New Vancouver Canucks head coach Alain Vigneault meets the press at GM Place in Vancouver. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sam Leung
VANCOUVER - Head coach Alain Vigneault has been given a chance to get the Vancouver Canucks back on track.
Vigneault, who was entering the final season of his current deal, was given a one-year contract extension Thursday by new general manager Mike Gillis that will keep him with the NHL team through 2009-2010.
When Gillis was hired to replace the fired Dave Nonis last month there was speculation he would want to hire his own coach. But following a series of meetings Gillis and Vigneault decided they could work together.
"I think a lot of people thought with a new boss, and a new regime, that my chances of staying on board might have been diminished a little bit," Vigneault said in a conference call from his home in Hull, Que. "But not only am I staying on board, Mike has shown me a great vote of confidence by extending my contract.
"I don't intend to let him down."
Vancouver missed the playoffs for the second time in three years this spring, finishing three points out of eighth spot in the Western Conference with a 39-33-10 record. The Canucks staggered down the stretch, losing seven of their last eight games and were embarrassed 7-1 by the Calgary Flames at home in their final game of the season.
Gillis called Vigneault a bright, intelligent coach who he likes as a person.
"I felt Alain has all the qualities and more to become a great coach in this league," said Gillis. "He's been a great coach with the players he'd had to coach.
"It isn't like he doesn't have the qualities to move forward."
While Vigneault remains, two of his assistant coaches won't be back. Barry Smith and Mike Kelly have been relieved of their duties.
"That was a very challenging day for me," said Vigneault, who delivered the news to Smith and Kelly. "Those are two individuals that I really have a high opinion of as far as people and hockey personnel.
"With somebody new coming on board we had to look at all positions within our staff. This is about moving forward and getting better. We feel to get better and move forward we had to make some adjustments."
Gillis said changes will continue.
"We are going to bring in a new group of players here," said Gillis. "There is going to be new faces in this crowd and there is going to be new faces in the organization throughout.
"Keeping Alain, I was very confident in his abilities. I wanted to make some changes in certain areas I wasn't so confident. Those were the changes we made."
Gillis said he will hire new assistant coaches, with input from Vigneault and Steve Tambellini, the Canucks assistant general manager.
There had been speculation Vigneault would not return unless he was given an contract extension. The blunt spoken coach said he never threatened to quit but admits he feels more comfortable knowing he has two years to turn the team around.
"Any coach in a market like Vancouver, going into his last year in a deal, it would make it challenging," said Vigneault. "I feel a lot more comfortable with my situation right now being here more than one year."
Vigneault, 47, became the 16th head coach in franchise history when he replaced Marc Crawford on June 20, 2006.
He was named the NHL's coach of the year last season when he guided the Canucks to the Northwest Division title with a 49-26-7 record. The team set franchise records for wins and points.
This year the Canucks were devastated by injuries on defence. Vigneault was criticized for his constant line juggling and habit of giving blunt, sometimes unflattering assessments of star players like goaltender Roberto Luongo and defenceman Willie Mitchell.
It's believed owner Francesco Aquilini also wants the team to change from its current tight, defensive style and switch to an up-tempo, offensive game.
"Our style of play we've tried to implement since I've been here is pretty similar to most of the teams in the NHL," Vigneault said. "The style of play you try and put forward depends on the personnel you have available.
"We are going to play the style that will permit us to win. That's why we are all in this business. We're going to put a style in place that will be suit the personnel we have, that is going to exploit all their strong points, maximum their potential."
The Canucks are expected to be active in the days leading up to the NHL draft and when the free agent market opens.
Gillis will have about US$20 million in salary cap room this summer but must decide if he will re-sign free agents Markus Naslund and Brendan Morrison.
Vigneault expects changes to the team's lineup.
"It's going to be different," he said. "We're no different than 75 per cent of the league right now.
"We've put different scenarios together and hopefully we will be able to get the best possible team on the ice."
Vigneault previously served as head coach of the Montreal Canadiens from 1997 to '01. He was also an assistant coach with the Ottawa Senators from 1992 to '96 and spent two seasons as a scout with the St. Louis Blues.
The Gatineau, Que., native played 42 career NHL regular-season games from 1981 to '83. Vigneault was also a head coach with the Manitoba Moose in the American Hockey League and with Trois-Rivieres, Hull, Beauport and P.E.I. in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
He also served as an assistant coach with Canada's national junior team in 1989 and 1991 and helped guide the team to a gold medal at the 1991 world junior championship in Saskatoon.