/Schneider/Labarberea have done just fine to keep the ship upright, but should Vigneault be given some time with Luongo back - and Sundin not sitting in the box - to get his team going? Obviously yes. And hell I hope he succeeds.

But the 30,000 foot view is crystal and will not change: this team has the best goalie in the league returning shortly, the same guy Vigneault ran into the ground last year. They have their Swedish mercenary now, the same one Vigneault hasn't given consistent linemates to. They have their Swedish twins now (but possibly not next year). They are actually scoring (11th best in the league). They actually have one of the best shutdown lines in hockey. They have one of the best shutdown defensemen in the league (Big Willie). They have two young guys (Raymond and Edler) who can be cornerstones when Hodgson rolls around to the NHL level.

In short, they have the pieces now and for the future. I see what Gillis sees: the chance to be elite.

But they don't have the results. We can blame the players, the injuries, the weather, Obama-mania, Pamela Anderson frenching mascots, or the fact all Vancouver fans were retired and sent to the rafters two months ago, but this ultimately falls to Vigneault who - for the second straight season - is flirting with disaster.

And that's exactly what this is: with Sundin on the books, with one year left for Luongo and with the Sedins headed for the financial wet dream of free agency, not making the top eight this season is a disaster. Period.

It's great he believes in his guys, but at what point do they - and management - stop believing in him?