VANCOUVER — Speculation on Alain Vigneault’s future with the Vancouver Canucks ended when the veteran coach signed a contract extension with the NHL club Wednesday.
The Canucks have posted the league’s best regular-season record for the last two seasons under Vigneault. But his job status was unclear after Vancouver was bounced from the first round of the playoffs by the eighth-place Los Angeles Kings.
“Alain has established himself as one of the premiere coaches in the National Hockey League,” said Canucks general manager Mike Gillis in a release. “He has demonstrated a commitment to winning that has led to back-to-back Presidents’ Trophies and we are confident his dedication and hard work will continue to yield positive results.
“Alain has built a foundation of winning with this franchise and I feel he can continue to build on that foundation to achieve our ultimate goal.”
Vigneault, a 51-year-old Quebec City native, had come under criticism after the Canucks were eliminated early after reaching the Stanley Cup final last season. He has guided the Canucks to a 287-155-50 record and the highest winning percentage in franchise history (.634) and five Northwest Division titles.
But he was entering the final year of his contract and risked becoming a lame-duck coach if he did not get a new deal.
After Gillis signed his own new contract earlier this month, he made it clear he wanted Vigneault back for more than just one season. But more than two weeks passed and there was still no word of a new deal for the coach, and media and fans alike wondered about Vigneault’s future with the team.
“I am pleased to be signing this extension to continue as the head coach of such an outstanding organization,” said Vigneault in the release. “I look forward to taking the next step with this franchise in bringing the Stanley Cup to Vancouver. I feel fortunate to be able to work with such a dedicated group of management, coaches and players in this great city I love.”
Now, the Canucks have a chance to progress further under his watch. During Vigneault’s six seasons with the team, the Canucks have recorded five 100-point seasons. Vancouver has made five playoff appearances with Vigneault, who has won more playoff games than any coach in franchise history (33).
Veteran players, including Alex Burrows and Ryan Kesler, with whom Vigneault has had a sometimes testy relationship, hoped for his return, contending major changes are not needed.
“He’s done a really good job with this group,” Burrows told the Canadian Press after players cleaned out their lockers last month. “I feel that guys like him. He brings good things to the table.”
“We have a good relationship and, obviously, I like him,” added Kesler.
With the contract extension, Vigneault remains as the fourth longest-serving current NHL coach. Only Lindy Ruff of the Buffalo Sabres (since 1997), Barry Trotz of the Nashville Predators (1998) and Mike Babcock of the Detroit Red Wings (2005) have been with their clubs longer.
Now that he has signed Vigneault, Gillis can turn to his club’s goaltending situation. The Canucks have two capable starters in Roberto Luongo and Cory Schneider, who played most of the playoff games. Schneider, a pending restricted free agent, is in line for a big raise and Luongo has said he is willing to waive his no-trade clause, if necessary.
Gillis also has several other pending restricted and unrestricted free agents to deal with, including Mason Raymond (restricted) and Sami Salo and Sammy Pahlsson (both unrestricted).
He and Vigneault must also decide how to replace Kesler, who underwent shoulder surgery this spring and is expected to be out until December.