Does John Tortorella Deserve Another Season?

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Photo via Getty Images

The Stanley Cup Playoffs are hitting their stride, and for the first time since 2008 the Vancouver Canucks haven’t a part to play in them. There’s two different ways to look at this: the eternal optimist will point out it’s been a great six years, whereas the pessimist will look to this year’s results as being indicative of an equally long and bleak future.

What they can both agree on is that, in large, this change in the regularly scheduled programming was heralded by the debut campaign of John Tortorella as Vancouver’s new bench boss.

Whether it was a lack of tools with which to work, or general misuse of the ones made available, Tortorella just couldn’t set this ship on the right course. Injuries, of course, played their part, but even the most ardent defender of the much maligned coach couldn’t deny there were systemic issues with how the Canucks played this season. No, I’m not talking “mindset” either.

Look no further than the Canucks best stretch of hockey, marked by a 10-1-2 run in December. Sure, Vancouver was kicking ass and taking names, but the #fancystats told the more analytically inclined follower that this team was headed towards an equally steep decline. The Canucks precipitous drop in score-close Fenwick%, combined with a scary-sharp rise in PDO made it perfectly clear that luck was on the Canucks side more often than not in December.

And I think we all know how the rest of the season wound up playing out. For those who don’t, good on you for dodging one slow-moving, unbearably boring half-season of hockey that can be aptly described as “an unmitigated disaster”.

Mike Gillis eventually paid the piper for the team’s strugglesBut it cost John Tortorella his job as well? Or rather, should it cost him his job?

It’s a rather unfair world we live in, and even someone as opposed to Tortorella’s methods as I am has to concede this season provided far from an ideal scenario for him to inherit. The team got no younger in the offseason that preceded his first behind the bench; if anything the core seemed to age quite drastically last summer. Before even getting a chance to impart his (dated and arcane) system and methods, he was sent as part of the Beg Brigade that was charged with convincing Luongo to stick around after dealing Cory Schneider.. an asset the coach wasn’t even able to use.

Essentially, Tortorella was the newly pegged manager to this team’s crumbling Super Market, being asked to first mop up the messes of those above him before eschewing direction to those below him. It makes sense on so few levels.

Looking beyond that though, the most concerning part of last season and the direction this club took, was evident in how they played. Whereas the Canucks developed a highly-efficient, high octane offense for the peak of Alain Vigneault’s tenure, Tortorella wanted blocked-shots, hits and that aforementioned new “mindset”. The Sedin twins had become accustomed to 18-19:00 nights, but spent much of the 2013-14 season in the top-five for ice time in the league. As did Ryan Kesler.

Torts rode his top-dogs to relative success in the earlier parts of the season, but it cost them a fighting chance in the latter half. When the Sedins and Kesler couldn’t carry their pace through 2014, there wasn’t enough depth to pick up the slack.

Which brings us to somewhat of a chicken-egg argument. Do we blame Gillis for putting Tortorella in a position where he had to ice Brad Richardson as a third-line center? Or do we blame Tortorella for this short-sighted approach to what is a very long 82-game season? The answer lies somewhere in the middle, as far as I’m concerned.

Even going as far back as his Stanley Cup victory with the Tampa Bay Lightning, Tortorella had a reputation as a coach who rode his superstars. As his career went on, you could add an “into the ground” at the end of that superstars bit.

The most concerning part, however, was Tortorella’s blatant refusal to adapt his system to the available players and the vastly changing landscape of the modern NHL. Whereas his more successful contemporaries, coaches like Mike Babcock, Darryl Sutter and Ken Hitchcock, have adapted their methods to accommodate a league where success is predicated on puck possession, Tortorella continued to stress the aspects of the game that involve not having the puck.

This was made evident on a nightly basis when the Canucks would enter the zone with control of the puck and promptly dump it into the corner. Forget that through a research paper submitted to Sloan Sports Analytics Conference we now know that controlled entries result in nearly twice as many shots as dump-and-chase tactics. Forget that. Look inward to your more pragmatic sensibilities and ask yourself if dump-and-chase hockey is conducive to the Sedins’ skillset? 

I don’t usually believe in chemistry, but Tortorella continued to go back to the unforgiving Kevin Bieksa/Alex Edler pairing well, despite the blatantly obvious reality that the two were a hot mess together. Yet this most obvious of facts failed to sink into Tortorella’s “mindset” as they spent most of the year paired up, logging over 475 minutes at even strength. Does he even watch the games?

While we’re on the topic, what on god’s green earth was Torts thinking not sending out Roberto Luongo for the Heritage Classic? Did he not read the papers? Whether it was blatant myopia that led him to make that decision or full-on cognitive dissonance, I will never know. What is perfectly clear at this point, however, is that it wound up being the final blow to Roberto Luongo’s already shattered ego as his agent wound up facilitating a trade less than a week later.

Hard to blame him for moving the match too close to the situations fully-loaded and volatile powder keg, but a large chunk of responsibility has to be sent his way.

When it’s all said and done, John Tortorella is being left behind by a constantly evolving and changing league. Whether that’s with the Canucks or any other team is irrelevant. The days of screaming motivators have since passed for the more systems oriented coach.

But as it relates to this team, Torts was a poor choice to begin with and would be an even worse pick as this team’s steward next season. If the Canucks truly plan to rebrand themselves, placing a new sticker over the product’s old won’t be enough. Tortorella has got to go.

  • andyg

    Good stuff, J.D.! I agree. I actually used your argument for an assignment in my Logic class, and it checks out. So good job there too! You make a bunch of good points about what it means to be a bad coach, and clearly, Torts has exemplified them. Sure, the guy is passionate, but even that backfired when he made a goof of himself against Calgary. Anyhow, great job and great argument! 🙂 Have a great day!

    • JD Burke

      Thank you so much man, I appreciate your kind words. Would love to hear more on how my argument was used in your class! I’m half curious, half in need of the self-esteem boost 😛

      • JD Burke

        Sure thing! I had to evaluate a real world argument, and I stumbled upon your article thanks to PITB. And I figured I should do my assignment on something fun, so I formalized it, symbolized it and did a proof. (Logic is fuuuun.) So thanks for providing that! If I were on my computer right now, I’d go more in depth. But alas, typing on mobile is a pain.

  • andyg

    “The Sharks could have blown up the whole thing fired the coach traded Joe and Marlow, but made smart trades and drafting to get the right pieces around their core vets”

    The sharks made right moves. the canucks made bad moves. The sharks may not be there yet as they just lost game six tonight, being up 3-0 in the series.

    • andyg

      I included the Kings in the post as well because both teams retooled and the Kings made the biggest move by getting Sutter as their coach.

      The Kings shipped out Simmons for Richards and JJohnson how didn’t fit for Jeff Carter. Carter was left for dead in Columbus and rejuvenated in LA under Sutter. Both teams are examples of how you can tweet and retool a team with the proper moves.

      The Canucks have assessments to trade, but the No trade clauses will make that more difficult. Running from Boston would be the perfect GM because teams from the East that are close Columbus, Philly ect maybe a desirable situation for some of our older players with less travel and Cup chances.

      Don’t look at Sharks or Kings as a failure losing in game 7. Those are two tough teams and someone has to lose. I was at the game 4 1-0 OT loss in LA two years ago. It sucked being kicked out of the playoffs as the Presidents trophy team, but the Kings and Quick were a buzz saw that year. The Canucks… Minus Danny, gave the Kings the biggest challenge. Only one team can win and it usually is the hottest.

      • JD Burke

        Hey, the Sharks pulled a Canuck and lost the seventh game letting the king come all the way back from 3-0.

        So the sharks have also proven that when you stick with a core that have shown they can;t get it done for a decade, it really is a waste of time. The kings are Cup champs and have proven once again that asset management is something they know how to do.

        the Canucks and sharks on the other hand, prove they know the opposite.

      • JD Burke

        The kings have clawed back to send it to a 7th game. and like the Cancuks core, the Sharks core also has been m.i.a. when they needed it the most.

        A tale of two team, a conclusion of the same futile belief in players who don;t have what it takes to get it done. The Hawks core, that that’s one core worth keeping.

        The Canucks have tried rebuild, retool, reset, restart, nothing has worked. It’s time to accpet facts, the Canucks don’t know what they are doing and are Gillising along the way.

  • andyg

    Great article.

    I was never on board with Torterella from the get-go. I knew what he would bring – and I knew he wouldn’t change it. I knew it would end poorly, just didn’t think it would he ‘this’ poorly.

    He failed to adapt, he still believes in old school methodological and he refuses to change it. This isn’t the league he won a Cup in anymore. Things have changed, the winning teams have adapted. He hasn’t.

    This team needs a coach and GM who use practice and study advanced stats. Blue, SJS, LA, Chicago, Boston all do. They got ‘corsi’ updates between periods in these playoffs. Torts would think corsi is a dog and refuse to let it near his team.

    It’s time to move on. It was a huge mistake to begin with and Gillis knew it. We can all thank Aquilini for the disasterous season.

  • andyg

    As a Canuck living in LA, watching the Sharks and Kings tells me what a proper change can do for a team.

    The Sharks could have blown up the whole thing fired the coach traded Joe and Marlow, but made smart trades and drafting to get the right pieces around their core vets. The Canucks could do the same with a good GM, but not Torts as coach of this club.

    The Kings shook up an under achieving team by trading a couple of core guys for different core guys…. Then got the proper coach in Sutter to lead their club. The team has played completely different since Sutter took over.

    With the right GM, young guys coming and the right trades…. Not just trades for trades sake, the Canucks window could reopen and for a while, with a young Goalie and some young forwards to get the torch from Danny and Hank.

    Blowing it up is a terrible option. Look at the Oil with all their #1 draft picks…. Youth is not always served, and good mix is better by far.

  • andyg

    So clearly not a good fit here. I cannot see one reason for keeping him — vets clearly don’t like him and he’s done a poor job of showing any inclination to develop young players. I’m not sure what he brings at all. I agree that he wasn’t given a lot of options to work with but what he did with it doesn’t seem to deserve another chance.

    • andyg

      But aren’t the reasons for firing Torts pretty much the same reasons he never should have been hired in the first place?

      While I’m certainly not advocating for the star players to be played “into the ground” again, I’m not really sure he did that in TBay & NYR to the detriment of those teams.

      And this wasn’t a bad possession team by any means in spite of these dump & chase accusations.

      My biggest issue with guys like Torts/Carlyle/Keenan is that I think it’s bad for the brand and the relationship building issues with some of the players leaves much to be desired.

      Personally, I’d never hire a middle manager with those kinds of issues.

      While I’d rather not see Torts back as coach next year, I begrudgingly must agree with Ted.

      The roster is the bigger issue here…

      • andyg

        Absolutely, I don’t disagree with any of this. I don’t think he should’ve been hired in the first place, was willing to suspend my skepticism a little bit but the Calgary incident was about it for me as far as Tortorella goes. But you are absolutely right that even with a much better coach it’s hard to imagine that the roster would yield far superior results. I think management as a whole (GM, coach, scouting) is responsible for the mess we’re in.

      • andyg

        “The roster is the bigger issue here…”

        And good luck to you sir trying to get some of the Canuck fanboys here to even acknowledge that.

        Don’t you know by now that real change and core player accountability is something that is never up for discussion here?

        Fire Torts quickly. I want to see this team and their delusional fans suffer for another decade.
        Brings me extreme pleasure and joy to see stupid fools and club liars suffer.

    • ” I agree that he wasn’t given a lot of options to work with but what he did with it doesn’t seem to deserve another chance. ”

      So what you are saying is that you agree Torts was handed crap and now it’s time to get rid of Torts and find someone who can handle the crap.

      You don’t even bother trying to hide your delusions anymore, do you? You’ve totally given up, haven’t you?

  • andyg

    I think you really have to see what changes are made over the summer. If the team makes a lot of changes and puts the rebuild in motion immediately (as they should) then toss Torts. From what I see, Torts isn’t the best at developing young players. Sitting on line 4 and play 3 mins a game is not good development; look out if you make a mistake!

    If we get the same core back then bring back Torts. This core is not going anywhere so might as well use Torts instead of firing him and paying him for nothing.

    Torts may also ensure some of the vets OK a trade to certain teams so that would be a help.

    Yeah, I’d like to see Torts go but it’s pointless to fire him if we come back with the same group.

  • andyg

    No…for a the reasons listed in the article. I just hope Linden doesnt wait too long…he won’t find a better replacement than Barry Trotz out there, and he wknt be available long i am sure.

  • Brent

    You I would agree, poor choice to begin with, and yes, it would be crazy to continue this……but then, why did Sestio get a 2 year contract and play so many games, at the expense of other players? The answer likely lies with the owners. No matter how many facts you give them (if they are even listening), they are not going to take heed and are going to do what they want to do. And unfortunately, I am not sure that Linden is much more than a figurehead so he may not have that much say. I think it may be as much as 60-40 that he stays. And that is not a good thing. On top of all the other things that are not good with the team.

  • JD Burke

    “Tortorella wanted blocked-shots, hits and that aforementioned new “mindset”.”

    Did he actually mention “hits”? And even if he mentioned “hits”, did he say anything that would lead one to believe he privileged hits over puck possession?

    “Torts rode his top-dogs to relative success in the earlier parts of the season, but it cost them a fighting chance in the latter half.”

    While this is certainly plausible, can we definitively establish cause & affect so neatly?

    Put differently, would lowering the minutes of the top guns early and, therefore, increasing the minutes of the middle-bottom of the roster have improved the situation?

    I don’t seem to recall many on here talking about this during the December euphoria or when the Canucks had artifically inflated their score close numbers with their down by 1 possession prowess…

    “Even going as far back as his Stanley Cup victory with the Tampa Bay Lightning, Tortorella had a reputation as a coach who rode his superstars. As his career went on, you could add an “into the ground” at the end of that superstars bit.”

    Prior to Vancouver, did Torts ever ride his stars “into the ground”?

    Was that ever an issue in TBay or New York?

    Because maximizing the contributions of star players isn’t a bad thing…

    “This was made evident on a nightly basis when the Canucks would enter the zone with control of the puck and promptly dump it into the corner.”

    Is there any data that would indicate that the Canucks dump/chase increased this year under Torts relative to last year as well as the 29 other teams in the NHL?

    “But as it relates to this team, Torts was a poor choice to begin with”

    While I agree, very little of it has to do with the largely after the fact explanation in the post…

      • andyg

        If the twins can’t kill penalties, it means they have no depth. One dimensional players.

        AV spoiled the twins on a better team for years.
        You are now seeing just how limited they are as players.

        You should stop expecting mules to become race horses.

        BTW, AV has a better team now over in NY and they are in the playoffs. what horse jockey would want to come over to Vancouver to race a mule?

        I’m sure Torts regrets he ever got off his plane.

        • andyg

          They actually did a good job on the PK.
          It is just not the best use of their energy. ( 17 back to backs this year)

          I am glad he did get off the plane because we can use the number 6 pick.

          Maybe Ted is right and 1 more year of Torts with this core could be to our benefit.

          • andyg

            So in other words… you’re saying let’s stay the course with the same players for the nest decade.

            “I think he will have to find that group elsewhere.”

            Of course he does. Why would the Canucks and their shills want anything else but the status quo? They say they want a winner but what they really want is a rotating door mediocrity and failure.

            The windows are closed, the house stinks and the only folks who refuse to open the door are the ones living in the filth.

            When you sleep with the dogs, you wake up with fleas.

            By the time this team makes a change…and that is why the Canucks will never win the cup.

          • andyg

            Not sure what a “nest decade” is! Torts has 4 years left so you try and do the math.(if you can)

            It will take 3 to 4 years to weed out the NTC’s. Is that a “nest decade”?

            Not sure what dogs and fleas have to do with hockey but OK.

            So are you a Canucks fan or an Oilers fan who is happy that we finally missed the playoffs and share in your 10 year woes? 🙂

          • andyg

            I don’t troll for the Canucks.

            And if I were to troll for something, I would at least pick a subject I cant defend…unlike the Canucks.

            Trust me, I have it on good authority to say the Canucks will not win the cup neSt yeat.

            PS. NeST year. No Kup. Gair ren teed

          • andyg

            What plight? Never having won the cup and being proud of it?

            We don’t know what it’s like to have never won the cup cause we have a few. That’s something you Canucks fans have to deal with yourselves.

            Sorry, we would like to be good neighbors and say we know what it’s like to never have won the cup but we have several and we’d be lying if we said otherwise.

            We’ve gotten to home base ( the cup ) many times now and you guys are still sitting in the dug out. But the arrogance of you Canuck fans will no doubt ensure you guys will be 50 year old cup virgins.

            You know, when you’re 45 and still haven’t had a first cup lay, it’s safe to say the problem is what’s looking at you in the mirror.

          • andyg

            Home base? I don’t even know what an Oilers Stanley Cup Championship looks like. They haven’t done it in my lifetime (I’m 22). From what I’ve seen, more often than not they don’t even get to step into the batter’s box. Seems like the NHL could apply the mercy rule to the Oilers’ season every November.

          • JD Burke

            Well, don’t feel so bad for yourself because despite the dark times in Edmonton being a 22 year old cup virgin is a heck of alot better than being a 44 year old cup virgin.

            So you guys haven’t been up to the batters box yet, so what? Isn’t that alot better than watching the Canucks go up to bat, then got to second, then back to first, then to 3rd, then back to 2nd, then back to first, then back in the dug out?

            Remember, there is no shame if you don’t know how to dance and you don’t get on the dance floor.

            The Canucks however, don’t know how to dance, and have been doing nothing but embarrass themselves on the dance floor for 44 years. And that’s if they make it to the dance.

            What you guys have with the Oilers in the last decade, is what Vancouver has been having for the last 44 years. Sometimes when you look at someone else’s pain… it’s not as bad as your own. 44 year old cup virgin. That’s one nasty label no one wants. Vancouver’s even proud of it too. Go figure.

      • andyg

        Where did I say that?

        I’ve suggested before that I preferred when this organization seemed to look at things like fatigue management.

        However, it’s not as simple as assuming that increasing the minutes of the top players is the reason this team declined…

  • Fred-65

    This team amongst other thing went into last season with a game plan in mind. The plan failed and the list of reason for filure might be long, some of which maybe valid. But last season the team made a mistake in ingnorance but you can’t now repeat that choice with full knowledge of the outcome. He’s gonzo has to be

  • The Benevolent Orca

    I love watching players hustle and block shots but the honest truth is you don’t run a Colt Stallion Race Horse like a Plough horse.

    All you need to do is look at the Canucks top performers and their numbers for the season. You can’t change a players natural talent nor should you try. Especially for established veterans and Hart Trophy winners.

    I think Torts is an amazing guy and good coach, but he’s gotta go!