Photo: Vancouver Sun

‘Vigneault’ Is French For ‘Wussy’

We were all blissfully confident that we knew who was going to lead the Canucks out of the tunnel on Sunday night. Vancouver Coach Alain Vigneault was adamant in his response to a reporter’s question following his team’s game 5 loss: Roberto Luongo would start. Call it stubborn, call it stupid, call it Shirley. Whatever you call it, everyone was on the same page.

So when the reports from the United Center started blazing across the Twitterscape that Cory Schneider was leading the team on to the ice for warm-ups, heads spun around. What happened? Was Luongo hurt? Did Vigneault get overruled by the Canucks’ General Manager? Did Luongo chicken out? Or was this some calculated move on Vigneault’s part intended to make bloggers and the press look like idiots?

Given some time to think about the move to start Schneider instead of the poorly-performing Luongo, it was the desperate move of a coward who cares less about winning than he does about saving his job.

Let’s set this up. Luongo’s numbers during the progression of the first five games were tanking hard. His save percentage in game 5 had sunk to 0.667, that is before he was yanked for the second consecutive game. It was apparent that the Blackhawks had Luongo figured out: shoot high, and specifically high to the glove side. Anyone watching the tape could see this — and Vigneault had watched the tape.

But Vigneault is a proud, defiant man. He made a decision to go with Luongo in game 4, which turned out to be the wrong move; he made a decision to go with Luongo again in game 5, which ended up costing them the game; but he would be DAMNED if he was going to let some lowly reporter goad him into admitting his mistake publicly. So he stood firm with the decision that screwed his team over the last two games, and stared down the crowd in the briefing room as he announced that Luongo would start game 6.

Following the game 5 loss, Vigneault was pilloried in the press in his hometown, with his Luongo/game 6 proclamation drawing particular attention as evidence that the man had lost it. Some corners were merely questioning his wisdom, others were calling for his dismissal. But there was near-uniform agreement across the Vancouver talking heads: starting Luongo was dooming his team to failure.

So let’s “STOP IT RIGHT HERE!” Look at it from Vigneault’s perspective. On the surface it appears that he’s setting himself up for catastrophe. But once you dig a bit, you realize that there is one option that puts him in a no-lose situation even if his team tanks in game 6: start Cory Schneider. If the Canucks win, then he gets to take credit for the genius move at the last second; if they lose, he gets to say (privately), “See? I did what you wanted, and we still lost. If Luongo had started we could have won that game!” This is the path he ended up choosing.

But what was Vigneault’s motivation for doing that? Winning? No. This was the action of a man more concerned about what the press and his bosses think of him than he was with putting the right players on the ice. He calculated this move very carefully, and the driving force behind those calculations were the words written in newspapers and blogs and coming out of the mouths of sports pundits across southwestern British Columbia.

If he was making the calculation based on history and statistics, Roberto Luongo would not have seen one minute on the ice against the Blackhawks in this series. No, Coach Pouty-Face was only concerned with silencing his critics and trying to save his hide should the Canucks end up losing to the Blackhawks — and taking their President’s Trophy to the gold course in May.

Somebody who says one thing and does another is a liar. Somebody who cares more about keeping his job than he does about doing his job is a coward. And somebody who risks his team’s success to try to keep from looking bad is a liability. I’m just glad that Vigneault is Vancouver’s problem, and not Chicago’s.

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  • Rayzor

    Ha, slanderous words from some blogger. Too funny. OR, perhaps it was a calculated move to throw Chicago off their game seeing as Luongo struggled and the Hawks appear to have the book on him. Too hilarious…a random blogger name-calling a professional sports coach.

  • The_FFF

    If this really was that calculated by Vigneault, though, he’s pretty bad at that. It’s looked to me like a lose-lose for him. If Schneider lost Game 6 (or, as the case may be, got hurt, then Luongo is in when the Canucks lose), then it was a clear mistake which backfired.

    If Schneider won the game, then he’s your guy and you play him until he’s cold, right? Then there are some awfully sticky questions about Lu and his contract that have to be answered… I just have a hard time figuring how this could have turned out well for Vigneault. And, on top of all that, showing you opponent how desperate you are — when is that good?

    • Chicago Irish

      For what it’s worth, here are my thoughts…

      First, I think Luongo is hurt more than the Canucks are letting on. Why else would he not be on the bench during the game? Was he in the dressing room possibly getting treatment on his back? (That’s my conspiracy theory).

      If this is the case, then sitting him in Game 6 gives him at least one more additional day of rest; even more if they had won. If you start Luongo in Game 6 and the Hawks win, then Luongo is done mentally (in my opinion). They are then faced with coming back home for Game 7 with either Schneider, who hasn’t played much or Luongo lacking confidence. Look, I know he’s a great goalie, but after losing 3 straight to a team that has had his number the past three years – he will not be 100% confident. What backfired for Vancouver is Schneider getting hurt and Luongo giving up the game winner.

      On the flip side, if Schneider had not been injured and the Canucks won, then Alain can come out and tell the media Luongo was not 100% physically, but will be ready for round 2.

      And after all that…I really don’t care about the Canucks and their goalie situation. After the Hawks went down 0-3 all I wanted was a shot a Game 7…now we have!!

      • Jeffrey Bartl

        AV just announced Luongo will start Game 7. I could be very wrong, but I’m going with the theory that Luongo was not hurt for Game 6 and was simply benched. Now, taking the fact that he was benched AND THEN gave up the OT goal into account, and you’ve got one fragile goaltending situation. Heading into Game 7. Problem is, the Canucks played well in front of both of them. Not worried about the goaltenders, personally. I’m worried about the Vancouver attack it laid on the ‘Hawks through most of the game.

    • Rayzor

      Perhaps the author of this article doesn’t realize how good Cory Schneider actually is. He is to the Canucks what Rask is to the Bruins. To go to him for game 6 and give Luongo a break (from injury or the fact he simply hasn’t played well against the Hawks for 3 straight playoffs now) is not as big of a “risk” as is being portrayed.

      In fact, it could be easily argued that had Vigneault stuck with Luongo again in game 6, he would be playing him because of his contract and not playing the goaltender that gave the Canucks the best chance to win.

      I appreciate good journalism, but this article is not that.