Spector: Vigneault takes fall for Gillis’ mistakes

After seven seasons Alain Vigneault, left, is no longer the head coach of the Vancouver Canucks, as Mike Gillis, right, executed his widely anticipated firing on Wednesday. (CP/Darryl Dyck)

Mike Gillis walked out of the corner office Wednesday afternoon, dialed up Alain Vigneault, and began: “You know, Alain, sometimes we are not ALL Canucks…”

After seven seasons Vigneault is no longer the head coach of the Vancouver Canucks, as Gillis executed his widely anticipated firing on Wednesday. Gillis followed with a press conference, where the theme rotated between, “Everyone’s out to get me,” and, “This a results oriented business.”

The former theme gave us a window into the NHL’s most paranoid organization – one that is so far down the “everyone hates us” road it may never turn back. One day the refs don’t give the Canucks a fair shake. The next, the other team is diving and the refs are falling for that.

The latter refrain – the “results oriented business” theme – begged the question: “Then why is only the coach getting fired?”

It was a classic case of his general manager doing a lousy job and the coach taking the bullet for it. Face it: Keith Ballard, David Booth, Derek Roy, a Roberto Luongo trade that never transpired…

All of that could have happened to anybody.

We can just hear Gillis addressing Vigneault: “This is a results oriented business Alain, and someone in this conversation has done a poor enough job to get fired this season.

“And since I’m YOUR boss…”

In defence of Gillis, who could have known that Booth’s game was irreparably softened after his concussion issues in Florida? Other than, say, some smart scouts, or a GM with an eye for talent?

And who wouldn’t have taken on the final five seasons of Ballard’s six-year, $25.2 million deal, only to see Ballard eke out just 17 points in 162 Canucks games since his arrival?

Other than, say, some more scouts? Or the same GM?

“There comes a point in time where the message has to change and we have to get better,” Gillis said, in firing Vigneault as well as assistant coaches Rick Bowness and Newell Brown. “In this business you have to get results.

“We have a good hockey team, we didn’t get results.”

They had a pretty good hockey team in Vancouver this past season. It wasn’t good enough to win a playoff game, and that’s on the GM.

So why have the Canucks gone from Stanley Cup contender to a team whose window has slammed shut with a thud? Drafting and development, that’s why.

How does San Jose rebuild on the fly? Well, the Sharks swept Vancouver this spring largely due to a group of younger, drafted players who have risen from beneath Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Danny Boyle to make the Sharks a contender once again.

The Sharks are now Logan Couture’s team. The Canucks are still Henrik and Daniel’s team.

Detroit? Whenever you search your program to link a name to a number for a player who has caught your eye, that player was inevitably drafted and developed by the Red Wings.

Who are the sub-25, top 6 forwards and top 3 defencemen coming up in the Canuck system? Well, isn’t that a fine question?

The last two high level players with legitimate All-Star potential drafted by Vancouver were Cory Schneider and Alex Edler back in 2004. That was two years before Gillis arrived.

We’re still waiting on Gillis’ crops, or to see if Cody Hodgson stars for Buffalo. But organization-wise you need to look no further than the draft to find where the fall of the Canucks began.

Vancouver has been a 100-point team for the past four years. But it can’t find the next level – or even stay at the one it’s at, likely – because the feeder system is dry. And the GM’s trades have been poor.

Of course, Gillis hears that every day in Vancouver.

“People have been after me since Day 1 here. People have been after Alain since Day 1,” he said.

“We all bear responsibility. We’ve all played a role in this outcome. Everyone will be addressed,” he continued. “(Firing the coaches) is the most immediate and logical change you can make, I believe. I also think we can do more as well, in terms of where we’re headed … as an organization.”

Los Angeles, Anaheim and San Jose are very good clubs. Edmonton will improve steadily, you’d have to believe. Phoenix is always pesky. Those are the teams (plus Calgary) that fill out Vancouver’s division, starting next year.

It will take some solid GM’ing to keep the Canucks in the playoffs, as the Sedin twins age. Savvy trades, some exceptional drafting, top flight player development…

Vigneault took the bullet this time around.

If we’re still having this conversation two years from now, Mike Gillis won’t be so lucky.

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