The Opening of the Tortorella Era

Jeff Angus
June 25 2013 09:11AM

 

The John Tortorella hiring has already been covered extensively here at the CanucksArmy (including this reaction coverage), but I wanted to weigh in with a few more thoughts on what is already a fascinating story to follow.

Will Tortorella succeed in Vancouver? Was he even the first choice of Mike Gillis? Can Tortorella change his ways with regards to his media interactions?

Read on for more.

Unsurprisingly, some in the media welcomed the news of Tortorella's hiring by brandishing their favorite carving knives. Ed Willes even compared this to the hiring of Mike Keenan? Really?

The Keenan era was a dark time in Vancouver, but it also brought with it Todd Bertuzzi and Bryan McCabe (who was used to acquire one of the Sedin draft picks). This current Canucks team is miles better than the team that finished out of the playoffs in 1996-97 (the season before Keenan replaced Tom Renney).

That isn’t to say any criticism of this move is without merit, though. Is Tortorella the best fit? Does this team of gentlemen and “nice guys” need a coach who is going to motivate them and be much more of a hands-on presence than Alain Vigneault was (particularly during their last few years)?

It will be a huge adjustment. For many Canucks, Vigneault has been the only NHL/professional head coach they have ever played under. However, two things said and done over the past little while shed a little bit of light on why this may be the best fit for the team at this current moment in time.

The first was Kevin Bieksa’s quote about what type of coach the team “needed” after Vigneault.

“I don’t think we need somebody to come in and crack the whip.”

Again. Really? Seems like a bit of a strange quote from a player. Vigneault let the veterans manage the dressing room themselves (for the most part). This worked for a while, and it worked particularly well with such a strong leadership core in place. However, after a while, perhaps a tiny bit of complacency set in (and the team really missed Manny Malhotra in this capacity, too).

And second are the words and thoughts from several people within (and outside) the Vancouver organization. Gillis talked at length with Markus Naslund about Tortorella. He did the same with Chris Higgins, who also played briefly with Tortorella in New York as well.

And the Gilman connection was a big factor, too. Most of all, Gillis talked to the Sedins. Even though they only have a year left on their current contracts, they will be back in Vancouver if they want to continue playing in the NHL. From who, I am not sure (Naslund? Maybe Henrik Lundqvist?), but the Sedins had heard good things about Tortorella, and pushed for his hire. I think that speaks volumes as to what kind of direction they think the team needs to go to get over the hump.

It isn’t necessarily “now or never” for the Canucks (I think the window for the current core, without a bit of a shake-up, has already passed, though). Daniel Alfredsson is still very good close to his 40s. The Sedins have a lot of good hockey left. But I think this hiring is about more than the owner wanting a different kind of coach in charge (and I think Mike Gillis would quit tomorrow if he wasn’t given the final say on any hockey-related matter). It’s about the players wanting someone to hold them accountable.

Having a self-policing dressing room may work for a time (and the Canucks were one win away from a Cup), but after a while, it's hard to keep the same level of accountability and responsibility in there with so many new faces. Mikael Samuelsson was another guy who spoke his mind and was really respected by the team even though he had a low opinion of management. With each trade/sigining/transaction made, that dressing room identity became a little bit harder to maintain.

And how does that accountability (or lack thereof) affect the on-ice performance?

Some interesting thoughts raised:

And with a number of young players needing to step up (cap reasons, and the direction that the NHL is heading nowadays), it makes more sense to have a coach who is much more hands-on with all of his players. Tortorella had both successes and failures in New York, but one of his greatest accomplishments was developing so many of New York’s young players (Derek Stepan, Artem Anisimov, Ryan McDonagh, and so on). Vancouver needs big contributions over the next few years from Zack Kassian, Chris Tanev, Nicklas Jensen, Frank Corrado, Brendan Gaunce, and Jordan Schroeder.

Will Tortorella lead the Canucks to the Cup? I’m not sure. The team still has several holes, especially up front. They need to find a way to bring some more offense to the table in the postseason. Will Tortorella flame out a la Keenan and lead the Canucks into another “dark era?” Again, I’m not sure. But I’ll say that is very unlikely, mostly due to the fact that 22 and 33 will still be hoping over the boards every third or fourth shift.

This is going to be a fascinating case study playing out in real time over the next few years. I would say "sit back and enjoy the ride," but sitting back never really works out for the Canucks, now does it?

 

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Jeff shares his Canuck-related thoughts with the Army a few times per week. His work can also be found over at DobberHockey.com, as well as his personal blog, AngusCertified.com. Give him a follow on Twitter @anguscertified.
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#1 DCR
June 25 2013, 10:12AM
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How about "Pass the popcorn?"

I'm sure the Tortorella era will be entertaining.

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#2 NM00
June 25 2013, 11:03AM
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"Having a self-policing dressing room may work for a time (and the Canucks were one win away from a Cup), but after a while, it's hard to keep the same level of accountability and responsibility in there with so many new faces."

We have no idea whether or not the "self-policing dressing room" had a positive, neutral or negative effect on team performance.

It's a simplistic media narrative. When the Canucks are winning, it's because of their self-policing dressing room. When the Canucks are losing, it's because of their self-policing dressing room.

It's a talking point devoid of any meaning.

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#3 BrudnySeaby
June 25 2013, 11:31AM
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@NM00 I don't think that's necessarily true. Or any more true than blaming the coach for failure. Meaning that if you follow your logic one can nihilistically reason everything to zero. ;-)

Nice take in the article Angus. It is indeed the beginning of what could be an intriguing era.

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#4 EGS
June 25 2013, 11:59AM
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The coaching change may or may not do anything, but I am really looking forward to seeing what this change brings (good or bad). This is a couple years overdo. Welcome Torts and good luck!

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#5 NM00
June 25 2013, 12:16PM
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@BrudnySeaby

"I don't think that's necessarily true. Or any more true than blaming the coach for failure. Meaning that if you follow your logic one can nihilistically reason everything to zero."

I have no idea what you mean with that last sentence...

What I mean is that it's hard from the outside to know what, if any, affect AV's self-policing had on team performance.

Seemingly AV and Tortorella are both competent & adaptable coaches. One is a little more laid back and one is more of a hardass.

Aside from how they come off in the media, I don't think the Canucks made their coaching situation any better or worse with this swap.

And I don't see the point in suggesting AV's self-policing brought the Canucks to better-than-expected heights in 2011 or was the reason for the disappointments of the last 2 years.

It probably has a lot more to do with the players than with AV during both good and bad times.

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#6 Slippery
June 25 2013, 03:58PM
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I hope John can control his temper behind the bench and in front of the press. He has a not so bad record as a coach but now that he is in the west coast will the travel get to him, wait and see but till then welcome aboard John and GOOD LUCK as you will need it

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