Monday night, as the Vancouver Canucks lost again, putting on a poor performance in a meaningless game against one of the league's worst teams, some aggressive talk percolated among respected commentators on Twitter.
Fire coach Alain Vigneault.
Yes, fire the man who is a three-time nominee, and one-time winner, of the Jack Adams Award as NHL coach of the year. The man at the helm of a team 60 minutes away from hoisting the Stanley Cup last June, the man at the helm of one of the best teams this year (a fact that still solidly stands even with the recent slump).
Let's say, just to run for a moment with what is presently wild speculation, AV does get booted. This scenario would certainly add intrigue to the coaching situation in Montreal, where Patrick Roy is, by some reports, set to return to the club from whence he was ejected in 1995. Maybe it'll be Roy as GM, and (much-calmer) Vigneault as bench boss. Vigneault has, of course, been there before, in his first head coaching job in the league, making the playoffs once.
But, obviously, Vigneault still has his job in Vancouver, and will lead his squad into the maw of Chicago Wednesday night, where the coasting Canucks should probably manage to drum up a more substantial effort compared with recent outings. A win would quiet, somewhat, worried chatter on Twitter, sports radio, and in bars across the Lower Mainland.
For those outside of ice-free Lotusland, a brief refresher. After being the No 1 team in the NHL for good stretches of this season, Vancouver - which basically has a lock on No 2 in the West - has gone to sleep against hapless opponents. The result is three wins in the last 10 games.
The Canucks, after the surging Pittsburgh Penguins won again Tuesday night, stand No 4 in the NHL.
So do you not see how this adds up? - fire Vigneault. Though, at least, not maybe just this second.
This is life in Vancouver, a city with a ragtag hockey history. One year of near-glory has led to lofty expectations. The seeming consensus – even if it's unreasonable, and short-sighted - among chatterers is essentially this: Vigneault, the best coach Vancouver has ever had, has to make the Cup final to keep his job. A third-round exit might be acceptable, depending how it unfolds. Second-round failure, almost-guaranteed firing. First-round, goodbye.
So much for building a Detroit Red Wings-like organization, a long-term winner that doesn't beat itself up year to year. Mike Babcock, coach of the Wings since 2005, seemed to escape the axe after two consecutive second-round losses the past two playoffs, both to San Jose.
Mike Gillis, Canucks president/GM, was on Vancouver radio Tuesday, Team 1040, so let us conclude with the observations of the man who has shaped the Canucks over the past four seasons. (And, let us add, chose to keep Vigneault when Gillis came onboard in 2008, and a year later signed Vigneault to a deal that runs through 2012-13.)
Gillis, the long-time player agent, is one NHL executive who probably understands the mind of the modern player better than most.
On the players' lack of effort of late: "They understand how hard it's going to be coming up and perhaps aren't as interested in these games as they should be. ... It's tough to have your A-game out there every night."
While Gillis mentioned he's "not happy," he (rightly) demonstrated calm, and perspective.
In the 12-minute radio chat, Gillis mentioned a conversation with Wings GM Ken Holland a couple years back, about how Detroit stumbled into the 2008-09 playoffs. The Wings were the defending Cup champs, and ended second in the West, before losing in the 2009 Cup final to the Pens, who they had overcome the year before.
The playoff run was not presaged by the final games of the regular season. In those last 10 games, Detroit went 3-6-1, including three losses at the very end.
Vancouver fans, and critics, will have ceded the first round if the Canucks lope in like the 2009 Wings.
"I don't think that they can turn it on and off in one game, or 10 minutes, but I do think that they're building towards something," Gillis told Team 1040. "And I'm pretty confident that you'll see our team begin to ramp it up here very shortly - hopefully tomorrow evening, to begin [Wednesday versus Chicago]- and get prepared."