General Manager Mike Gillis – perhaps naively, perhaps commendably – is a believer in offensive hockey and the freedom of skill players to create.
“I believe you have to have skill in the game. I don’t know why we want to see skill eliminated in the game,” said Gillis after the season.
But when the Vancouver Canucks have been humbled in consecutive playoff quarterfinals, and when the NHL is clearly in an era of physicality, defense and shot-blocking ruling the day, sometimes you have to curse your own dogma.
“I’m going to push back, and try to keep the skill level as high as possible. But you have to take what you’re given,” aid Gillis.
Tortorella would seem to be the antithesis of a great many things we know about the Canucks and their general manager.
He’s reactionary and hot-headed in a role that requires someone with a more tempered comportment, but maybe owner Francesco Aquilini finally wanted a coach created in his own likeness.
He’s the shot-blocking coach that ran Marian Gaborik out of town and benched Brad Richards in playoff elimination games, on a team that’s built around two Swedish twins that are softer than Egyptian cotton in the postseason.
He’s the coach whose teams can’t score in the playoffs, relying too heavily on goaltending to save the day. And Vancouver just fired that guy.
He’s the coach who toys with the media, establishing a tense, intimidating relationship that’s more antagonism than assistance. If Alain Vigneault's relationship with the local scribes was an issue in his firing, Tortorella isn’t exactly Tom Hanks in the likeability department. Unless we’re talking Tom Hanks from “Road To Perdition.”
(Incidentally, he and Tony Gallagher will get along fine, given their penchant for us-against-them conspiracy theories.)
So none of this makes sense, outside of the notion that Drill Sergeant Torts is going to toughen up these plebs.
But the Canucks are in a win-now mode. Tortorella’s a roman candle: He burns bright, sparks flying, for short duration before he burns out. If the notion is that this roster has the heart of a champion, then Tortorella’s a defibrillator in a way that John Stevens, for example, isn’t.
The essential question for this hiring, should it occur: How do the players react?
Jeff Angus reports that the Sedins wanted Tortorella. Does that speak to a willingness to modulate their games under his demands for defense?
Kevin Bieksa didn’t see the need for a “whip-cracking coach” to come in and change the Canucks’ culture. Welp, so much for that; so do the Canucks rally in defiance of Tortorella or is the whip what they need? (s/t Thomas Drance, and be sure to read his Torts piece.)
It’s all speculation, based on the hyperbolic assumptions made about the character of both Tortorella and the Canucks. The truth will play out in one of the NHL’s most compelling soap operas in some time – good lord, the Canucks and Rangers swapped coaches. Gee, wonder if their success will be measured against each other.
John Tortorella, head coach of the Vancouver Canucks.
This is going to be fun.
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