Saturday, May 3, 2014

Things looking different in Vancouver

Dickson Liong

It wasn't an earthquake, but there was a shakeup in Vancouver.
For several seasons, the Vancouver Canucks have been the hottest ticket in town, selling out Rogers Arena game after game and providing an electric atmosphere. The demand to see the team play live has been extremely high, boosting the cost of attending higher and higher.Fans who wanted to purchase season-ticket packages were put on a waiting list, and had to test their patience if they wanted to get their hands on one.
And understandably so. After all, the Canucks play in a Canadian city.
But after the Canucks rose to the top and stayed there for a few seasons, things began to decline, on and off the ice. It started to show last season, where the team ranked 28th in goals scored (191).
Because Vancouver had difficulty scoring, it wasn’t able to string together victories on a consistent basis.
Much like the players, fans started to become frustrated and, even though it always was announced that the arena was sold out, many seats were empty for a number of games.
But there was one game in which the fans took their anger to another level.
There were four games left in the regular season and Vancouver was six points out of a wild-card playoff spot. It was desperately trying to keep its minimal chances of reaching the post-season alive.
If the Canucks were going to do so, they needed to defeat the Anaheim Ducks, one of the NHL’s top teams, at home on April 7. With less than three minutes left in the game, Vancouver was trailing, 3-0.
Tempers began to flare.
Fans opted to send the organization, especially general manager Mike Gillis, a message.
“Fire Gillis,” the Canucks' faithful chanted. “Fire Gillis.”
Vancouver only put 18 shots on Ducks' rookie goaltender John Gibson, and failed to get on the scoreboard. The Canucks, to nobody's surprise, were officially out of playoff contention for the first time since the 2005-06 season.
The attention wasn't much on that, though.
It was on the fans' chants.
“Personally, I don't think it was the right thing to do,” Canucks' defenceman Kevin Bieksa said. “But at the end of the day, the fans come and they can do whatever they want. Put it this way, we're all going take the blame for this.”
The fans got what they wanted and, perhaps shockingly, it came the next day when Gillis was relieved of his duties as president and general manager.
Who would replace him? None other than Canucks' legend Trevor Linden, who most fans remember as a player on the 1993-94 team that made it to the Stanley Cup final for the second time in franchise history. He was named the team's alternate governor and president of hockey operations.
“I left the game six seasons ago and wasn't sure what the future would hold,” he said on the day of the hiring. “I've enjoyed my time away from the game. Having said that, you don't play 20 seasons in the National Hockey League and spend your whole life in hockey and not have it in your DNA. I always kind of thought I'd be back, I never wanted to work for another organization. I'm a sports fan, I love this team, I follow the team closely. This opportunity at my age is a great challenge. I'm just really excited about this opportunity and the future.”
With Gillis gone, the status of head coach John Tortorella was uncertain.
Gillis, along with the team's ownership, had stated many times that the general manager had hired the one-time Stanley Cup-champion coach.
“Obviously, the timing of this allows me to fully evaluate the coaching staff,” Linden stated. “I come into it with a fresh set of eyes. Obviously, I understand the challenges with coaching. I've been a player for 20 seasons and I look forward to sitting down with the players after the season and fully understanding the ins and outs of their issues and their season.
“Those decisions will be made down the road. Obviously, a critical path is assessing a general manager and looking at the structure of our hockey operations, whether it's on the pro side or the amateur side -- all those decisions need to be evaluated. Any coaching decision will be made in due time after thorough evaluation.”
Some may argue that Tortorella wasn't given the right roster with which to work. He has been known to work well with young players, something that the Vancouver roster doesn't have much of, at least not yet.
“I felt, from Day 1, that (the roster is)) stale,” Tortorella stated at the team's season-ending press conference. “And that's not the players’ fault. This group has been together for a long time; it's stale, it needs youth. It needs a change . . . it needs a changes, I felt that from Day 1.
“We have to stop talking about 2011. The team needs to be retooled, and that's what change is. It's a young man's game, we need to surround (the leaders) with some enthusiasm. If I'm here, I want to play four lines. But you guys have to understand when you're on a bench, and you're down 2-1 trying to get back in the game or trying to get that next goal to win the game, I tried to do what I could to win games because sometimes I'd look down (on the bench) and guys just weren't ready. We lacked depth, and that's where we're at. That isn't being critical, it's the truth.”
Tortorella admitted that he had made his mistakes, too, and he owned up to them.
“My biggest regret, personally, this season was that I was coaching the team properly the first half,” he said. “We were playing a game that I think we should play, I was on top of it. There was a lot of things that we needed to work on, but we were there.
“We get banged up and changed a bit; we needed to and I'd do it again. But I didn't get back in the room and continue to teach the details after, I didn't stay on top of that. I gave the room to the players to too much of an extent, I needed to be in there. I mean, I was in there, but I needed to be pounding away at the details and I think that hurt us. I think that it hurt us in situational play, I think that hurt us in understanding how you change momentum, all parts of the game. That's me. That's not them, that's me.”
After Linden held his exit meetings, he made his decision on the future of the coaching staff.
Tortorella wouldn't get the opportunity to redeem his mistakes as he and associate coach Mike Sullivan were relieved of their duties on Thursday morning after just one season.
“I met with John after the season for several hours on several different days,” Linden explained. “I tried to come in with a very neutral place and we had good conversation. He's a good hockey man. But, I think at the end of the day, I kept coming back to a lot of things that I didn't like that I saw trending. I just felt to move forward and kind of put a new perspective and a new direction was the right thing to do. From the outside, you may have a certain idea, a certain perspective. But when you sit down and talk with someone, they become very human. I've got a lot of respect for him; he's had a great coaching career. I mean, he's won a Stanley Cup and we had great conversation. But at the end of the day, I kept coming back to collectively how this group under-performed and individually as well.”
Vancouver, no longer the team it once was, now hope the changes being made will bring it back to being a winning team that people want to support and enjoy watching.
“I think there's nobody that happy with our results this season,” Linden said. “It starts with our players. They're disappointed.
“I believe in the core of the group down there. I think they're responsible and want to be better. I think we, as an organization, have to connect with our fans in a greater way and, ultimately, I think we need to bring excitement back to Rogers Arena and a brand of hockey that people like to play.
“I understand the fans’ discontent, I don't blame them for it. It's up to us change things and win them back.”

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