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.
Another John Tortorella connection to Vancouver – was assistant coach in Phoenix when Laurence Gilman worked in the Coyotes front office.
— Jeff Angus (@anguscertified) June 21, 2013
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:
@anguscertifiedI'm a bit perplexed that nobody is talking about penalties re: accountability. Canucks top ten most SH team
— _Proto (@_Proto) June 25, 2013
@anguscertified Every single year under AV. Most times SH on aggregate in entire league. Torts teams consistently bottom 5
— _Proto (@_Proto) June 25, 2013
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?