Vancouver, BC – With the Vancouver Canucks the victims of an early playoff exit for the second consecutive year, it's become clear the franchise needs a summer of change.
The impending shake-up will almost certainly begin behind the bench, where head coach Alain Vigneault, despite being the team's most successful coach in history - compiling a 313-170-57 regular-season record and a 33-35 playoff record - will likely take the brunt of the blame for his team's inability to deliver come playoff time.
But while axing Vigneault is certainly the easiest and most predictable move, it can't be the only one for general manager Mike Gillis as he tries to figure out how his team - one that came into the season with expectations to make a run at the Stanley Cup - has been bounced from the opening round of the postseason for the second year in a row.
Vigneault certainly deserves his fair share of the blame for taking a team that was the best in the league in both offense and defense during the 2010-11 season - the season they reached Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals before falling to the Boston Bruins - and having them fall to a 19th overall finish on offense and 10th overall finish on defense, respectively, this season despite the majority of the core players from that Cup finalist still part of this group.
While a lot has been made of Vigneault's decision to embrace a more defensive style - a change that has earned him a lot of criticism from fans and media alike particularly throughout their ill-fated playoff series against the San Jose Sharks which saw them manage to score just eight goals over four games - the biggest knock on the Canucks coach is his methods of utilizing his players, especially over the last couple of seasons.
Some of the more questionable decisions he has made this year include forcing offensive defenseman Jason Garrison to ride the pine on the power play during the early part of the season, making rookie defenseman Frank Corrado a playoff regular ahead of the likes of veterans Keith Ballard and Cam Barker, and starting netminder Cory Schneider in Game 3 of their first-round playoff series against the Sharks despite the fact he was coming off an injury that forced him to miss two weeks of action and Roberto Luongo was arguably his team's best player in the first two games of the series.
But Vigneault can't be the only change this team makes this offseason as it has become quite clear they need more than just a new voice to guide them. For the first time since he arrived on the job prior to the start of the 2008-09 season, Gillis will have to take a serious look at tinkering with the core that clearly seems to be past its best production.
In the last couple of seasons, the Canucks have seen the Sedin twins' production go from 198 combined points in 2010-11 to 85 points during this lockout-reduced season, which pro-rated to a full season would be just 145 points.
They've seen Ryan Kesler go from arguably being the best two-way forward in the league to being a shell of his former self due to a multitude of injuries suffered over the past two seasons. In all fairness, however, he was probably their team's best forward in their brief playoff run this year.
They signed blue-liner Alexander Edler, whose play once drew comparisons to former Detroit Red Wings defenseman and future Hall-of-Famer Niklas Lidstrom, to a long-term deal only to watch him continue to put forth inconsistent performances that make him look like an All-Star one night and an average journeyman the next.
They've also invested a significant amount of dollars in a number of secondary players outside their main core only to watch them continually fall below expectations, including the likes of forwards Mason Raymond and David Booth and much-maligned defenseman Keith Ballard.
Moving out a good number of those non-core players either by cutting them loose in free agency or possibly buying them out is a given, but if the Canucks want to really shake up the culture of this team, then they'll need to examine their key players closely and determine if it might finally be the time to bring in some fresh blood.
The Canucks have seen up-close what complacency and an unwillingness to make bold moves can do to a team. They've sat by and watched once-fierce division rival Calgary Flames suffer through season after season of mediocrity before they finally decided to move out a couple of their key pieces earlier this year in captain Jarome Iginla and top defenseman Jay Bouwmeester, albeit much too late in many fans' estimation.
They have a chance this offseason to avoid a similar fate. Fans in Vancouver can only hope they take the necessary steps to do so even if it means they'll have to bid farewell to some of the best players in franchise history.