I’m sure this article will probably harm my reputation around here.
Watching the Vancouver Canucks get eliminated in 5 games at the hands of the Los Angeles Kings was a joy for most Flames fans. Personally, though, watching the game just made me feel increasingly sorry for Roberto Luongo and Alain Vigneault.
Luongo has never gotten the credit he’s deserved in Vancouver. Some of this is a function of his demeanour- he’s a stoic guy, and that tends to be seen by man as the same as not caring. Some of it’s a function of the captaincy experiment the Canucks tried a couple years ago- a position overvalued by fans and media alike, Luongo was determined not to be worthy of the captain’s “C” because of his attitude. Some of it’s the media’s fault- he plays in a market with more then 3 million people, and he has countless mainstream media guys looking for narratives to construct. Point being, all of these things create a circular problem for Luongo- he can’t “lead” because he doesn’t have the right attitude, he doesn’t have the attitude that’s able to create a positive perception in the media, and therefore media thinks he can’t lead. What all of this conveniently ignores is that Luongo is one of the best people in the world when it comes to one thing- stopping pucks.
Certainly, we can look at Luongo’s contract and determine that it’s awful; no one thinks he’ll play until the age of 43. However, there’s a huge problem with evaluating players based on their contracts, and that stems from the actions before the player’s ever played a game under said contract. Teams and players are mutually at fault for a “bad” contract, and should be mutually praised for a “good” contract. That’s not the way it works, though- compare Luongo’s contract to that of Alex Tanguay’s last year. Whenever the $1.7 million price tag was brought up, the narrative was “look at the bargain Darryl Sutter found!”, not “Tanguay’s a moron for signing such a cheap contract!” It’s the same principle in reverse- “Luongo’s overpaid! He’s a bum!” rather than “Gillis is a moron for signing that deal!”
But as I said a hundred words or so, all of this negative perception surrounding Luongo is patently unfair when it comes to the numbers. Let us take a quick look at two goaltenders over the past 5 years:
2012 – .928
2011 – .916
2010 – .928
2009 – .907
2008 – .919
2012 – .929
2011 – .934
2010 – .925
2009 – .936
2008 – .929
One of those sets of EVSV% is Luongo’s, the other belongs to a goalie who “wins big games” and is “clutch” and “gives his team a chance to win every night”. No one in the media, or even the general fan population, would ever use those descriptors when talking about Luongo. It’s aggravating for me to watch; Luongo’s one of the best puck stoppers in the league, and certainly the best Canada has right now. People would be wise to figure this out.
The Overmatched Coach
When you talk about the reasons the Flames failed this year, one of the many was that Brent Sutter refused to work with what he had personnel-wise. He didn’t recognize the strengths and weaknesses of his players, and it cost his team dearly.
Alain Vigneault is basically the complete opposite of Brent Sutter.
There’s been a lot more attention paid to player deployment and line matching over the past 5 or so years then ever before thanks to Behind the Net’s tracking of Zone Starts, Zone Finishes and Quality of Competition. Looking at these metrics, we can see something that separates guys like Vigneault from guys like Sutter. The two numbers that stand out- to me, at least- are the Zone Starts of Daniel Sedin and Manny Malhotra. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that the Sedins, while offensively gifted, are not exactly your primary defensive options (and vice versa for Malhotra). Vigneault recognized this and deploys his players accordingly: Daniel starts in the offensive zone 79.6% of the time, while Manny starts in the defensive zone 86.8% of the time. Sutter started Jarome Iginla (the biggest defensive liability the Flames have) in the offensive zone 49.7% of the time.
Given the fact that Vigneault‘s won the President’s Trophy two years in a row now, you’d think people would be willing to give him the benefit of the doubt when it comes to his coaching ability, but you’d be wrong. Many a Canuck fan wants his head on a platter for the failures of the past two seasons. What these people conveniently forget is that in the two series that the Canucks have lost, both of the goaltending buzzsaws they ran into had EVSV% of >.940. It’s not that he got outcoached or his system was flawed, no, it’s just that in the playoffs you sometimes run into a hot goalie.
See 2004 for a further example.