Twenty-five years ago, the Manchester United soccer team in England decided to hire a Scottish manager named Alex Ferguson to run a team that had been a historical powerhouse, but had fallen on hard times, and had not won a title for 19 years.
Ferguson was unable to immediately bring the championship demanded by the team’s rabid fanbase and, in line with an impatient local media they called for his head when his reign got off to a slow start.
But Ferguson worked diligently at shaping the team he wanted with the understanding and support of ownership.
He set up a system where facilities were assessed and improved, a reliable and dutiful group of assistants was hired, and players were afforded the time to develop and improve in a team and farm system that was rebuilt from the ground up.
Eventually, he earned the domestic league title everyone demanded six years into his tenure, and has gone on to produce successful teams for the past twenty-five years, demonstrating that patience and stability can work wonders when the chance is provided.
Many of the elements of Ferguson’s approach are echoed in the Vancouver organization today. With the unit of Gillis and Vigneault, who work so closely together, the team also has a sense of direction that stands in contrast to the mess that evolved in the latter years of Quinn and Mike Keenan following the ’94 run to the finals.
That situation saw two charismatic, but power hungry coaches clashing with players and media until they ultimately reached respective impasses with the rest of the association. Neither Gillis nor Vigneault is infallible of course in their present dealings, but together they have established a firm and co-operative partnership for lasting success that continues to be tweaked.
Much like Ferguson, Vigneault has demonstrated undying faith in his players (unless your name happens to be Keith Ballard) and involves them in much of his decision making, evoking a reciprocal respect that motivates the team to perform for him.
Early Season Review 2011/12
What remains to be seen is whether Vigneault can keep the good times rolling, most importantly with post-season success. It is only two games now into the 2011/12 season but it does allow us to get a first look at how the coaching staff has prepared for and managed the inexorable Stanley Cup Finals hangover and its effects on the new season.
Obviously, with key parts such as Kesler and Raymond out with long term injuries, and the loss of Ehrhoff’s minutes, most notably on the power play, the team was bound to experience some hurdles.
The wise decision to hold most of the key players out of the bulk of the essentially meaningless pre-season matches helped them conserve energy and to convalesce any undeclared lingering injuries.
Again, this showcases Vigneault at his best in gauging the needs of his players.
It also gained time for the staff to evaluate the remaining spare parts on the third and fourth lines, resulting in somewhat surprising late developments with the dumping of Oreskovich, who had seemed to play himself into a regular role, and the pick-up of Weise from the Rangers.
The close loss to Pittsburgh in the shootout, and the come from behind win over Columbus showed the familiar Canucks at their worst and best. In both games, the team got off to a very slow first period start, with inconsistent goaltending putting the team into early holes.
However, the confidence of their firepower, bolstered by the skill of the Sedins , ensures they are never really out of games in the regular season and it led to the typical fight back in the second and third periods, salvaging points.
Two major concerns have arisen, one old and one more recent.
First of all, the reluctance of the team to address the liberties other teams take with their skilled players, made manifest with Blue Jacket Marc Methot’s run at Henrik, continues to irk.
I can understand Coach V’s assertion that responding to such acts is best handled by responding through the power play, but the danger presented in a possible major injury to one of the Canucks’ main influences and a need to make other teams fear the harder edge of the team outweighs that view.
Vancouver has the potential in Weise and Volpatti to make other teams pay for their villainy.
In my mind that is worth taking the occasional retaliatory penalty in order to open up more room for those skilled players to utilize later as teams learn to give more respect to the Canuck stars.
Secondly, though Hodgson seems to be breaking out and is already realizing his immense potential before us, his youthful exuberance and pace are being painfully dragged back by the lumbering line mates of Samuelsson and Sturm, who already looks like a potentially big mistake with an early season form lack of urgency.
These Canucks look well capable of avoiding the path taken by the post-’94 Canucks vintage, and the blueprint appears sound.
The talent is also there, with another massive boost yet to come with the re-addition of the all-world Kesler.
Surely, further role shifting among the players and lines will emerge, and the potential of that possible big trade involving a goaltender still hangs tantalizingly in the air.
It all promises to be an enthralling season, and we are but two games into it.
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