Sports

Dear Vancouver: It's Time to Cheer for Alain Vigneault

Alain Vigneault, seen here as the Vancouver Canucks
Alain Vigneault, seen here as the Vancouver Canucks' coach in 2012, has moved onto Manhattan and has his New York Rangers in the Stanley Cup Final. Trailing the L.A. Kings 2-0, New York must win four of its next five games to win the Cup.
— image credit: Wikimedia Commons (author Loxy!!)

Dear fellow Canucks fans:

It's time to cheer for Alain Vigneault, and it should be easy now that his Rangers have a minuscule chance of winning. What have you got to lose? It's not like they can actually beat Los Angeles, right?

Trust me, I don't like it either. It's been hard, watching our ex stride confidently and excellently into his next relationship. It's not easy for me, especially as I know the rest of the league – my never-silent friends in Toronto, for instance, who seem to be unaware of how pathetic the Leafs have been for the past decade whenever they rip the Canucks for the few detrimental decisions Vancouver's made in the past eight seasons (okay, I got that out of the way nice and early) – is probably looking at Vigneault's run to the Cup Final with New York and going, "Wow, I bet Vancouver wishes they didn't let him go."

Well, it's not true. I'm happy Vigneault's gone – rather, I'm happy he moved on, and I'm happy we moved on.

His time on the West Coast was through. He had done all he could behind Vancouver's bench and he wasn't going to win a Cup here, not with this roster. I always felt Vigneault was what I call a Water Slide Coach – just throw your hands behind you, say "WEEEEEE" and we'll see how you've done when you hit the water.

It's why I think he's terrific in the regular season and I think it's why his teams have no conviction in the playoffs – they rest on their 82-game laurels, they get by on their reputation and sometimes they're just good enough to deserve it (like Vancouver in 2011 and New York right now), so they make a little run and they get close, but the coach has no finishing ability. (I put Kansas City Chiefs coach Andy Reid in the same file. The man will never win a Super Bowl – I repeat, never.) The first time Vigneault took a team to a Cup Final, they were lucky to escape the first round after blowing a 3-0 series lead to Chicago, and it was a moment of pure athletic brilliance from Alex Burrows that pushed them through. Those Vancouver losses in 2012 and 2013, though, we disheartening and a foreshadowing of what our team become now – old, stale, and desperate for a kick in the pants. One win in nine playoff games is embarrassing. Flat out, no other way to put it, and Vigneault was as responsible as anyone in the Orcas' organization.

So, in short, I'm happy the Canucks moved past him and I think we're better for it, even if we had to suffer a year under the Wrath of Tortorella, an apparent dictator who seemingly let his reign of terror go flaccid in the season's final months. We didn't need John the Good. We needed a harsher, spicier Torts, and the experiment was a failure.

But we weren't going to win a Stanley Cup this year, no matter who our coach was, and I'd take the No. 6 pick and Jim Benning over a Halo-esque re-spawn every time.

And now that I've aired out the above, both on the page and in my own head, I can honestly say that I'm happy for Mr. Vigneault.

I've never met the guy... well, I met him once in an elevator and I think he just wanted to get out of there before this short, big-domed hockey fan next to him could give him any unsolicited advice. In his early years, I felt he never got the due he deserved, because he was quiet and mild-tempered and that leads to someone being misunderstood, like they're not intense enough even when they could be a duck on the water's surface. In his middle years, in Vancouver, I got on board with the guy – his heroic defence of Burrows in the wake of Ron MacLean's most inaccurate, throat-seeking personal hit job (yes, Mr. MacLean, we get it: you're a referee and you want us all to know that) and his timing as the Canucks' coach right when the Sedin Twin supernova exploded for two Art Ross Trophies made for a powder-keg of positive vibes. Vigneault was the Canucks and that Canucks team was Vigneault's.

But after the TSN Turning Point of 2011, when that magical spell blew up like that first zit when you're 12 years old officially signals the end of your childhood, it was all downhill. The Canucks were hard to watch and boring to back. Vigneault himself seemed as over it as the team was. Their 2012 Presidents' Trophy was won in a down year for the league, when their only challengers for the NHL's top record were Tortorella's Rangers and a young St. Louis Blues team, and the Stanley Cup champion was an eighth-seeded Kings squad led by the impenetrable mental fortress of Darryl Sutter. The Kings beat the Canucks in five games in the first round, in a series where Sutter either thoroughly out-coached Vigneault or Vigneault just couldn't motivate his team to the level Sutter motivated his.

The next year was like Kings of Leon's last album – a re-hashing of old mistakes, only this time that one bad song from 2008 or 2011 was a virus that destroyed the whole product. The Canucks were cast aside rather quickly by the San Jose Sharks, in a four-game sweep that said as much about Vancouver's checked-out status than it did about San Jose's talent.

Vigneault was gone. He seemed to welcome it. So did we.

So now, only a year later, he's got his chance. Only this time – and really, this is where I think we owe him our support – he's not leading a favourite. There is nothing Vegas should like about AV's Rangers. They're scrappy and assembled – a team made up of former first-round busts like Benoit Pouliot and Derick Brassard, overpaid once-stars like Brad Richards and Rick Nash, the about-to-retire Martin St. Louis, and a helluva goalie in Henrik Lundqvist. Their defensive corps are a patched-together back-end, led by the surprising Ryan McDonagh and heart-and-soul guy Dan Girardi.

Watching the first two games of this series – even though New York has led for essentially the entire thing and has suffered two tight overtime losses to open the series in an 0-2 hole – has been funny. Everyone on the Kings looks like an evil, slightly better alter-ego of some counterpart on the Rangers. Drew Doughty's a better McDonagh. Willie Mitchell's a better Girardi. Slava Voynov's a much better Anton Stralman. Up front, Justin Williams is a better Brassard, Dwight King's a better Brian Boyle, Marian Gaborik's a better Rick Nash, and Anze Kopitar's a better Richards.

And Darryl Sutter is, dare I say it, a better Vigneault. Yet again.

So he's the underdog. And if we want our Canucks to have any hope for themselves in the next three or four years – because the Kings aren't going anywhere, and neither are their two powerful foes, the Blackhawks or the Anaheim Ducks – and if we want to have any belief that we can somehow climb the mountain again, we need to see Vigneault win this thing. We need the Rangers to pave the way, like Boston did when they upset us three years ago, and unlike when Calgary and Edmonton couldn't in 2004 and 2006, respectively. The annual challenge from some Canadian team in its quest to bring the Stanley Cup back above the 49th parallel is depressing – it ends the same way, with some heartbroken maple-syrupy city left to return the confetti is never got to toss. But we just keep on hoping it's gonna happen, like we hope for a Triple Crown winner or someone to beat Roger Maris's home run record. But lately, it's gone from a hope to a dream, and every time we get our hopes up for some Canadian club to win that chalice – whether it's been Vancouver twice, Calgary or Edmonton, or Montreal – we're thrown back into reality with a loss and a better luck next year.

But screw reality. Screw the Kings. It's time something improbable happened.

The Canucks will have to beat the Kings at some point, if they hope to win anything. They'll have to beat Anaheim and Chicago, too. The West is just so much better than the East, and Vancouver has to compete in it every damn year.

I've even been telling friends over the past few weeks, "You know, I just really don't want the Rangers to win the Stanley Cup." I didn't want to see AV in the winner's circle in New York, mostly just because of how it would reflect on my Canucks.

But I guess I should put my immaturity aside and realize what I think I now do.

A win for New York is a win for parity, and the Canucks need to know that fickle fairy exists.

You too, Toronto.

 

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