Sunday, November 20, 2011

"What's the Frequency Henrik?" - Tuning out the tuned out argument

Sunday, November 20th is "coaching day" in BC. I can't think of a better day to express that I've officially had enough of the rumblings that the Canucks now respond to the soon-to-be winningest coach in team history, Alain Vigneault, in the same way that Charlie Brown responded to adults.

(Somehow, I doubt Henrik is hearing trumpet noises right now.)

It is a popular topic when the Canucks are losing, and it's a popular topic when it comes to sports in general: the "tuning out" of a head coach. I can see where the basis of this take comes from. Coaches are leaders and leaders need to be inspirational, guiding influences. When a team falters, the knee jerk reaction is to criticize the result as "uninspired play".

(Players didn't respond to his plan of showing "Dead Poet's Society" on the jumbo tron.)

This theory, in Alain Vigneault's case, goes back years. I've read articles that claim wholeheartedly that the players had tuned him out back in 2007. And again in 2008. Once more in 2009. Hell, in 2010 Alain Vigneault might as well have not even existed they had tuned him out so much.

(Alain Vigneault in 2010. Existing.)

Accountability for the successes (and the failures) have to rest with the players too. Just throwing around the phrase "being tuned out" in this case is a lazy criticism. Coaches who regularly have fits on the bench are the ones who run the risk of having their players turn a deaf ear to them. Although I can completely understand it if the coach talks with the same raspy inflection that Bryan Adams sings.

(Marc Crawford's voice - Perpetually recovering from an awesome concert the night before.)

There do exist multiple coaches in the NHL whom I believe fit that criticism. Bench bosses like Mike Keenan (who I've made no qualms about hating) belong in that category. "Iron Mike" was a coach who seemingly always had initial success when he wound up with a new team, due to his ability to light a fire under his players with "hard knocks" tactics. However after his initial spark, players, fans, and the media were quick to turn on him and he was unable to sustain success.

(This is a coach who gets tuned out.)

Bruce Boudreau, a coach famous for mini spats with his star players and his cartoony antics behind the bench, was profiled last year on HBO's 24/7. The series followed the Washington Capitals and the Pittsburgh Penguins on the road to the 2011 Winter Classic. This unprecedented look at the behind the scenes workings of a professional hockey team showed me that Penguins coach Dan Bylsma displayed an ability to inspire his team without resorting to incredible theatrics. How about Boudreau?

The following is a censored transcript from a 90 second speech in the Caps dressing room during the second intermission of a game they were trailing.
Have a seat for a second. Look it, I have never seen a bunch of guys look so f***ing down when something bad happens. What are you guys? Like prima donna perfect that if you can't f****' handle adversity? So s***'s not going right. It's not f****n' working the last ten days. F****g get your heads out of your ass and f****g make it work by outworking the opposition. 

You kill two f****g men, and then we stand around and watch while they f****g score here. F****g yous come to the bench like f****n' this and when the power play it's not working so you're trying to stick handle, you're looking like this and not standing. Outwork the f****g guys! 

If you want it, don't just think you want it. Go out and f****g want it. But you're not looking like you want it, you look like you're feeling sorry for yourself. And nobody f*****g wants anybody that's feeling sorry for themselves. You got 20 f*****g minutes. You're down by one f*****g shot. Surely to f**** we can deal with this.


I look at his rant up there and I have no idea what the hell he was talking about. It's like a horribly disjointed coaching "mad libs" activity. It's shock value analysis and when you read it, there is no intricate coaching mind at work. If you watch the clip on youtube, one of his players post-rant says that he's "had enough of this f****g s**t".

The Caps got off to a great start this season, but with recent struggles and after watching Boudreau carpet f-bomb the locker room in the span of 90 seconds, I can see the "tuned out" argument here and totally buy it.

(Note: HBO is bringing back 24/7 this year only with the focus on the New York Rangers and the Philadelphia Flyers. That means we'll get an in depth behind the scenes look at one of the angriest and most entertaining coaches in the league who I believe to be prone to being tuned out as well.)

(December 14th. HBO gets "Tortorella'd!")

History has shown the shelf life of coaches who motivate and inspire by yelling and throwing tantrums has been very brief,  but AV is not now, nor has he ever been that kind of coach. Sure, we've all seen him lose his cool on the bench or get agitated in a post game press conference, but if he didn't do those things, I'd be concerned that he just doesn't care.

(If he didn't care, he wouldn't point.)

Alain VigneaultVigneault, I'm not above admitting that the guy has some glaring issues as a head coach (I swear I wouldn't be surprised to see Cody Hodgson in the third defensive pairing one of these nights).

("You bring me that Norris Trophy, Cody. Or it's back to the minors!")

If AV pulled the goalie with 4 minutes left in the game and down by a goal, let's have at him. If he decides to put Aaron Rome on a line with the Sedins? I'll lead the mob and bring the torches. But with his style of coaching, claiming that the players may have stopped listening to him is a reach.

Alain Vigneault is a politician. You can't fault him for being too passive, and you also can't fault him for being a screaming nutcase. He always seems careful not to go to either extreme. If I went online and read an article titled "The players have tuned out Alain Vigneault" and it was written by Aaron Volpatti? Sure. I will give that more consideration. But unless you are a source that deep inside, it takes a lot for me to buy that take.

(Watch what you say, Volpatti. Snitches get stitches.)

These players are grown ass men. I would be far more concerned if we had a team full of guys that needed to be coddled and required an external factor to inspire them or else they'd lose. That would be a nightmare. Players develop well under Alain Vigneault. He is an honest, straightforward coach who speaks his mind. If you're a young player like Jannik Hansen or Alex Edler, a coach like that can be extremely beneficial in the long term. It took an injury for it to happen, but fans of Jannik Hansen have to be thrilled with his output since he was put on the top line with the Sedin twins.

(Also thrilled? Fans of photoshop and Peter Frampton.)

Older veterans don't need that level of attention, although their lack of performance often shines a light on what people suspect at the coaches shortcomings. Guys like the Sedin twins and Ryan Kesler don't need lectures. Kesler in particular has been struggling as of late, but you can't fault the coaching or claim he isn't getting it done because he tuned out AV. The man knows how to play hockey, he knows what he's not doing and with the exception of his most recent comments, he has a decent gauge to measure how well he is performing.

(0 G, 0 A. "Best game of my life")

As I said, this has been a hot button issue recently (because we are losing). It's been raining valid points on the internet recently with this Pro AV article from Sportsnet's Dan Murphy and this Anti-AV article from Twitter folks The Shap Crew.

Whether or not AV is a "milt"? The jury is out on that. Should we relax on the whole "AV has been tuned out" angle? Yes. Head coaches are the first on the blame pecking order, but why don't we pass it around? Maybe after the next loss, we set our sights on the real reason the Canucks weren't able to generate goals:

Equipment manager Pat O'Neill.


Not even in fiction do coaches do everything right. Mistakes are going to be made and the continuation of employment after those mistakes happen goes a long way to verifying a coaches worth. Mike Gillis has shown that he is not afraid to admit his errors and make changes if something isn't working. The fans call for Vigneault's head several times a year, yet Gillis remains steadfastly behind AV.

(Or sometimes just slightly off to the side of him.)

As a game manager Alain Vigneault has issues, but there has to be something to the guy if he still has his job after this long. We know Mike Gillis is dedicated to putting the best product on the ice. AV wins games. The Canucks have done extraordinary things under him. Our best season in franchise history came on his watch, which is something we will be associating with AV long after he's gone.

Remember today. The Vancouver Canucks will be playing the Ottawa Senators at Rogers Arena, but more importantly, today is the day Alain Vigneault tied Marc Crawford for the most wins by a coach in Vancouver Canucks history. By this time next week, he will own that record.

When that happens, we will all hear it.

Thanks for reading.

- jB


I joined twitter when it was hip and trendy. If you like honesty (and nonsense), follow @jbowmancouver. 85% of all the cool kids are doing it.

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