Vigneault bucks trend

SCOTT MORRISON -- For Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:05 AM ET

So Alain Vigneault, who had a year remaining on his contract and was one season removed from being the best coach in the NHL, has survived a month of interrogation and doubts and will be returning as coach of the Vancouver Canucks next season.

The Canucks even tacked on a one-year extension so that his title will be head coach, not lame duck.

Score one for the coaching fraternity, right? Not entirely.

While Vigneault and associate coach Rick Bowness managed to survive, two assistants -- Mike Kelly and Barry Smith -- were dismissed Wednesday, which is a tainted win and somewhat curious development. It begs the question: What do coaches No. 3 and 3A on the depth chart have to do with all that ailed the Canucks?

The answer is not much. But, with a change at the top, there had to be some sort of sacrifice to appease the masses.

That Vigneault was able to survive the cut, despite the presence of a new general manager and having missed the playoffs last season, is interesting because the practice of firing coaches is taking on a new life.

At the start of yesterday, there were six coaching vacancies in the NHL, with the likes of Ron Wilson in San Jose and Joel Quenneville in Colorado parting ways when they couldn't survive the second round of the playoffs. Paul Maurice was fired in Toronto essentially for not making the playoffs, although his departure had the aroma of being more of a planned media distraction from the general manager search, while Atlanta, Florida and Ottawa have been on the hunt for a while.

The number of openings was reduced to five when Colorado promoted assistant coach Tony Granato to the job he had a few years ago, leading to speculation he is holding the spot until Patrick Roy arrives in a few years. It is unfair to Granato, but the perception will remain if the Avs are ordinary.

Which leaves, according to the rumour mill, Tampa Bay's John Tortorella as probably the only coach still uncertain of his status, despite his skills and one year remaining on his contract.

Speculaton has it that once the ownership change is approved in Tampa that Tortorella will be let go and a new coach, handpicked by the new owner, will be hired.

These are guys -- the likes of Laviolette, Tortorella and the previously disposed Bob Hartley -- who have won a Stanley Cup. And the likes of Quenneville, Wilson, Maurice and the previously departed Pat Quinn all made it to a final. So once upon a time they had it all figured out and apparently forgot. How else to explain what is going on?

Several will get jobs again, and in the case of Quenneville and Wilson, it likely will happen quickly if they so desire. But eventually, they will get fired again. The cliche about coaches being hired to be fired didn't become a cliche just because.

But in the three-year-old "new" NHL, it seems job security is going to become less and less for coaches and there are numerous reasons. In the case of a management change, the new GM often likes to hire his own man, especially when provided with a playoff failure. That is nothing new and to a degree makes sense.

Beyond that, in the salary cap world of the NHL, players are receiving longer-term contracts at a younger age, many including no-trade and no-movement clauses.

So when a team goes bad or underperforms, the economics are such that it has become harder than ever for the general manager to solve the problems via trades or fix his mistakes by simply spending more money. You might recall how many of the five no-trade Leafs were moved at the deadline. The answer is none, but the coach still was let go.

So while it was always the easy thing to fire the coach, in some cases it is the only thing if there is either pressure and/or an appetite for change and a reluctance to spend money to do it. Meaning, not all teams are willing to buy out big contracts or send the big tickets to the minors.

But if there is a need for change for whatever reasons, to either to try to revive the team or sell hope to the public, it's still easier and cheaper to change the coach than it is 20 players.


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