Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Vigneault will be a man in demand

After Canucks lowered boom, Jets, Stars or Oilers may have to get in line to hire respected bench boss

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The Vancouver Canucks are a poorer team and organization today for having fired head coach Alain Vigneault.

Rather than solve a problem in Vancouver, GM Mike Gillis has only added to the list of woes his team currently endures. On top of the rapidly widening cracks in the roster, the team is now down a preeminent NHL head coach. Subtracting Vigneault from the organization only made the Canucks weaker.

Still on Gillis's plate is the Roberto Luongo debacle, the disappearing act the Sedin twins have made the past two springs and the lack of depth at forward.

Gillis had lots of work to do this summer and he can now add replacing his award-winning head coach to the pile.

Last summer, Gillis thought enough of Vigneault to give him a three-year extension in the range of $1.5 million per year. Now the coach is finished. What changed Gillis's mind? Francesco Aquilini, that's what.

According to Canucks staffers, ownership has become more and more involved in hockey decisions and Vigneault was never Aquilini's choice. Gillis had to twist his owner's arm and as long as Vigneault kept the playoff cash registers ringing, it was an easier manoeuvre.

But two quick playoff exits, despite reams of evidence the blame should fall on shoulders other than those of Vigneault, whetted Aquilini's taste for blood. Gillis lost out and now there's nothing between him and Aquilini's next whim.

Gillis made Vigneault's firing official Wednesday and now teams waiting in the weeds for the veteran bench boss's services will be revealed.

Will the Edmonton Oilers be willing to throw over Ralph Krueger to get to Vigneault? The same question must be asked here in Winnipeg, where GM Kevin Cheveldayoff has yet to clarify the future of his head coach, Claude Noel.

Vigneault will almost certainly be on the list of Dallas Stars GM Jim Nill when he begins to interview for his head coach.

And despite all the Patrick Roy noise coming out of Colorado, the Avs have made nothing final and Vigneault would be a great fit with a roster on the verge of being loaded.

Now that Vigneault is officially on the market, the fighting for his services will begin and if he elects to go directly back into coaching he'll have a job by the NHL entry draft.

Vigneault didn't just forget how to coach or, at the age of 52, suddenly lose his touch. Gillis has been unable to solve a number of roster deficiencies in Vancouver and firing the coach doesn't mask them.

The word from sources within the Canucks organization is that Aquilini wants Phoenix Coyotes head coach Dave Tippett. Tippett is regarded as one of the best coaches in the NHL but his track record doesn't equal that of Vigneault.

Tippett supporters will argue Vigneault had a roster good enough to win a Stanley Cup while their man has been forced to work with a trickle of talent out in the desert. Fair enough, but that theory doesn't change the fact Vigneault's credentials are unassailable.

Six division titles, two Presidents' Trophies and a trip to the Stanley Cup final combine for one of the most successful runs in hockey over the last decade.

All that got him canned on Wednesday in a travesty of owner meddling.

Tippett wants to remain in Phoenix should that franchise be able clear up its muddy ownership situation. One might suggest an absent owner is better than a busy body but Tippett is best situated to make that determination.

Other candidates for the Canucks job will be Winnipeg Jets and Manitoba Moose graduates Scott Arniel and Dallas Eakins. Veteran NHL coach Lindy Ruff will also draw interest but he might be considered a retread in Vancouver's breathless fan circles.

Eakins is the hottest name among coaches not behind an NHL bench and Arniel is already a member of the Canucks family as head coach of their AHL affiliate.

Arniel had a rocky run as head coach of the Columbus Blue Jackets but picked up invaluable experience.

Maybe his growing pains are behind him and there's no question Arniel has a keen hockey mind. He's coached nearly half the Canucks roster during his time as top knock with the Moose and the Chicago Wolves. Arniel, who will likely get a look from his old Jets teammate Nill for the Dallas gig as well, makes sense on a number of fronts, offering both stability and freshness at the same time.

Eakins has been shaping a reputation just on the fringe of the bright lights in Toronto as coach of the Marlies and he's full of ideas and confidence. The 46-year-old is well liked in the Leafs organization and will coach in the NHL soon.

Eakins is psychologically equipped to handle both the media and the fan pressure of a Canadian market. He's got a little star power about him with a knockout actress Ingrid Kavelaars for a wife and a serious style.

The madness started in Vancouver with the firing of Vigneault but will only now ramp up until the ink is dry on his next contract and the dominoes fall in a number of other cities.

Fired today, but coveted tomorrow, Alain Vigneault will sleep fine tonight.

Surely, Mike Gillis can't be as comfortable.

gary.lawless@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @garylawless

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 23, 2013 D1

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About Gary Lawless

Gary Lawless is the Free Press sports columnist and co-host of the Hustler and Lawless show on TSN 1290 Winnipeg and www.winnipegfreepress.com
Lawless began covering sports as a rookie reporter at The Chronicle-Journal in Thunder Bay after graduating from journalism school at Durham College in Ontario.
After a Grey Cup winning stint with the Toronto Argonauts in the communications department, Lawless returned to Thunder Bay as sports editor.
In 1999 he joined the Free Press and after working on the night sports desk moved back into the field where he covered pro hockey, baseball and football beats prior to being named columnist.

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