Saturday, April 5, 2014
VANCOUVER -- The Vancouver Canucks likely are going to make changes.
Alain Vigneault, who spent seven seasons as the Canucks' head coach, was relieved of his duties on May 22. He wasn't able to succeed in the playoffs.
Management hoped that John Tortorella would be the solution to that problem, as he was hired to replace Vigneault on June 23.
“This is a great day for our organization,” Mike Gillis, Vancouver's president and general manager, said on the day of Tortorella's hiring. “ We are very pleased, we went through an extensive selection process and are just thrilled to have John here. His records speak for itself and I am extremely excited about the opportunities we have moving forward. I think that it'll be a great time for our organization and a very successful time.”
And the team did have success, but only for a little while.
At the end of December, the Canucks had a 23-11-7 record. However, once the calendar year turned, things began to fall apart.
Perhaps it began when the Canucks played host to Calgary on Jan. 18.
Not only did a line brawl occur at the start of the game, but Tortorella tried to enter the Flames' locker-room during the intermission to confront their head coach, Bob Hartley.
Ultimately, Tortorella was suspended for 15 days, during which he wasn't allowed to have any contact with the team. He ended up missing six games.
Once he returned, there continued to be problems.
Not often does a team have an opportunity to play in an outdoor game, let alone play host to one. That would change as the NHL announced that it was going to have four games as part of its stadium series,along with one Winter and one Heritage Classic game.
Vancouver would play host to the Ottawa Senators in the Heritage Classic at BC
Place Stadium on March 2.
Roberto Luongo, who was Vancouver's starting goaltender, had wanted to start that
game, but because backup Eddie Lack was performing better and the team was in need of victories, Tortorella decided to start the 26-year-old.
A frustrated Luongo sat on the bench, as the Canucks lost, 4-2.
As well, not even nature was on the Vancouver's side. The roof of the building was meant to be opened, but was closed due to rain.
Not starting was the last straw for the-then-34-year-old Luongo, who had wanted out for two seasons. Two days later, he was traded to the Florida Panthers, where he had wanted to be all along.
The Canucks traded Luongo, retaining 15 per cent of his salary, and forward Steven Anthony to Florida for goaltender Jacob Markstrom and forward Shawn Matthias.
By March 12, the Canucks were 7-17-3 in 2014.
“To go from December when you win every game in a month to what has occurred since then is remarkable,” Gillis explained on the March 12. “But there are some reasons and they're not excuses, but we've had massive injuries this (season), we've had key guys out of our lineup for extended periods of time, we had an incident in January that was hard to describe. It is what it is, we have to continue to find ways to win games.”
That led to speculation that Tortorella, who signed a five-year contract, was about to lose his job.
“I'm not commenting on that, because then it just lends creditably to what's out there with bloggers and all kinds of different people,” Gillis said. "So, it's unfair to comment on any future plans other than what we've already said, which was that were trying to get younger, we're trying to retool, and we're trying to do things a little differently in the next one, three, five years.”
But his job isn't safe either.
Gillis has been feeling heat, too, after several questionable trades during his time as the Canucks' general manager. That includes moving goaltender Cory Schneider to the New Jersey Devils for the ninth-overall pick at the 2013 NHL draft, which the Canucks' used to select forward Bo Horvat from the OHL's London Knights.
Vancouver has an 11-21-4 record since Gillis addressed Tortorella's job situation on March 12.
Finally, Gillis decided to speak up.
“The running of this team is my responsibility,” Gillis said in an interview on TEAM 1040's Bro Jake Show on Thursday. “I really feel that in the last seasons we've chased goal posts that have been moving and got away from our core principles of how I want this team to play and how we want to preform and the tempo that we want to play with.
"So, you know, people love to pick someone to blame. But the reality is, as an organization, we've deviated from some of the things that have been successful and some of the things that I know will be successful. We will get back to those levels and that style of play that we started six years ago and we have the personnel to do it. We just have to be committed and have the guts to carry it out.”
But perhaps his ideas may not matter.
“I'm not sure if I'll be back next season,” Gillis said on the radio show. "I think
everybody is open for evaluation. We've had players who have severely underperformed. Our team has underperformed. I think that we're all open to evaluation and we all deserve evaluation and that's what's going to come.
"Having said that, I have a clear vision on where we have to go. I had one six seasons ago, and I have one today that we have to execute on in order to compete for the Stanley Cup and the Western Conference and that's what I intend to do. But I think it's fair to say that we will all be under scrutiny and evaluation come the end of this season, which is deserved.”
Still, Gillis is determined to bring the Canucks to their winning ways once again if he is given the chance to do so.
"We had a plan six years ago to do it and we got as close as we could get,” Gillis explained on the Bro Jake Show. “We learned a lot of lessons from that and I'm tired of chasing a moving target. We are going to get back to the fundamentals and the principles that I believe in and that's how we're going to play. Like I said, if people don't want to comply, and we did this six years ago, we made hard
choices. Those hard choices are going to come again if we don't see people get on the same page."
So why are the Canucks struggling?
“When you have an entire team's performance drop off, there has to be reasons for it,” he told the radio audience. “Whether those reasons are attributable to one thing and one thing only is unlikely. I think it's a combination of things that has contributed to us not preforming at a level that we have expected, and I think those things need to be addressed systemically and completely and turned
around so that we can build the style and style of team we want to have here. If given the resources and the players are committed to it, any coach can coach the team that he has. But having said that, our problems are far-reaching and will be addressed. If people don't want to get onside with how I view this team and how it's supposed to play then they won't be here.”
Tortorella coaches a hard-nosed, shot-blocking, defence-first game. Gillis, however, has a different view on how he wants the game to be played.
“I want us to play an upbeat, puck possession, move-the-puck quickly, force teams into mistakes, high-transition game,” Gillis said on the radio show. “I think we have the personnel to do it. If we don't, they'll be changed. That's my vision, that's how I believe you're going to win in the Western Conference and the National Hockey League. If you look at the top teams in the West, there isn't a lot
that separated the teams, but the top teams played that way. That's the way that we played.”
Following Friday's practice, Tortorella was asked about Gillis's conversation on TEAM 1040.
“I'm not going to have any comment on that,” Tortorella told reporters. “I think that that's a conversation that should be held internally, and that's how I'll go about my business. You're digging at a subject that I'd rather talk internally about, that's probably something you talk about after the season is over. I have to worry about coaching a hockey team, we have five more games, a team that needs to get better, and that's my focus.”
With the Canucks unlikely to make the playoffs, the spotlight has been placed squarely on Tortorella and Gillis.
“We'll go through a thorough evaluation of what occurred this season,” Gillis said on the Bro Jake Show. “We'll go through a thorough plan of where we see we have to go and (ownership will) make a decision on what route they choose."
It likely won't be long until that route is revealed.
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