Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Should the Canucks fire Gillis or Tortorella?

There's a lot of talk these days in Vancouver regarding their coach and general manager.  Who should take the fall for the horrendous season in which the team will miss the playoffs, and do so with a pop gun offence, atrocious power play and late game collapses?

Some media (Jason Botchford and Tony Gallagher to name a couple) think that Tortorella should go, and there is some considerable logic to put behind that opinion.  You could make a case for Tortorella if you believe any of the following:

1) Tortorella's tirade into the Calgary locker room in January "lost the room", embarrassed the franchise and was a big reason for the team's 2014 collapse.

2) Tortorella's "defensive, up tempo" style of collapsing in front of your net and blocking shots has resulted in increased injuries, and lack of a transition game, stifling offence.

3) Tortorella's insistence on riding top players with major minutes wore out the Sedins and Kesler early in the season, resulting in a horrendous power play and prolonged scoring slumps.  The same tactics reduced ice time for the team's bottom 6, limiting their contributions.

4) Tortorella's decision to start Eddie Lack in the Heritage Classic drove Luongo over the edge and forced the team to start a rookie goaltender as their starter for at least 17 straight games over February and March.

All of these have some validity, and it's pretty evident that Tortorella's style of coaching has not worked well with this club.  Back in December, Torts was chewing out Jannik Hansen and Alex Edler on the bench, and calling timeouts at key moments to reverse the flow.  He was pushing all the right buttons it seemed.

Or was he?

Jannik Hansen and Alex Edler have had horrible seasons, and Tortorella cannot seem to find the pulse of the team.  Even Torts looks like he's given up.  Early season Torts would've dropped an F-bomb behind the bench.  Now?  Just a lot of looking skyward and shaking his head.  That will be the lasting image from this year.

But before you pull the trigger on Tortorella, why not consider the following:

What did the Canucks management group expect when they hired Tortorella?
1) A media fiasco resulting from Torts' actions on an HNIC broadcast? Check
2) A defensive system based on collapsing around an all-star goaltender and putrid offence? Check
3) A propensity for playing top-end forwards 24 minutes a night (see Tampa Bay 2005-2007)? Check
4) A questionable benching in a big game (*cough* Brad Richards *cough*)? Check

Hmm... seems like the Canucks got JOHN TORTORELLA.  He came as advertised!  He coached exactly as John Tortorella coaches.  The problem?  It didn't work.

Torts was hired to squeeze some extra energy out of the team.  Well, he sure did!  He squeezed the life right out of them.  In fact, it seems that Tortorella getting these Vancouver Canucks to play Torts style is akin to Michael Buble playing like Metallica.  It's just not a good idea. So let's all agree that the John Tortorella Experiment Failed.  Okay?

He wasn't able to summon the mystical 2011 Canucks from this group.  There is no stanchion, there is no dragon slaying, there is certainly no power play and no offense, and most importantly, there are no playoffs.

The John Tortorella Experiment FAILED.

So...let's fire Tortorella.  And then what?  GM Mike Gillis and ownership hire ANOTHER coach to come in and lead this group to the promised land?

Are we really going to give management a free pass on this one? They JUST CHOSE Tortorella last summer, and signed him to a 5-year contract.  They said Tortorella is part of this team's 'reset', part of the "Master Plan" by GM Mike Gillis to reinvent reset retool regroup reload re-anything but a rebuild this team.

They fired Alain Vigneault because the team couldn't score goals and blew leads late in games.  Sound familiar?  Maybe it's not Torts' fault?  Maybe it's not AV's fault?

Since 2012, the Vancouver Canucks offense has shriveled up and died, especially in the playoffs.
In 2012, 4th in the NHL
In 2013, 18th in the NHL
In 2014, 28th in the NHL.

The power play looks just as bad.  It's not Torts.

Since the 2011 Stanley Cup Final, the Canucks have scored 24 goals in 16 playoff games, and they've lost 12 of their last 14 playoff games.  But they won't even get there this year.

The General Manager has managed to trade away two franchise, all-star goaltenders for a draft pick, a prospect goaltender and a third line center.  Of course, he let a goalie controversy fester for two seasons before making a deal.

He's handcuffed himself with long-term deals (with no movement clauses) to players unfit for a Tortorella system, and found himself unable to add scoring to this team for over two years now.  They continue to get worse under his watch, all while fans are asked to patiently wait for a winning team to arrive.

What does this winning team look like?  Well, that's anybody's guess.
Gillis and the Canucks enjoy telling season ticket holders that they're building a team with a different identity, just don't expect them to tell you what that identity is.

Anyone with a brain knew that Bo Horvat, Brendan Gaunce, Hunter Shinkaruk and Nicklas Jensen weren't going to play major roles this year, and most won't for another two or three years.

In fact, let's look forward to opening day 2014-15.  Aside from Torts' former Rangers' captain Ryan Callahan, there isn't a whole lot on the UFA market this year.  So get ready for more of the same pop-gun offense.  Barring anyone riding in on a white horse, the Canucks' hopes for improvement lie with the likes of Zack Kassian, Nicklas Jensen, a rookie Bo Horvat, a resurgent David Booth, and a returning Mike Santorelli.  Really?

Here's what will really happen:

Gillis and the Canucks will KEEP Tortorella, because it's expensive to fire him and makes their decision look bad.  He will blame the colossal failure this season on injuries to top players.

Even though Jensen only got a late season audition, and Shinkaruk, Gaunce, Horvat etc. all stayed in junior, Gillis will point to Zac Dalpe, Darren Archibald, Ryan Stanton and Eddie Lack as evidence of the team's "reset", and he'll sell fans on Zack Kassian and Chris Tanev, even though Kassian receives next to no power play or top six time.

Gillis may make a major deal in the off-season, perhaps a Kesler deal.  However, given his trade record, fans should unplug his phone.

Sorry to say this Canucks' fans, but firing Torts won't help, and this team may actually still get worse before it gets better.