Coaching Candidate Profile: John Tortorella

Image via Wikimedia Commons

He was a surprise late entry to the group, but John Tortorella brings what fans and media in this town have wanted for so long. He’s a brash personality that holds players accountable. He has Stanley Cup experience. He has a grizzled, no-nonsense attitude and he doesn’t speak French. Clearly, everything fits.

You got the sense in the Eastern Conference this year that the New York Rangers, Torts’ old team, weren’t really into it. After the big offseason acquisition of Rick Nash, the Rangers stumbled out of the gate, kept stumbling through midseason, stumbled into the playoffs and tripped over their own sticks in a seven-game playoff win over the Washington Capitals. Their only post-first round victory came thanks to Tuukka Rask stumbling all over himself and letting in the reelist blooper you’ll ever see.

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So the Rangers weren’t good last season. The Rangers have banked on their goaltender and their goaltender alone for two straight playoff runs, winning three rounds in two seasons, but that ultimately resulted in John Tortorella getting fired… Read past the jump for more.

Credit to Glen Sather—he’s been in hockey for so long that occasionally you have to invent the occasional accomplishment—he got rid of Torts despite some modest post-season success with a roster that had no business winning playoff rounds. The Rangers played ugly hockey. They were tight and defensive, collapsed in front of the net and let NHL statisticians record blocked shot after blocked shot. Their offence was opportunistic.

In short, the whole thing was a mess. Tortorella had about five competent NHL forwards to work with by the end of his tenure and ended up getting a lot out of them. At 5-on-5 Tied, the Rangers’ Corsi % was 51.8%, good for 12th in the NHL. He had Derrick Brassard in his Top Six and was under organizational pressure to give Ryane Clowe ice-time based on what Sather paid for him at the deadline.

Torts, unfortunately, is a coach that also shares Mike Gillis’ philosophy about size over talent in the Bottom Six. In the game that saw the Rangers eliminated, Brad Richards sat in favour of Derek Dorsett, Kris Newbury and Micheal Haley. He seems like a natural fit for a team that re-upped Tom Sestito for two years, presumably with the interest of having him play live hockey games with the organization.

Which is why it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise that John Tortorella was spotted wandering around Rogers Arena on Tuesday, as first reported by Canucks Army’s own Dimitri Filopovic. It seems like an odd match at first. Both the Canucks and Torts are drifting, with another year or two before an eventual fall from grace. Torts does share lots in common with Gillis, however. Not only are they committed to the (false) ideal that size and not skill wins hockey games, but neither Gillis nor Torts are in this business to make friends.

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By the end of Alain Vigneault’s tenure in Vancouver, him and Gillis didn’t see eye-to-eye on much of anything. Tortorella could be an option simply because Gillis wants a voice to help him confront the local media. That doesn’t mean Torts is a poor coach. He won a lot of games in the last two years for a reason with a roster built by Glen Sather.

The best thing that happened to the Canucks in recent years was the advent of specific player roles. We know that the Sedin twins played in the offensive zone and that Manny Malhotra took faceoffs in the defensive zone. This principle, made two years before the NHL caught onto zone matching and coaches began doing it regularly, extended the prime of Henrik and Daniel Sedin by two years.

Torts was on Vigneault’s page. Check this year’s Rangers’ usage chart. The team’s top offensive players: JT Miller, Chris Kreider, Brad Richards, Rick Nash and Derek Stepan are all hovering around a 60% offensive zone start rate. The team’s top defensive forward Carl Hagelin faces the best competition. A season ago? Just as spread out, with Torts worrying more about his forwards’ commitment to offence and defence rather than line matching.

Generally, Torts knows which of his players can score and how to get them into those positions. I prefer zone matching to line matching except in rare situations, but it still takes a keen eye for the game to note when an offensive zone faceoff is coming, or how to not burn both of your scoring lines during an extended period of game time.

What’s most impressive about Torts though is his development of Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh, and how in 2012 they became one of the best pairings in the NHL.

In the upper left, you can see two blue circles representing Girardi and McDonagh. In contrast to how difficult those minutes were, McDonagh and Girardi had a positive Relative Corsi. It’s outstanding that they came out ahead in such tough, tough minutes, but Torts would do the right thing and give them ample help to succeed. He was very committed to the matchup that not only shut down opposing top lines, but also gave more offensive zone opportunities to Anton Stralman and Michael Del Zotto, two defensively limited rearguards.

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The whole thing isn’t as crazy as it sounds. Tortorella and the Canucks do have an awful lot in common. As for Torts’ apparent belief in a total defensive system, remember the 2004 Tampa Bay Lightning as a beacon of offensive hockey in a dead era. He will do what he has to with the tools he is given.

Wait, that makes him just like most other coaches…

  • JCDavies

    I guarantee you if John Torterella is hired by the Vancouver Canucks, they will be losing me as a fan.

    The man does not bring “accountability” and he is not “hard-nosed”. He is ignorant, abusive and a bully.

    That being said, he is also a lousy coach. How does he seem to get more respect around her than Lindy Ruff? He’s achieved even less, apart from one Stanley Cup. And that Cup was won by Martin St Louis and Vincent Lecavalier having career years, and of course Nikolai Khabibulin having an otherworldly run.

    Since the lock-out, John Torterella coached teams have accomplished absolutely nothing.

    He knows how to help his best players score? Tell that to Rick Nash, Brad Richards, Marian Gaborik and Ryan Callahan, all of whom suffocated in his defense-first systems.

    How can anyone who says they value advanced stats even consider hiring a shot-blocking coach as a good idea?

    Horrible coach, even worse human being. Please oh please keep him away from my Canucks.

    • billm

      Your comments are an example why the Canucks haven’t won anything, ever.

      Torts has no Accountability? At least he’s got the nuts to call out under performing stars and bench them. When was the last time AV benched the Sedins for being invisible is the play offs?

      The guy at least has won a cup…but you guys here don’t like the Stanley Cup , do you?

      Last time I checked, the Rangers won a hack of more play offs games then the nucks did this year and last year as well.

      Has all that losing by the Canucks warped your thinking?

    • billm

      What Keenan and Messier did was open eyes as to why the Canucks were such a bad team, ei, their country-club mentality. To build a winner you need accountability and change, and ppl who preside in country clubs do not like change. Ask Trevor and Mclean and Lumme what they did after they were traded? They did nothing. At least Brue could still score after being traded.

      This showed you how much time you guys wasted believing in Quinn, Linden, Maclean and Lumme. The core was the problem on that team if nothing else. They got ot the finals because of Bure and the many grit and character guys back in the early 90’s, once they traded most of them away cause they were too cheap to pay them, you all saw what happened….nothing happened.

      Keen was the perfect example as to why certain clubs never win, never change, and never accept accountability for their failures even-though failure is all they’ve ever known. The Canucks don’t need a new coach, they and their homer fans need Gordon Ramsay to fix their many, many problems.

  • JCDavies

    reasons for Torts
    1) Ownership and Gillis need a “bad cop”
    the lack of 60 minute efforts was shameful last 2 years.
    2) Local hockey media is garbage, Torts could help Gillis fight back.
    3) Gillis too many NTC contract issues could be nullified by Torts.

    i would be happy to see either Torts or Ruff get the job.

  • billm

    Every coach breakdown here, the thing that pops into my mind is Indiana Jones looking at the cups and the old knight intoning “Choose wisely”

    That is the position Gillis is in. The coach he picks and the resulting team performance will dictate if he has the big chair for the Canucks at the end of next season.

  • billm

    “Generally, Torts knows which of his players can score and how to get them into those positions.”

    Really… Tell that to Gaborik, Richards, and Nash. Tortorella’s team philosophy is to establish defense in the neutral zone, and have 5 shot blocking defenders (some would say 6 goalies) in the defensive zone… He achieves this by over-burdening his gifted scorers with an unreasonable amount of back-checking responsibilities… He does not coach creative breakout attack strategies, but prefers instead to score off of defensive counter-attacks or turn-overs. His offensive-zone strategy is dump and chase, grinding between the half-walls, and occasionally pushes a defender up… He could care less about puck possession though the neutral zone, touch passing, or even establishing a presence in the slot… This results in a strangled offensive capability, a frustrating mix of fruitless cycling down low and bad angle shots, and lot of low scoring one-goal games… all this, over the course of a season, will grind your gifted forwards into dust…

    Tortorella is either way too conservative or knows little about generating offense with, or finding ways to support, his thoroughbreds…. and personally, for me, one look at his disastrous power-play (blame Sully if you want to, I do not) tends to support the latter of those two explanations…

    JMHO as a life long NY Rangers fan…

    Good Luck.