Moments In Time: How do you define greatness in a coach?
What are the criteria that General Managers need to evaluate when picking a bench boss? Some points to consider include their knowledge of the game itself, their ability to communicate with their players and staff, and the ability to inspire their players to head in the right direction.
But really, in the end, it all amounts to one thing and that is winning when it counts most.
In many ways, Roger Neilson set up an identity for the modern incarnation of the Canucks. He was a details oriented coach, often referred to as ‘Captain Video’ who believed strongly in breaking down the tendencies of other teams, through video analysis of games when this technology was not yet a regular element of the NHL.
He also inadvertently pioneered the mania of ‘towel power’, during an in-game protest at the number of penalties called against his team as he saw it during an early round playoff game against the perennial nemesis Chicago Blackhawks. (Not coincidentally, this could also be seen as the foundation of the team and its fans’ neurotic preoccupation with the notion that the league and the NHL at large are prejudiced towards the Canucks).
With these actions, Neilson helped build a sense of purpose and an emerging identity for this team hidden away in the North West. But most importantly, Coach Neilson brought the first real taste of success to the team with its inaugural Stanley Cup run.
That heady charge into the finals, before smashing hopelessly into the force of the New York Islanders dynasty, is what gave the Vancouver faithful a first real taste of potential playoff glory, and the hunger for more.
The big Irishman was the charismatic head of a talented team that had performed indifferently in the regular season, prior to its unexpected charge to the 1994 finals.
His own playing experience, coupled with his impressive size and vast knowledge of the game helped give greater weight to his message of focus.
He was able to meld the disparate elements of the team, with a patchwork crew of skilled players, pluggers, and castoffs from other teams, to form an inspired group, led by Pavel Bure and the inimitable Trevor Linden, which upset more favoured teams on its way to the finals.
Some may consider it surprising to find Coach V at the top of this list. However, there are several reasons why he deserves this recognition. Vigneault is a calm, patient instructor who has shepherded the must sustained run of success in Canucks history.
He communicates extremely well with his knowledgeable assistants and support staff. He also maintains an excellent relationship with his players as evidenced by numerous accolades on their part.
This intimate bond was highlighted by a very memorable exchange on the bench with Vigneault and Henrik Sedin in the past playoff run, when the two were seen laughing as Henrik apparently suggested to the coach that he could slip back on to the ice to impersonate Daniel for a faceoff.
This is not to say that Vigneault does not try the patience of some of the team’s fans, who consider him to be overly tolerant with players who make poor decisions, or who have endured considerable dry spells in production. However, Coach V is only the third head of the team to have brought them to the finals.
He is also able to continue motivating players in a modern age where player power, the overbearing interference of player agents, and social media for news agencies and twittering fans provide constant outlets for complaint and dissent.
The salary cap era of easy player mobility additionally makes it hard for teams to continue to succeed for longer than short periods, but at least to this point Vigneault has proven himself to be the most accomplished coach in Canucks history.