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Above the 49: Extension or not, Canucks' Vigneault still on thin ice

By Daniel Fung, Sports Network Columnist

Vancouver, BC (Sports Network) - With a new contract extension in his own back pocket, Vancouver Canucks general manager Mike Gillis has made it clear that his next order of business will be to secure his head coach, Alain Vigneault, to a similar extension.

But even if Vigneault comes to an agreement to extend his stay in Vancouver, don't think for a second that it's a guarantee the all-time coaching wins leader in Canucks franchise history will be around to fulfill the entire term of that extension, or will even last to the end of this upcoming season.

While Gillis, publicly and behind closed doors, may be fully confident that his head coach can get the Canucks to the promise land and end the 42-year-and- counting Stanley Cup drought in Vancouver, even he knows the fate of his head coach will be largely dependent on how his team fares next season.

That's especially the case considering the Canucks are coming off their most underachieving playoff run in team history after being bounced in the first round by the Los Angeles Kings despite winning their second consecutive Presidents' Trophy as the best regular-season team and being picked by many pundits at the outset of the postseason to be a favorite to win it all. They had come up just one victory shy of winning the Stanley Cup last year.

Gillis has never been one to bow to public pressure - if he were, then Vigneault likely would not have lasted a year into his tenure as general manager and certainly not the last four - but it would be hard for him to ignore the already simmering discontent among the fan base if the Canucks were to fall below expectations for a second straight year.

Vigneault has come under criticism for some of his coaching tactics which, at times, includes changing his line combinations on a whim or benching certain players for inordinate lengths of time while giving other underachieving performers more ice time than they are arguably entitled.

Gillis is also aware that his team's window of opportunity to win with their current core group is slowly beginning to close with netminder Roberto Luongo expected to be moved out in the coming weeks, the Sedin twins turning 32 before the start of the season and the likes of Alexandre Burrows and Alexander Edler headed for unrestricted free agency at the conclusion of the 2012-13 season.

He would be hard-pressed not to make a change if the Canucks were to come up short again in next year's postseason or even if they were to stumble significantly out of the gate in the regular season.

For now, Gillis appears to be willing to write-off this season's disappointing end as an aberration, but don't be surprised if his patience with his head coach wears thin quickly even if a contract extension is agreed upon.

Vigneault's current deal, which was signed just after Gillis' arrival in Vancouver for the start of the 2008-09 season, expires at the end of this upcoming season.

Vigneault was originally hired by former Canucks GM Dave Nonis to coach Vancouver's farm team, the AHL's Manitoba Moose, in 2005-06. He was promoted to head coach of the Canucks the following season and won the Jack Adams Award as NHL Coach of the Year that season.

Nonis was relieved of his duties as the Canucks' GM following the 2007-08 season - the only season to date the Canucks failed to make the playoffs with Vigneault behind the bench.

05/09 10:27:30 ET

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