John Tortorella – Great Coach or Greatest Coach?

Before the regular season begins, I just wanted to take a moment to talk about John Tortorella one last time. I feel like I never gave him a proper send off, and I wanted to make sure I gave one of the greatest coaches in Canucks history his just due.

Although our time together was short, John had quite an impact on the city of Vancouver. I remember his hiring like it was yesterday… (read more past the jump)

Let’s break down my reaction to the hiring process of the John Tortorella hiring:

– Alain Vigneault ends another season with a disastrous first round. Drance is angrily defending AV and attempts to punch me in the face for saying “I would be ok with a new coach.”

– Alain Vigneault actually gets fired. I take a day off work to recover from the fact the Canucks management team made their biggest move since they traded for Victor Oreskovich.

– Rumors begin to swirl that the Canucks have high interest in John Tortorella. I laugh it off due to the fact it seems like the worst idea in the world.

– Rumors swirl that John Tortorella was seen at the Vancouver airport. I laugh this off because if Peter Forsberg has taught me anything, it’s that “airport rumors” are one of the worst evils in this world, right beside Mark Messier and flat pop. 

– Rumors swirl that John Tortorella is giving a press conference about being excited to be named the new coach of the Vancouver Canucks. I laugh this off before openly sobbing because it’s at this point I realize he is actually the new coach of the Canucks. 

– I then remember watching in awe as Mike Gillis proceeded to pretend this was totally his idea, and thought it was the greatest thing ever. His lips said yes, but his eyes looked like he was dead inside.


This picture is awesome because Francesco Aquilini is truly the only one happy in it. Look at him, he’s positively beaming, it’s as if he finally got the GI Joe he wanted for Christmas. Tortorella looks like’s he’s already planning his driving time from Point Roberts to Rogers Arena, and Gillis is just wondering what all went wrong to lead to this moment.

Then a funny thing happened. Somehow John Tortorella convinced me through the pre-season that he was actually a good hire. He talked a big game, and using a variety of Jedi mind tricks and cheesy metaphors (blocking shots makes the guys on the bench grow taller!), Torts actually came across as a guy who had a plan to string together one last hurrah for the spirit of that 2011 team. The Canucks burst out of the gate and were actually winning games! Who knew Torts was the right guy for the job!

Before long, of course, Torts buried the team with a variety of awful decisions (starting Eddie Lack in the Winter Classic, playing the Sedins too much, riding Eddie too hard, valuing good dump ins over puck possession, the list goes on and on) and the Canucks ended up with one of their worst seasons of all time. 

So how, after all of that, do I consider Torts one of the greatest coaches you ask? Quite simply, because he was the ultimate palate cleanser for the team.

Think about it: the Canucks still had that specter of 2011 hanging over their shoulders, even three years removed from their glorious run to the Finals. People still saw the core of the team and simply wondered when the next Finals would be, and anything less than that would be a hideous disappointment. Even after the two first round disasters, many people in Vancouver clung to the idea that a tweak here or there would turn things around for ol’ Vancouver.

By hiring Tortorella, they brought in a man who did such a god awful job it’s almost impossible to believe he didn’t do it in purpose. Let’s quickly run through his time in Vancouver:

– Didn’t talk to Alex Burrows until December

– Routinely talked about not knowing who anybody on the team was for the first month of the season (which at first seemed like refreshing honesty, but slowly turned into the horrifying thought that he actually never learned who anybody ever was)

– Never talked to the farm team organization

– Wasn’t a fan of practicing, and apparently has a history of this:

– Didn’t show up for many game day skates (to be fair, border traffic can be quite the hassle)

– Watched some pre-season games from the press box to get a different view of the game

– The Canucks had a bed installed in his office in the hopes of making him actually do his job (this one blows me away the most. It would be like my office buying me a pillow so I could put my head down at my desk and take a nap instead of skipping work to stay at home)

– Randomly accused David Booth of being late for meetings he was early for. This is where it hits Mr. Burns levels of insanity, whereby I fully expected to hear stories about Torts being super angry at Booth for not shaving his sideburns.


– Refused to watch video of upcoming opponents, which is on par with not wanting to yawn because your spirit might escape your body.

Basically, John Tortorella did such a bad job that anybody by comparison was going to look better the next season. The very fact new coach Willie Desjardins actually spoke to Alex Burrows a week or two into taking the job already had people excited. “Holy crap, the coach knows how to use a phone!” people exclaimed! 

That’s how low Torts set the bar. He made people excited about a coach with basic manners.

Sure, in the short term, it hurt Vancouver, most noticeably in the ticket sales area. But you can already notice a difference in the atmosphere at Rogers Arena. Last year it took six months before a “Go Canucks Go” chant broke out at the arena. This year, in pre-season, there were already chants and more noise than we saw all last season. A player simply doing a nice deke to break into the offensive zone is now seen as a beautiful treasure of a play, due to unorganized system the Canucks used last year. The fact that Chris Tanev isn’t out on the ice trying to block double digits in shots every night is exciting to watch. 

This is why Tortorella was the perfect man for the job last season. The Canucks needed a way to lower expectations, and to remind people that simply making the playoffs isn’t such a bad thing. Torts reminded people of that and more, when he tanked an entire season in glorious fashion.

So to that, I tip my hat to John Tortorella. May your drives from Point Roberts be quick, and your naps in your future office bed be plentiful.

  • andyg

    Don’t forget about some of the hilariously dated posts that Tortorella gave us:

    The greatest gift that Tortorella gave us was exposing the reactionary delusion of Canuck fans during the season when they act like fanboy homers in the offseason…

  • andyg

    This is my favorite CA article in a long time. Having Tortorella’s full insanity listed here is actually a little awe-inspiring. It’s one thing to be “old school”. It’s another to be a lazy, petulant, stubborn fool.

    The worst thing we probably could have done in retrospect would have been to be competitive under Torts, squeaked into the playoffs and gotten destroyed by one of the California powerhouses. Instead we actually got a couple of decent draft picks and HOPEFULLY an eye towards rebuilding though some of the moves by management remain questionable as to whether the reality has fully sunk in. On second thought it’s unlikely that Linden and Benning don’t know, it’s more that they have to balance the Aquilinis insane dreams with the reality.

  • andyg

    It’s not totally implausible that Torts intentionally set himself up for the buyout, considering his “body of work” here. Most house league coaches have better dedication than the man approved by Aquillini’s mother. It’s also a reflection of the depth of ownership’s fingers deep in team operations – not at a Jerry Jones level but considerably more than we’re led to believe. For a glimpse into their involvement, the episode of the wrongful dismissal of the Demichelis is quite revealing.

    I almost feel sorry for Gillis’ role as a somewhat “fall guy”. Almost

  • andyg

    Hilarious. I hadn’t heard about the bed installed in Torts’ office. I actually feel sorry for Gillis; The man had his issues but probably wasn’t the team killer he’s made out to be.

  • andyg

    “AV can’t coach in the playoffs!”

    Scratch that.

    “John Tortorella is the devil!”

    What will the narrative be when 2014-2015 produces another year of mediocrity?

    Stay tuned…

    • andyg

      What will the narrative be when 2014-2015 produces another year of mediocrity?

      The same old narrative that’s what. The excuse making, finger pointing blame everyone but themselves narrative. They’ll probably put all the blame on Sestito. Haha

      What, you just figured this out now? Better polish off that crystal man, it’s getting pretty cloudy. Haha

    • andyg

      I think as the article points out there will (hopefully) be more realistic expectations and perhaps some of the bandwagoneers will abandon ship. The narrative SHOULD be along the lines of “aging core, uncertain youth”.

      The most grateful for the Tortorella era should be Desjardins, Linden and Benning who by virtue of not being bat*hit crazy will get a far longer leash than they otherwise would (or should).

      • Realistic expectations?

        The same fanboys on here that were complicit in the “evils” of the Tortorella regime through 2013 are now pissing on his ashes with their after the fact “explanations”.

        You are right, though, that the narrative should be along the lines of “aging core, uncertain youth” just as they should have been last year.

        So what’s that? Battling for a wildcard spot at best?

        It’s not unlike what the Canucks did for most of last season with Tortorella…

  • andyg

    Was Torts an a**hole, no question was he destructive to the personalities of his players, undoubtedly. Is he a blight on the game of hockey indubitibly. Because of the way he acted in Vancouver, no, but rather because he represents the worst period in the history of hockey, in terms of talent and style, he is a throwback to the pre-first lockout boring style of hockey that almost killed the game. He had no skills to teach offense and little if any skills to teach defense other than to tell players, “put your face in front of the puck, you are all expendable”. He won the Cup everyone says, no he stole the cup by being allowed to coach in a way that guaranteed boredom. He stayed in New York for all those years because of one person, Henrik Lundquist. He is useless and hopefully hockey will recognize this and never let someone like him coach again, but that is unlikely I mean look at all the buffoons who fawn over Don Cherry.

  • andyg

    Yeah, Tort’s got his due alright, a kick to the curb. Don’t worry about him though, I have a feeling Tort’s is going to get the last laugh this year when the Canuck fans cry over another wasted year.

  • andyg

    Torts was an angel sent from heaven for a few reasons.

    1.Completely changing the management of the team was needed

    2. Actually getting younger players on the team!

    3. 4 first round picks in the last two drafts helped the depth of the organization .

    Gillis in charge would have been a disaster!

    • “Actually getting younger players on the team!”

      You mean Linden Vey?

      There isn’t a single ELC on the roster aside from Horvat.

      And let’s see if he’s here past 9 games when he gets healthy…

      • andyg

        Yeah I mean Vey and Horvat…. Jensen was a last cut because they want him to get more playing time. Both Jensen and Shinkaruk will be the first forward call ups Horvat will benefit from being around pros vs playing down in Junior.

        My point was that Gillis probably wouldn’t have had an open competition if he and Torts were still around. Benning and Coach Willie had no allegiance to any of these guys. If Shinkaruk doesn’t miss all of last year, I bet he would have made the team. Both guys need to play more

        • andyg

          Wasn’t there an open competition for NHL roster spots among the “young” talent last year.

          I seem to recall Gillis suggesting that Gaunce would have “every chance” to be the 3LC on the NHL team last year.

          Other than Vey (who is really no different than Stanon & Lack last year), nothing has changed.

          The young guys are either not good enough now and/or won’t be good enough in the future…

  • andyg

    to nm00

    in your opinion, is it delusional to hope or just to believe? what are your hopes for this team? or do you just have the belief that this team will continue to be mediocre?

      • andyg

        @ the mole

        i don’t bet. i just follow the stories for my amusement. last years story was awesome (there was some seriously good gallows humor to be had). 2010-2011’s story was heartbreaking (i thought we were gonna be partying all the way down granville together). 2011-2012 and 2012-2013 certainly were anti-climatic. but now we’re here, change is coming they say, and i’m pretty curious as to what will happen. perhaps with the kings and crap existing it will be a similar result however, i feel the stories will be different. we’ll see.

    • andyg

      My hopes are probably similar to last season.

      If the team is, once again, mediocre (i.e. simply battling for a wildcard spot at best) after the midway point in the season, I’ll probably cross my fingers that they lose every single game from that point onward to improve their chances at McDavid and co.

      If Desjardins sprinkles fairy dust on the team and the old guys have rebound years, Bonino turns into 2010/2011 Kesler, a couple of young guys break through and the team looks like a legit threat for the division, I will hop on the bandwagon of delusion with the rest of you…

      • andyg

        You trust everyone is government or those with money and power don’t you?

        If you trust those who own the media why don’t you trust me? I have as much real proof behind what I say as they have with their material.

        Do you also trust media from other countries or only the media here because they told you so?

        Can I ask you if you are religious too?

      • andyg

        “great platform to discuss beheadings.”

        You just made it sound like you saw the real beheadings with your very own eyes.

        Now also let me ask you, if I put up a video showing Santa Clause doing the beheadings, would you also believe?

        I think you would. I think you don’t know what the difference between proof and just a video are.
        Heck I think you think that no one can fake a video.

        but I don;t blame you much. Look at those who go to church every Sunday. Someone say something that was written in a book is true and ppl believe, without any proof.

        Hey, who needs proof when you have belief based on a book and video?

  • andyg

    Now, I ain’t saying that Tortorella was a good coach…BUT…all’s one had to do was look at the roster going into last season to know we were gonna be in real tough to even make the playoffs. Throw in injuries to Luongo and both Sedins (not to mention Burrows, Bieksa, Tanev and others) before we’d even hit the all-star break, it was never happening.

    The team actually played really hard for Tortorella and left it all out there, but the depth wasn’t there and the early success was done with smoke and mirrors – one-goal wins, comeback wins with the top guys playing well over 20 minutes a night, tough minutes, and like the Coyote who’s run out into the air and has nothing underneath we plummeted to the ground over the course of about a week and a half in January.

    I’m not saying Torts was a good coach, again, but it didn’t matter who the coach was, that wasn’t a playoff team last year. This ain’t a playoff team either. We are gonna need every break we can muster to stick in the fight for the Wild Card, and hope somebody else falls apart like we did last season.