Alain Vigneault

Canucks coach addresses playoff letdown, Ryan Kesler’s struggles, and the goaltending situation

Armed with a contract extension that guarantees him a paycheck the next three seasons, Vancouver head coach Alain Vigneault spoke to reporters yesterday via conference call and said a few things worth passing on:

On his team’s failure to rise to the occasion in this year’s playoffs: “We weren’t able to get in that state of mental awareness that you need to have. We’re trying to find solutions to that. We’re trying to see if there is a more scientific approach to different elements that will allow our team to get in a better situation to have more success here as we move forward. It was a challenging year. In my mind obviously it was very disappointing how it ended, very disappointing to our fans, very disappointing to us. We’re looking for solutions and we’re going to find them and move forward and try to have a very solid year with a better finish.”

(PHT’s take: The Canucks may have won their second straight Presidents’ Trophy, but they weren’t the same team that went to the Stanley Cup finals in 2011. Motivation appeared to be lacking. The confidence wasn’t there. It’s tough to recover from coming so close, then flaming out and crashing the way the Canucks did against the Bruins.)

On whether Ryan Kesler’s shoulder injury was the reason for his offensive struggles: “That was not in our mind the reason for his diminished production. That shoulder wasn’t 100%, but our medical staff and Ryan did a great job of maintaining the strength. The injury wasn’t the reason his production fell. His rehab, and the way stayed on top of that, permitted him to play at the same pace that he was used to. But for whatever reason, and those are things we’re looking into, his performance slipped this year and we’ve got to get on top of that and get him back to where he was before that.”

(PHT’s take: Kesler became far too predictable in the offensive zone. He fell in love with his shot, making him easy to defend. To take his game to the next level, he’ll need to get better at distributing the puck. Vigneault would probably agree.)

On using both goalies, Roberto Luongo and Cory Schneider, in the playoffs: “What happened in the playoffs would be an indication of what might happen moving forward. Cory’s development from last year to this year, he’s improved. And the reason Roberto was playing so many games is because he’s a great goalie and he deserved the starts he was getting.”

(PHT’s take: Not sure if that means Vigneault expects both goalies to be back next season, or if he’ll just be more amenable to a two-goalie system in the future. He may just be covering his bases should the Canucks be unable to move Luongo. The Canucks say there’s a “distinct possibility” the two goalies are together again next season, but I doubt that’s the preferred option for anyone. Update: Vigneault reportedly confirmed Luongo wants out.)

Report: No buyout for Girardi, but Rangers willing to trade almost anyone

FILE - In this Feb. 11, 2012, file photo, New York Rangers' Dan Girardi looks on during an NHL hockey game against the Philadelphia Flyers in Philadelphia. The Rangers say they have agreed to terms with Girardi on a multiyear contract extension, taking the key defenseman off the trading block and keeping him away from unrestricted free agency. The deal was announced Friday, Feb. 28, 2014. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum, File)
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From Larry Brooks at the New York Post:

The Post has learned the Blueshirts do not intend to buy out the remainder of Dan Girardi’s contract, which has four years remaining at an annual $5.5 million cap charge.

In addition, sources report management has not requested the alternate captain to waive his no-move clause (which will be replaced by a modified no-trade following 2016-17). Further, no such request is expected.

So Girardi will be back with the New York Rangers next season. That’s what Brooks is reporting.

But that doesn’t mean there won’t be significant changes to the roster. According to Brooks, the Rangers are “prepared to listen to offers for everyone,” save for Henrik Lundqvist, Brady Skjei and Pavel Buchnevich.

That includes Ryan McDonagh, Derek Stepan, Derick Brassard, Chris Kreider and Kevin Hayes, each player’s availability, of course, will be dependent upon the exchange rate in return. But nothing is off the table. And the Wild are believed to have serious interest in native Minnesotan Stepan.

We told you it could be an interesting offseason in the Big Apple.

Related: AV concedes the Rangers had a ‘puck-moving’ problem

Chris Phillips, a former first overall draft pick, announces retirement

Chris Phillips
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Chris Phillips, the first overall draft pick in 1996, has retired after 1,179 NHL games, all of them with the Ottawa Senators.

“Chris’ trademark leadership, determination, hard work, and resilience as a hockey player gave our city and our fans the opportunity to witness an impressive 19 year journey in the National Hockey League,” said Sens owner Eugene Melnyk in a release. “Chris’ commitment to our team and our city places him among one of the greatest players to don a Senators uniform. He will forever hold a special place in the history of our hockey club.”

Phillips, 38, will remain with the Sens in a front-office role.

The 38-year-old defenseman was a pending unrestricted free agent; he didn’t play at all in 2015-16 due to a back injury.

Phillips’ last game was on Feb. 5, 2015.

The timing of the Gudbranson trade was…interesting

Florida Panthers defenseman Erik Gudbranson (44) gets up from the ice after being pushed in the second period during a preseason NHL hockey game against the Tampa Bay Lightning, Saturday, Sept. 28, 2013, in Sunrise, Fla. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
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It seems like only yesterday that the Florida Panthers were raving about Erik Gudbranson.

Except it wasn’t yesterday.

It was earlier this month.

“Guddy has taken a big step for our team this year,” coach Gerard Gallant said, per the Sun Sentinel. “He’s very confident, moves the puck real well and is a big part of our blue line.”

“He’s really going to be a special player for a lot of years in this league and hopefully for a lot of years with the Panthers,” said veteran d-man Brian Campbell.

Now, Florida had just signed Gudbranson to a one-year contract extension, so of course there was raving to be done.

But it still surprised many when he was traded to Vancouver yesterday.

For example:

Not that Gudbranson was given away for nothing. The return the Panthers got from the Canucks was considerable. Jared McCann could be a top-six forward one day, and there was more.

“The fact we were able to add draft picks this year, second and fourth round, 33 and 93, we felt gave us two picks that we got back that we lost on the trading deadline,” general manager Tom Rowe told reporters.

Rowe also conceded that trading Gudbranson was a “very, very difficult decision.”

The timing, though.

The timing was pretty hard to ignore.

Rowe, of course, was just named Florida’s new GM. He replaced Dale Tallon, who was “promoted” (or demoted, depending who you ask) to the role of director of hockey ops.

It was all part of a big, managerial shakeup — one that was driven in large part by analytics:

Would you be surprised to learn that Gudbranson did not have a particularly high Corsi?

From Stats.HockeyAnalysis.com:

Panthers

Now, we’re not saying the Panthers made this trade solely because of advanced stats. When there’s a salary cap, difficult decisions need to be made. Gudbranson will need a new contract next summer, and he won’t be cheap to re-sign.

Added Rowe: “The way [Michael Matheson] played in the playoffs and at the World Championship for an outstanding Canadian team really gave us more of a comfort level to do this.”

Still, it was only two years ago that Tallon was saying Gudbranson was “likely going to be the captain of our team some day.” And it was only a few weeks ago that Tallon called Gudbranson “an important part of our young core who has continued to develop into a reliable, physical presence on our blue line and a strong leader in our locker room.”

So yeah, whether or not you like the deal for the Panthers, it’s more than fair to wonder who, or what, was the driving force behind it.

One thing’s for sure — the Panthers are going to look very different on the back end next season. Gudbranson’s gone; Willie Mitchell is unlikely to be back; and Campbell is an unrestricted free agent who may test the market.

In the playoffs, no defenseman played more for Florida than Gudbranson. After him, it was Campbell.

Related: People are wondering — do the Florida Panthers know what they’re doing?

Some tough decisions await the Blues

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Yet again, the St. Louis Blues failed to achieve their ultimate goal.

And boy does it hurt right now.

“We’re all hurting,” coach Ken Hitchcock said last night after getting eliminated by the San Jose Sharks in the Western Conference Final.

“You don’t want this to be our best opportunity. You want this to be a building block. In this game, in this era, in this cap world, you don’t know where you’re going to be a year from now.”

Indeed, GM Doug Armstrong has some tough decisions to make this offseason.

At the top of the list is whether to bring Hitchcock back. Yes, the Blues did better than 26 other teams, and yes, they finally got past the first round. Still, there are people who believe this will be it for the head coach, that a new voice could help. Overall, Hitchcock has done a great job in St. Louis. But then, so did Todd McLellan in San Jose. Sometimes, change can be good.

Then there are the unrestricted free agents. Both captain David Backes and winger Troy Brouwer need new contracts. The former is 32, the latter 30. The former had seven goals in the playoffs, the latter eight. How much money will they want? How much term? The second question might be the most important.

On the back end, it’s Kevin Shattenkirk that will garner the most attention. He’s signed through next season before he can become an unrestricted free agent. Just 27 years old, and considering the demand for what he does, he’ll be very expensive to keep. And with the emergence of Colton Parayko, trading Shattenkirk could probably be justified, especially if the return is good. A team like the Boston Bruins might be willing to pay up.

Right now, the pain is still fresh for the Blues.

“It’s so hard to win in the league right now,” said Hitchcock. “It’s so hard to win a series. So hard to just get in the playoffs. When you get this far, you get this close, you think you got the opportunity.”

The challenge for Armstrong will be to give his team another opportunity next season. And with the draft less than a month away, all these tough decisions will need to be made very soon.