Sure enough, it was the afternoon following the report that surfaced regarding the end of John Tortorella’s tenure as head coach of the Vancouver Canucks, and there was Trevor Linden, speaking in front of a bunch of cameras for what already feels like the billionth time this month.
As is quickly becoming modus operandi with the new President of Hockey Operations, we weren’t exactly given the clearest view into whatever the decision making process currently cycling through his head these days is. It can understandably be frustrating given the lack of certainty and direction surrounding the club at the moment, but at the same time, it can’t be all that surprising either.
Even if he had some sort of profound things to say (which the verdict is still out on), his hands are likely still somewhat tied while the NHL playoffs carry on, meaning that we’re still at least a handful of weeks away until the offseason truly kicks into high gear.
With that being said there were a few things that came up in his press conference on Thursday that are worth pivoting off of, and we’ll do just that right after the jump.
If you missed it and would like to watch it for yourself, it’s available right here on the team’s Youtube channel. Another relevant piece of housekeeping that goes hand-in-hand with the 20+ minute presser is the letter that was sent out to season ticket holders prior to the event.
Obviously the first main topic of discussion is the revelation that assistant coach Mike Sullivan, who was for all intents and purposes the acting head coach during Tortorella’s in-season suspension, was let go by the team as well. It makes sense, considering Sullivan has been “Torts’ guy” – being his right hand man both in Tampa Bay and New York prior to the one-year rendezvous in Vancouver – but I still bring it up because it highlights a pair of notable omissions from the list of guys being given their walking papers. And I’m not talking about video coach Darryl Williams, who I personally know very little about.
More prominently, both Glen Gulutzan and Rollie Melanson managed to avoid the firing squad. The former took a bunch of flack this past year because of a floundering power play that he was brought in to steer back to its dominant ways after a rough ’12-’13 season that saw its conversion rate drop from 4th to 22nd in the blink of an eye.
Instead, it only got worse, dropping down to 26th under “Gully’s” watch (even if the actually conversion percentage only dropped a few tenths of a point). Even more egregious, though, were the exceptionally suspect formations that were occasionally trotted out there; with a particular emphasis on Dan Hamhuis’ inclusion on the top unit for a large, supremely ineffective stretch.
But Gulutzan wasn’t even mad. So why exactly was he retained, then? While our very own Wyatt Arndt’s “Gully’s Survival Tips” investigation brought forth some intriguing options, there must be something else. And while Linden did say that he was “downloading the data”, for whatever reason I remain somewhat dubious that the team’s exceptional shot rate via Extra Skater served as the ultimate factor in saving his job.
While acknowledging that the power play was a definite issue, Linden suggested that it wasn’t all the coach’s fault. He then went on to say that he “liked the work he did with some of the young players” and that “he’s got a lot of value moving forward”. Gulutzan ran many of the team’s practices this past season, so on this front, retaining him makes more sense based on behind the scenes things we’re not privy too.
Rollie Melanson is worth discussing himself, because of both the work he did this past season but also what he’ll potentially be charged with doing with the team’s netminders in the years to come. He by all accounts put in quite a bit of work completely rejiggering Jacob Markstrom’s technique in an attempt to iron out some of the flaws in his game.
But potentially even more importantly, he has been linked to impending-UFA Jaroslav Halak based on their past history together. It’ll be fascinating to see how the team approaches the situation in the crease heading into next year, but consider me one of the skeptics about potentially relying on the two young Swedish netminders to carry the full load. You could most certainly do worse than bringing in Halak to handle somewhere in the ballpark of 40-45 starts, and go from there. Especially if the Canucks have any intentions on getting back into the playoff mix next year, which isn’t exactly all that big a longshot if they’re handed an even moderately more friendly hand.
Back to the press conference itself: there were two particular concepts that reigned supreme on this day — the direction things are going with regards to the on-ice product, and the timing of everything that has and will happen.
In terms of the former, Jason Botchford wrote a fine article today about how “meatwagon hockey” was the undoing of Tortorella. Related was the frequent insistence that the plan is to once again recreate an exciting team that can recapture the attention of the fanbase. I’m not sure how potential coaching candidates such as Barry Trotz and Ken Hitchcock fit into that plan, but then again, winning goes a long way in making everything feel more palatable.
As for the search itself, Linden reinforced that the *timing* of this move was right because he wanted to create a clean slate for any manager he’d be luring to inherit. Based on that, it’s fair to assume that the GM hiring will come before a coach is put into place (especially given everything that unfolded between Gillis and Tortorella), but he harped on the idea that the two aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive.
All he’d say about the hunt is that he has narrowed down and focused his list, and that he’ll be starting the interviewing process next week. In an ideal world, according to Linden, there’d be someone in place by the end of the month to help steer things in the right direction for the upcoming draft (by presumably bringing in some of his people).
While one of the most closely linked candidates, Boston Bruins Assistant GM Jim Benning, will likely remain involved in the playoffs with his current team for any number of weeks to come, Linden did say that he “hasn’t received any pushback with regards to the playoffs”. That’s huge; not only would it help expedite the process itself so as to prevent it from both lingering deeper into the summer, but in turn it would also throw a life raft to what has proven to be a questionable scouting department with a draft of utmost importance looming on the horizon. What he didn’t do is specifically confirm that Benning was on his “list” when directly asked by a reporter, but based on what we’ve come to gather recently, he was playing coy more than anything.
More on all of this in the days and weeks to come, I’m sure.