Image via Canucks.com
As the book opens on the John Tortorella era in Vancouver, the Canucks unveiled a clever media blitz and deployed a lobotomized Willy Loman version of Tortorella in an interview with the fans. As such, Tortorella had made a mostly favourable impression on the fan-base before he even met with reporters on Tuesday afternoon in Vancouver.
During Tuesday afternoon’s newser, Tortorella and Mike Gillis address a wide variety of concerns about the coaching hire and answered questions on topics like style of play, what this Canucks club needs to get back to the summit, and how involved ownership was in the hiring of the man who prefers to go by "Torts." It was a disappointing performance, in that it was a mostly respectful affair with Tortorella even showing contrition for his handling of the media in the past, but there was still a lot of grist for us to chew over.
Click past the jump for more.
On Tuesday afternoon Tortorella faced a bevy of questions concerning his preferred style of play, and in particular, the parodic, stultifying, collapsing defensive system he primarily employed in New York. Like Alain Vigneault before him, Tortorella emphasized that the ‘offense versus defense’ dichotomy is a lazy misnomer:
"You look at the playoffs, especially in the finals here, you look at what that Chicago team can do offensively, but they played hard defensively too. I don’t think there’s a coach in this league that doesn’t want more offense of its club, but that should not short circuit defense. You will not win championships unless you play defense, and there has to be a concept there… That’s when you have a complete team when you’re going as best you can offensively but also commit to playing away from the puck and playing defense…"
Tortorella elaborated somewhat on tactics, and zone-matching schemes in particular, explaining that "putting players in situations where they can succeed" is a critical part of his job as a head coach. Also, and this shouldn’t come as much of a surprise to anyone, but it turns out that you can employ progressive deployment patterns as an NHL coach even if you’ve never heard of Behindthenet.ca. Common sense and fancy-stats are essentially one in the same…
Mostly John Tortorella came off as intelligent on Tuesday, at least in my opinion. He also came off as self-critical, and confident. He emphasized the pride he took in "(changing) the landscape" in New York "from a free-agent haven, to building a team with our young kids." He emphasized again and again that he hopes to do something similar in Vancouver, at least in terms of developing young players.
Tortorella also diagnosed an area of weakness on the Canucks roster, opining that the club "needs some more bite." Tortorella elaborated, "I think the attitude of, just being a stiffer team, is going to come to the forefront as we build this."
Sitting alongside his new head coach, Canucks General Manager Mike Gillis confirmed that the team has signed the controversial coach to a five-year contract. So despite the rampant speculation that Tortorella’s hire was done with the short-term in mind, the team has made a significant commitment to him. Mike Gillis also explained ownerships concerning involvement in the process of selecting a new head coach and insisted that he’d invited ownership to sit in on candidate interviews, and that the decision to hire "Torts" was a unanimous one.
Where Tortorella began to get a bit more reflective was when the subject of his often testy relationship with the media was broached. To his credit, Tortorella took responsibility for his bad reputation, and explained some of the motivation behind his frosty public demeanor. Asked if his reputation bothers him, Tortorella responded with this:
"Honestly yes. I’m a human being. But listen I don’t blame anybody, it comes my way. I make my own bed with this stuff that is on me. But you know what, I think i"m a pretty good coach too. This is the mess I put myself into and this is the mess I need to get myself out of. And like I said, it’s very important especially here, to make sure… that I’m not going to put this organization into a difficult spot
He then dropped this choice nugget as an explanation for why he’s come across as petulant in the past:
"’Cause I hate losing. I do. That’s a big part of it. I can’t stand losing. Everybody says "be a good loser," and I think if you’re a good loser, you’re a loser."
That’s the golden sound bite for you, right there.
Tortorella added that he felt he’d gone too far on occasion, especially when his antics put his players in tough situations. He vowed that in Vancouver, "it will be rectified."
At the end of the day a leopard can’t change his spots. Tortorella probably, maybe even inevitably, will lash out at a dumb question at some point during his Vancouver tenure and there will be drama. Oh yes, drama and pageviews /laughs malevolently. But in Vancouver, a city that has never been accused of being "a good loser," Tortorella should fit right in.
A final fascinating nugget and perhaps the most technical hockey point made by Tortorella in Tuesday’s press conference, came in an answer to a question about whether or not he’ll make the Sedin twins block shots. "Torts" essentially answered that of course he would, and he shared his plans to deploy Vancouver’s twin Art Ross winners as penalty-killers next season:
"I’ll tell you right now, they’re going to kill penalties, and they’re going to block shots. If you’re going to play proper defense that has to be part of their equation… I think they’ll welcome it, because they want to get better, they want to win a championship."
My general sense of this is that if you have the personnel to spare the twins from playing major minutes at four-on-five, you should probably do so.
On the other hand the twins were challenged this past season to pick up the two-way slack in Ryan Kesler’s absence, and they raised their game. Unbeknownst to the majority of the hockey commentariat the twins turned in the best season of defensive hockey in their respective careers at the age of thirty-two. It was unprecedented, really.
So could the twins become penalty-killing aces if called on to do so next season? Probably. Is it the best way to allocate the teams resources? Probably not, but I’m really interested to watch the twins try to cycle the puck when the Canucks are down a man…
Overall what did you think of the first impression Tortorella made on Tuesday, dear readers?