Saturday, January 15, 2011
Posted by Qris Johnson
When Alain Vigneault took the Jack Adams trophy for the 2006-07 season, a lot of people didn't care, because their problem was, Luongo hadn't won the Vezina or the Hart. "Luongo was robbed," the general consensus seemed to be -- an ironic consensus, given the number of NHL players Luongo had robbed himself.
Still, looking back on Luongo's play and the team's performance, I think the right call was made. It's hard to deny that Luongo's numbers were heavily influenced not just by the team in front of him, but by the system. Alain Vigneault took a team that had the same major pieces as the one that had missed the playoffs the season before, and led them to a division title. Luongo was a big part of that, but so was Vigneault's giving the Sedins first line minutes, his motivation of the players that needed the right push, and, ultimately, the system he played.
Luongo is still one of the most talented goaltenders in the league, but it's long been a position of mine that his statistical decline wasn't a decline in his skill level, but a result of a much more opened system, for which he should not have been blamed. If we can take blame from him when he's performing in an open system, then it stands to reason he doesn't get all the credit when playing a defensive system. The 2006-07 Canucks were a trapping, dump-and-chase team that were, at times, painful to watch. As fans, we were willing to watch the Canucks cling to a 1-0 lead for 40 minutes because it was nice that our team was ahead, but really, it was safe, boring hockey. Luongo was the guy who could be counted on to complete the defensive system, but the newly-acquired Willie Mitchell and Vigneault's defense-first trap game had a lot to do with his Vezina-worthy season. While I'd have preferred they both were recognized, giving the award to AV, not Luongo, probably made more sense than giving the award to Luongo and not AV.
That said, Alain Vigneault hasn't let up. In 2007-08 the team wasn't any better -- in fact, they were arguably worse, as Nonis's depth acquisitions were just plain awful, and the whole defense spent most of the season injured. Even so, the team spent most of the season not just contending for a playoff spot, but contending for a division title. AV should get credit for that.
He should also get credit for last season, where the top six Canuck scorers all had career years. If a team achieves success on the back of one player, then sure, you can point to the player and say, that's why. Pretty much everyone last season was having the best season of his career, including Christian Ehrhoff, who had been acquired from another team. Alain Vigneault discovered Sedin-Sedin-Burrows. He oversaw Mason Raymond's growth in a novel way. The guy was originally making defensive mistakes that made him a liability, so AV put him on the PK. How crazy is that? But it worked. When you come down to it, if most of your team is having a career year, it means the coach is excellent at tapping potential. Still, AV wasn't even in the running for the Jack Adams award.
It seems recently, to win the Jack Adams trophy, you've got to right a sinking ship. Bruce Boudreau and Dave Tippett are excellent examples of this. They stood out because all the writers who had predicted struggles were blown away by the success of the team under its new coach. That's great, they did excellent jobs on their teams. There have been several teams where a coaching change brought success. Chicago, Colorado and Dallas are other examples. (I refuse to count the Penguins. They made the Cup Finals under Therrien.) Still, while I credit these guys for doing a great job, let's be honest here: they had nothing to lose. If you walk on to a sinking ship and save it, then you look like a hero. If you fail, then you walked onto a sinking ship and it sunk. No one blames Jack Capuano for the Islanders' losses, but when they got hot briefly (if you can call a 3-game winning streak "hot"), Capuano got all the credit. It's a pretty cushy situation to be in. If the players respond to the coaching change, the coach is instantly among the frontrunners to win the Jack Adams.
It doesn't even require that you're coaching a bad team. Recall that Boudreau stepped onto a team with Ovechkin, Semin and Green already on it. Backstrom, too, but he wasn't such a big name then. It's not like Boudreau was taking the Florida Panthers to the playoffs. The Caps have great players in a weak division. Boudreau is an awesome coach, and did a great job, but much of his success stems from having some crazy-talented guys in the lineup. He didn't take a ragtag group of nobodies and show them that if they believed in themselves, they could achieve anything. He took the handcuffs off of Alex Ovechkin and watched the magic happen.
That shouldn't be a slight against Boudreau. It's perfectly acceptable for a coach to have a good team. This is the point I wish voters for NHL awards could wrap their heads around. The Capitals are a good team, and Boudreau is a good coach. Mike Babcock, Todd McLellan, and Alain Vigneault are also good coaches. They shouldn't be ignored because the team in front of them has talent.
So let's give Alain Vigneault a thorough look for the Jack Adams this season. Sure, the team's got some crazy-good scorers, a Vezina-quality goaltender and a defensive corps deeper than the Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, but the team also has a great coach. Haven't the Canucks been on the best stretch in the history of the franchise? Hasn't Alain Vigneault been instrumental in the development of players like Kesler, Burrows, the Sedins, Bieksa and Edler? Shouldn't all this count for something?
The Canucks are showing resilience, consistency, and a level of compete that leaves unprepared teams agape. They wear the opposition down even in the third period of the second back-to-back game at the end of a long road trip. What right does any team have to be that good? Point to Kesler's play all you like. Point to the Sedins being all-stars and Luongo being a superstar. Point to a deep defensive corps. All that's well and good, but let's not disqualify Alain Vigneault for having too awesome a team. We've seen teams similar to this one struggle. We've seen talented teams fail. Even this season, we've seen players as good as Ovechkin, Malkin and Kovalchuk demonstrate that "on paper" isn't any kind of guarantee.
If the Devils turn their season around under Lemaire, if the Isles make the playoffs under Capuano, if the Stars continue their winning ways and finish at the top of the Pacific under Crawford, these guys will be the only ones people talk about for Jack Adams. They'll have accomplished a lot that's worthy of consideration. But leaving the likes of Alain Vigneault out of the mix because his team's just too good would be a massive oversight. Let's get the talk going right now: Alain Vigneault for Jack Adams.