Identity Crisis – Weekend Watchability Index

torts opening video

I’ve already said my bit about John Tortorella and there isn’t much more to say about his departure. In a nutshell, however, I don’t necessarily think the coaching was what was really holding the Canucks back this most recent season. Percentages played a big part.

That said, coaching also wasn’t the Canucks problem when they lost in the Stanley Cup Final to Boston and coaching wasn’t the Canucks problem when they exited the playoffs quickly against Los Angeles and San Jose in consecutive years. What I found interesting about the Canucks marketing was how much they built the identity of the team around Torts.

The opening montage video the Canucks played before home games this season received a lot of mixed reviews. If you didn’t go to a game this season, it’s basically a hockey player being forged in some dark room, juxtaposed with a figure—later revealed to be Torts—looking out at a hockey rink. The narrator reaches deep into the bag of narratives to set up how this season is going to be different.

They say our play is like our city. It’s too pretty. They said we’re not hard enough, that our fire doesn’t burn hot enough, that we don’t know gritty.

Catchy, but completely misses the point of what it takes to win hockey games in 2014. I won’t bog you down with the details of seven years of in-depth statistical research, but basically a team that hits, blocks shots and plays opportunistic hockey exclusively will only go as far as a hot goalie takes them, and building a team identity around the “grit” model is just a way of placating the average Joe fan who wants so badly to believe hockey players don’t work as hard as him at his 6-to-6 job in the salt mines.

I don’t quite remember a coach ever taking the spotlight as a coach as much as Torts did in his one year however. The biggest events and controversies this season all seemed to surround him and that isn’t really a good thing. Alain Vigneault was a controversial coach but he never really said anything on the bench, making his adjustments through his assistants and just generally acting as a surveyor. He’s not a strong-enough coach to build a marketing campaign around.

A team’s culture ultimately doesn’t reflect a wins-losses record, but that’s going to be a buzzword brought up at Trevor Linden’s press conferences when he announces the new coach and the new general manager. The reality is that Vancouver doesn’t have a rich hockey tradition, but that did not matter in the slightest when the Sedin twins started winning scoring titles. Like Vigneault, they’re effective players, but not necessarily the kind of strong personalities one can build an entire marketing campaign around. There’s a more quiet, businesslike approach.

The good thing though is that it doesn’t force the team into making moves it doesn’t have to make in an attempt to keep that culture going. “Culture” was a big factor in the Maple Leafs signing David Clarkson, the Bruins trading Tyler Seguin, and the reason why hundreds of Flyers fans are taking to Twitter demanding Paul Holmgren trade Claude Giroux for Shea Weber. I think more than anything, people have tried to force the Bruins link back to the ‘Big Bad Bruins’ of the 1970s more than the Bruins resemble anything close to those teams.

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There have been a lot of questions about the Canucks identity since the loss to the Bruins but the best way to act is to avoid working towards that answer, and try and get good players and a good coach. The newest generation of Canuck fans to join the ticket- and merchandise-buying class were born in the mid-to-late 1980s. They’ve seen three successful iterations of the Canucks, and all of them had a different style of play and even wore different uniform colours. There’s no one thing to build around.

(I also wonder, if the questions about this Canucks’ team’s identity will still be around in 2031. The 1994 Canucks were honoured this past season and coach Pat Quinn got a spot in the Ring of Honour for essentially accomplishing the same thing as the Vigneault-era Canucks, but the Vigneault-era Canucks won more games relative to the rest of the league and are objectively better.)

So we’ll see what comes of it. Linden left the Canucks when Mike Gillis showed up so may bias his own views of what it takes to win as being similar to what the Canucks had in 1994. I don’t think that’s the case, and in interest of entertaining hockey, I really hope I’m right. If there’s a model to follow, it’s 2011: surround good players with more good players, and embrace the hate.

At the very least, can Linden petition to bring back the flute song?


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The Canucks are out, but for your benefit, I’ve ranked each of the four second round series on the pure ‘Watchability’ scale which factors in the quality of the teams and the potential for crazy things to happen. Uniform aesthetics may also play a part.

Best matchup: Pittsburgh Penguins vs. New York Rangers

There’s a bit of a conflict in styles. New York’s top goal scorers were cold in the first round against Philadelphia but dominated in possession five-on-five and their depth was able to get the job done. Pittsburgh’s top goal scorers were cold in the first round against Columbus but dominated in possession five-on-five and was able to get the job done.

Still, the Rangers try to get a little more speed from the lower half than the Penguins do, who gravitate towards checking, and don’t have the horses on defence to set up consistent attacks on three-and-four-man rushes. The Penguins get a lot of mileage out of that counter-attacking style.

The overwhelming NBCing of the series, combined with the Penguins awful sweaters (this is widely-accepted now, yes?) will be plenty annoying, but a good possession team was able to unseat the Penguins last year and the Rangers walk in with a strong Corsi rate, and top-of-the-line goal scorers up against Marc-Andre Fleury.

The hook: Maybe, just maybe, we will get to see Jeff Zatkoff start a game after Dan Bylsma just gets too annoyed after answering questions in the post-game about Fleury.

Biggest clash of styles: Anaheim Ducks vs. Los Angeles Kings

Awful uniform aesthetics: each game is going to be black vs. white. Anaheim has thrived this year thanks to some possibly unsustainable scoring from Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf. Despite their strong top nine forwards, the Ducks have a pretty pedestrian defence, exacerbated by injuries to Sheldon Souray and Stephane Robidas, and the ancients Saku Koivu and Teemu Selanne don’t have much hockey left in them.

Conversely, the Kings are rolling three good lines right now, are a defensive and possession powerhouse and should be considered strong favourites with the best Corsi Close % in the league. Anaheim, unlike the Sharks, have a relatively poor 49.8% rate, which is 15 shot attempts below even, and tied for 14th in the NHL.

The hook: The stats crowd taking one right across the kisser when the Ducks somehow pull off a seventh game win in overtime, and the stats crowd responds by saying “well, it’s all Jonathan Quick’s fault anyway”.

Best history/rivalry/riot potential: Boston Bruins vs. Montreal Canadiens

I didn’t want to cheat and put this up at the top just because the first game of the series was such a classic. I didn’t think it would be very close at all, but Montreal skated well with Boston in the first half of the game and then decided “screw it, let Carey take this one” and sent all five skaters to the bench to relax and have a smoke as they watched Price parry wave after wave of Boston scoring chances.

The hook: A Bruins identity crisis when the Habs take both games on the road in Boston, a sufficient amount of overreacting, and then everybody remembering that this is exactly what happened in 2011.

Best uniforms, non interesting series division: Chicago Blackhawks vs. Minnesota Wild

At this point, the only result in the second round that would truly shock me is a Minnesota win. I expect this series to be over quickly and efficiently.

The hook: Ilya Bryzgalov versus the Chicago newspaperman juggernaut.

  • andyg

    “building a team identity around the “grit” model is just a way of placating the average Joe fan who wants so badly to believe hockey players don’t work as hard as him at his 6-to-6 job in the salt mines.”

    The best line in one of the better posts on here in a long time…

  • acg5151

    I love the flute song! Made me feel like a kid again. An entertaining team and an entertaining intro for every game! That’s what this town needs to return to. I’m so glad Torts is gone, time to get back to entertaining hockey!

  • andyg

    “The hook: A Bruins identity crisis when the Habs take both games on the road in Boston, a sufficient amount of overreacting, and then everybody remembering that this is exactly what happened in 2011.”

    It’s very very simple. What happened was that Boston was able to win their first cup in a long long time thanks to the over rated, over paid Canucks.

    In other words, Boston exposed the Canucks to the world and they have never been the same since.

    Gillis made sure the team got worse and sure enough, they played worse.

    The teams that are rolling 3-4 good lines HAVE 3-4 good lines. The ones that don’t drop off.

    The Canucks this year , had no good lines.

    It will take Botchford 10 years to figure this out but the Canucks give him too much for him to look the other way.

  • andyg

    The problem with the Canucks this year was they had no identity and that came from the coach. They played a slow defense first system that didn’t suit their strengths, A coaches first job is to put players in a position to be successful, counting on the Sedins to block shots and kill penalties takes minutes away from guys that are good at that… Hansen. Playing your vets the most minutes in the league does not make them better at the end of the season, especially when the canucks travel more than any team.

    I was at the Canucks/Kings game when they were the “Fighting ” Canucks and that was not their game…. In fact it took them out of their game and they lost another lead and eventually the game. Torts was trying to remake 10 yr vets and that is a losing proposition. I’m nominating John Stevens as the new head coach of the Canucks. He will bring a steady calm hand and an emphasis on playing defense as a unit, not a bunch of individuals.

    • andyg

      Let’s see, when AV was here with a better team he spoiled the players especially the core and how did that work out?

      The Sedins are not good at checking, not good at skating, not good in shoot outs, not good in penalty kills, they couldn’t score this year as well….can’t stick up for anyone let alone themselves…did I miss one? So you take all that under consideration and you have to ask yourself, what exactly are the Sedins even getting ice time for? They Canucks weren’t paying them to score this year cause they didn’t score.

      When are you going to acknowledge that the Canucks are slow, one dimensional and above all else, the players can not improve. Yes, improvement. Have you heard of that?

      Great athletes improve to be the best. Lousy athletes need others so they can walk on some one elses coat tails. The Canucks are nothing but an exposed group of coat tail riders.

      Torts was trying to make Spam to Prime cut meats. Whether that was foolish or not, you need to own up and admit that the team is just a can of stale spam. You’re not going to impress anyone but Hawaiians with Spam. Spam is spam is spam. They can fire all the cooks they want, spam is still spam. No one’s buying the scapegoat coach scheme except the 6 delusional regulars and the Van sports writers, namely Botchford.

      AV sends you his regards from round 2 on a BETTER TEAM…a team without 2 pampered whiny excuse making twins.

      • andyg

        The fact that AV is into the second round with the same team that Torts had last year tells me who is the better coach!

        No one gets better once they are into their low 30’s.

        • andyg

          “Let’s see, when AV was here with a better team he spoiled the players especially the core and how did that work out?”

          Can you count years and players jerseys? AV had how many years with a team that wasn’t as horrid as this one now. The players that made the core look god are all gone, trade or Gillis and Aquaman was too cheap to sign them

          Id’ like to see how well you do if you were the coach of this stink fest for year.

          “no one gets better once they are into their low 30’s.”

          No, really? Then why the hell do they still have the group of old useless cougers? Oh right, they can’t trade them because no one wants them and their NTCs. Well who fault is that? It sure as hell aint mine cause I didn’t sign them to those NTCs and I wasn’t the one who brought them in and kept them and supported them there. But I guess it’s no ones fault except Torts.

          The Canucks have nothing but stale cougars and no real prospects and now what? Their motives are so easy to spot. Screw up, ignore the problem, screw up again, ignore it again, market the new team, branding, screw up, ignore the problem. Anything but “competing” and taking responsibility.

      • andyg

        So you are comparing the Metro conference and the West the Canucks played in? Wow you are a simpleton. Ducks, Kings Sharks …need I go on?

        Unlike most people I think AV is a good coach, he and Gillis needed to go because it was time. Their message fell flat and Torts was just a bad decision. Like getting divorced after 20 yrs then dating some batsh#% crazy girl as a rebound. You think back and go what was I thinking?

        Your take on the Sedins is off but most of what you said was. Not one player progressed under Torts and an improvement will happen. If the new GM can use the cap room to lure Real FAs this team will rebound.

        Sign Vaneck and the Sedins will have their first pure goal scoring winger ever. Anyone watching what he is doing with MTL? Then get a Callahan or Stasny to play on the second line with Kesler and then we will have 4 lines that can play.

        Sedin/Sedin/Vaneck… Kesler/Callahan /Burrows Sato//Kass/Jensen/Higgins….. Then there is a Horvat/Hanson / Richardson Lots of possibilities and players playing where their skill set demands. Having 3rd line forwards playing on the top line doesn’t work in any league

        • andyg

          God you are delusional to a point it’s obvious your some shill of mouth of the franchise.

          NoT one player progressed under torts? It’s because they SUCK. They are getting worse and worse and they were pampered by Av, esp the sisters. No PK, no shoot outs, no hitting, no standing up for themselves, no shot blocking, no leadership and eventually no show in the regular season. Face it, they core sucks. They had years and years, time’s up.

          You want to bring in more coats so the core can ride more coat tails?

          Lucic said once that not one player on their team would want any of the Sedins, and if this guy who beat the Canucks in the finals says that, I’m willing to bet he’s not far off the mark…considering he’s a pro player and has played against the Sedins so if anyone should know it would be Recchi Lucic Chara etc the list goes on.

          “Having 3rd line forwards playing on the top line doesn’t work in any league” the Canucks have been saying they need this and that for 44 years. forty four years. When are you going to realize that the date isn’t going to show up, man? If you think the Canucks are going to get real players and real core players and support now after 44 years, when they’re still making money off losing..well hey, not much more to say.

          I could care less if ppl here are convinced or not, in fact, I hope they still believe. but you know it aint going to happen, but you have too because you feel loyalty to that club no matter what or you make your living off them. Either way, 44 years says everything that comes out of Canuck land is BS. Don’t tkae my word for it, wait for next season. No cup, mark it down. Trust me, I’ll remind you.