After a whirlwind of news to start the month of April – with Mike Gillis was relieved of his duties and Trevor Linden being introduced as the President of Hockey Operations – things have been awfully quiet around these parts lately. Things had gotten so bleak in waiting for the next domino to fall, that this was legitimately passed off as news.
While the team’s new decision-maker has taken his time in doing his due diligence and “downloading all of the data”, John Tortorella’s been left to wither on the vine as he awaits the final verdict on his future with the organization.
Now, we’ve long since learned that nothing is out of the realm of possibility with the Vancouver Canucks, but this particular decision seemed fairly cut-and-dried on the surface. Based on how pathetically the season unfolded in Tortorella’s first season behind the bench, the axe being dropped on his regime seemed like more of a matter of “when” than “if”..
Well, let’s just say that if you had April 30th in your office pool, you’re the first person to gain anything from the 2013-14 Vancouver Canucks season. TSN’s Farhan Lalji – who dropped the hammer on what was already a hectic night in the sports world – was the first on the scene to report that the coach will be fired tomorrow morning, bringing an abrupt and premature end to a tenure that was supposed to contractually last 4 years longer than it did. Of note, though, is that they’re only expected to pay out $1.6 million due to quite the nifty little loophole.
As we watch other teams compete in the playoffs, the Vancouver Canucks are now a rudderless squad in shambles, without neither a Head Coach nor a General Manager currently in place. How the times have changed around these parts, as 2011 seems like another lifetime ago now..
It’s tough to imagine that anyone, including Tortorella himself, could be remotely caught off guard by this piece of news. The writing has been on the wall for a while now, particularly after Trevor Linden didn’t exactly give him any real sort of tangible vote of confidence during his initial media blitz.
During the team’s locker clean-out and media availability, Tortorella sounded like something of a desperate man that was throwing some final haymakers on his way down. I think Jason Botchford summarized his final session perfectly:
“As far as last stands go, John Tortorella’s was as brilliant as it was ridiculous. It was filled with both hard truths and nonsensical contradictions. Amazing, really. Just like this season.”
If someone asks you to explain to them what exactly went wrong to bring a once great team to this point, first ask them how much time they have. Because aside from snarkily responding with “everything!”, there’s way too convoluted a mess to sort through to succinctly summarize things.
I guess the overwhelming number of soul crushing injuries are as good a place as any to start, but the issue is more deep-rooted than that. After all, teams like the Detroit Red Wings and Pittsburgh Penguins each dealt with their fair share of guys missing extended periods of time, yet didn’t crumble like the Canucks did. Which brings up Tortorella’s criticisms from the aforementioned swan song presser, that the team is too stale and lacks depth.
Both are valid critiques, but also seem like they were self-inflicted by the coach himself. In one of his first appearances in front of the Vancouver media back in July, Tortorella told fans of the team what they wanted to hear. That he was a changed coach, who had intentions on helping expedite the “youth movement” people had been clamouring for, and criticized his predecessor for supposedly suppressing.
As the year progressed, it was a lot of same old, same old, though. In fact, it may’ve been worse than ever. He rode the Sedin twins and Ryan Kesler into the ground in the first couple of months of the season, and they were never the same after that.
A guy like Zack Kassian was routinely playing down the depth chart, while Jannik Hansen was, inexplicably, a top-6 stalwart for large chunks of the campaign. Top Sixtito was a fixture in the lineup, while younger, more skilled guys like Zac Dalpe and Jordan Schroeder needed all of the stars to align just to sniff any sort of meaningful playing time. Admittedly, while it’s not like he had a plethora of burgeoning assets to work with, he didn’t exactly utilize what he had said he would just to get in with the crowd.
Even more egregious, though, was the coach’s refusal to adapt to the chess pieces he was playing with. There’s forcing a square peg into a round hole, and then there’s what he attempted to turn the Canucks into. He preached selling out for blocked shots (up from 11.44% of all shot attempts against in ’11-’12 to 14.2% this past season), and whether or not that directly led to the inordinately large number of injuries sustained remains a topic of debate.
What seems pretty clearly settled however, is that the Canucks sure seemed to be out of position more frequently than they had been in the past. In fact, I think you were just gift-wrapped an uncovered shot from the slot yourself! Congratulations, reader! It also led to a far less effective counterattack, particularly due to an uncharacteristically unpolished breakout scheme. Hopefully we’ll be able to get some updated zone exist figures sometime this summer.
What was once a squad that the opposition genuinely feared because of their ability to embarrass them and make them look silly with their superior talent, was not only neutered, but then, in a misguided attempt to compensate for it, turned into a sideshow that aimed for moral victories more than actual victories in the win column.
Yet the fact still remains that, despite everything that converged into this perfect storm, the Canucks appear to be a prime candidate to bounce back with a more respectable showing next season. They were a top-10 possession team, and there’s reason to believe that we’ll see an uptick in some of the percentages that bit them in the rear in ’13-’14.
When a few players have the worst seasons of their respective career, you can look past it and say it was just an unfortunate coincidence. But when everyone suffers the same fate, it’s fair to look for an explanation beyond the surface as to what gives. How much Tortorella factored into that can’t be tangibly calculated, but let’s just say that if both the players and the team have something of a quick resurgence you shouldn’t be overly surprised.
Yes, John Tortorella’s tenure as bench boss was a colossal disappointing on nearly every single front, but at least it provided us with this gem that we’ll always be able to draw a laugh from. Torts, he has finally been freed:
As for us, we’ll find ourselves occupying this platform with a coaching profile series to familiarize everyone with some of the more notable candidates for the now vacant job. Hey, at least we’ve got the luxury of being able to go back to the well, and recycle some of last year’s series, right? There could also potentially be a rather notable name to add to the top of the list..