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Canucks GM Mike Gillis makes ‘John Tortorella or me’ ultimatum

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Vancouver Canucks head coach John Tortorella gestures on the bench during third period of an NHL hockey action against the Nashville Predators in Vancouver, British Columbia, on Wednesday, March 19, 2014. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Darryl Dyck)

Turns out this Vancouver Canucks’ season, a clinical study in disorder and diminishing returns, was actually an 82-game excuse for GM Mike Gillis to insert his thumbs in his ears, give his owner and his coach a wet raspberry and proclaim “TOLD YA SO!!!”

At least that’s the impression left by Gillis after his Team 1040 interview on Thursday, in which he said the Canucks will return to the style of play they excelled with in the years under Alain Vigneault and prior to the arrival of John Tortorella.

“I want us to play upbeat, puck possession, move the puck quickly, force teams into mistakes, high transition game,” he said.

“That’s my vision. That’s how I think you win in the Western Conference.”

He wants the team that averaged 2.94 goals per game in 2011-12, not the one that averages 2.34 goals per game this season. He wants to be offensively dangerous and playing for a division title where Tortorella’s team ekes out victories and plays under the playoff bubble.

All of this reinforces the idea that Tortorella wasn’t Gillis’s hire. Go back to after the season: The GM is still talking about skill; owner Francesco Aquilini cut a five-year contract to a guy in Tortorella that he felt could come in, take the roster, play a different style and get better results.

And the results say, at least superficially, that Gillis was right and his owner was wrong. The team had two personalities: The up-tempo style warring with the dump and chase. To paraphrase "Platoon", they were born of two fathers: Mike Gillis and John Tortorella.

Does that mean the coach goes but the general manager stays?

“John’s a proven winner. He’s a competitor. This season has been difficult to describe in all the things that have happened and we had to endure and what we didn’t anticipate. John, like myself, will go through a thorough evaluation at the end of the year, and decisions will be made,” said Gillis.

“But the one thing … the running of this team is my responsibility, and I really feel over the last couple of seasons that we 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 perform and the tempo we want to play with.

“People love to pick someone to blame, but the reality is as an organization we’ve deviated from some of the things that made us successful and some of the things that I know will be successful. We’re going to get back to those levels, get back to that style of play that we started six years ago. We have the personnel to do it. We just have to be committed and have the guts to carry it out.”

Again: It’s a style of play that would seem to be the antithesis of how Tortorella coaches.

It would seem to be a style that would require a new coach.

But because Gillis knows Torts is heading into Year 2 of a 5-year, $10-million deal, he offers this caveat: That the tiger can change his stripes.

“John’s an accomplished coach. Six years ago, everyone thought Alain Vigneault couldn’t change from a defensive style coach to an offensive style coach. Given the resources, and if the players are committed to it, any coach can coach the team that he has,” said Gillis.

This is essentially Gillis saying he’s won. They’ll play his style. They’ll play his tempo. He’ll make deals for players that will play that style and tempo. And if Tortorella doesn’t want to coach it, he’s gone.

Then again … maybe ownership sticks with the coach they hired.

“I’m not sure I’ll be back next season. I think everyone’s open for evaluation,” said Gillis.

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