Just What the Doctor Ordered?
- Canucks coach John Tortorella meets the media and he's been all smiles so far. But can he get them to the next level?
It was pretty much inevitable that change was coming, that a new voice was needed. Two straight first round exits in fairly unceremonious fashion will do that to a club who's expectation each year is to contend for the Stanley Cup. And so on May 22nd, the Canucks dismissed Alain Vigneault as head coach, along with much of his coaching staff. It was widely accepted that as good a coach as AV is, after 7+ years in Vancouver, a new voice was needed.
Under Alain Vigneault, the Vancouver Canucks did some spectacular things. Back to back Presidents Trophies, 6 Division Titles in 7 years, a run to the Stanley Cup Final, and led the league in almost every statistical category you can think of. Make no mistake, Alain Vigneault is a fantastic coach. But for all the good the Canucks did, there were definitely areas that left fans, and indeed ownership, wanting.
The Canucks seemed to be notoriously slow starters at the beginning of the year. Struggling out of the gate every year, the team seemed to lack energy and drive, until they inevitably turned the corner in November and righted the ship. It was like clockwork every year. It was also incredibly frustrating to watch. It happened all throughout Alain Vigneault's tenure as Canucks head coach, even while they reeled off consecutive President's Trophy caliber seasons.
Enter John Tortorella.
The Canucks new coach brings a much needed new perspective to the room. This is most definitely a re-set, as Mike Gillis indicated at the Canucks Summit in July. Perhaps not so much on the roster as many fans wanted to see, but most definitely in philosophy. Not only a new voice but a different approach to many things, from training camp to line combinations and the utilization of players in each situation, a lot of things are about to change for the Canucks. After being let go by the Rangers after over 4 seasons in the Big Apple, Torts took it upon himself to do a bit of self reflection.
"When you lose your job, you crawl into a hole a little bit, you reassess yourself, you try to learn, and I have certainly gone through that process. Have I made mistakes? Absolutely. I make my own bed in this type of situation with the perception of myself in the media. But I know how important it is with this job here, especially in this city and this province."
Such was the process John Tortorella undertook after his dismissal as the Rangers bench boss in spring, 4 days after his club was eliminated by the Bruins in the 2nd round of the playoffs. Through some self assessment and analysis, Torts subscribes to the mindset that you can grow and learn from your experiences, your successes and failures and come out stronger because of them, provided you are personally committed to doing so. He made the comment when he was asked about his past relationship with members of the media, which to put lightly has been... let's say, colorful... in the past. It's almost eerie how applicable his statement is in regards to the team he inherits.
The Canucks, individually and as a collective group, would be well served to follow the lead of their new head coach.
Consistency, or lack thereof, has been an issue. So too has the competitiveness on some nights. The level of push-back when they got down a goal or two has been questionable at the best of times. These issues were compounded after the loss in the Cup Finals in 2011. The team seemed to lose their mojo, that swagger they had carried with them throughout that amazing 2010-11 campaign and their playoff run, and they've yet to get it back. Since Game 6 of the 2011 Stanley Cup Final, the team seemed to play with almost zero passion, zero energy, zero urgency. Almost every game they looked like they were just going through the motions. They played down to teams well below their skill level. That the Canucks team of the last few years made the Calgary Flames look like a formidable opponent some nights reaches a whole new level of ridiculous. Their focus was lacking, their level of push back was almost non-existent and to watch the Canucks in a shootout felt like a Keystone Cops routine that wouldn't end until a Canuck goaltender was making snow angels on the ice with the goal light on behind him.
Yes, each and every Canuck would be well served to crawl into a metaphorical hole of their own and do a little bit of self-reflection. This team has the capacity to be a top end contender, but they need to show up on a nightly basis and put in the work. Do they have it in them to commit to playing along the boards harder? To outwork the other team night after night? Do they want that next level bad enough to do what it takes to get there, playing on both sides of the puck? With Torts here, we will soon find out who does, and who doesn't.
"He's an intense guy and very detailed and wants his players to play hard," said Kesler, who was at the press conference when John Tortorella was introduced as the new head coach.
"That's what I like about him. He's going to hold us accountable. And if we're not, we're not going to play."
Tort's impact will be immediate, as training camp could provide a bit of culture shock to the players. Known to his former players as "Camp Tortur-ella", conditioning is the main focus. As a coach that demands a lot from his players, he expects players to be in top physical condition in order to perform at a high level consistently throughout the season. Former Canuck Brad Lukowich experienced it first hand when he was a member of the Tampa Bay Lightning under Tortorella, and warns the Canucks to be ready for what's coming in September.
"If you think you're in shape now, start working out even harder," said Lukowich.
"It's like the Navy Seals of the NHL. It's something else, I'll tell you. I'm sure glad I don't have to do that again."
Better conditioning is just the start. But it could definitely help those slow starts the Canucks fans have become accustomed to throughout the last few years. And perhaps that will be the first litmus test from a fans perspective, to see if this guy really can be what this team needs to get that swagger back.
The past 2 seasons, the Canucks seemed constantly under-prepared, unmotivated and uninspired. Their sheer talent level got them through for the most part. You have to be good to be lucky? To a point, but luck favours the prepared. Far too often, the Canucks were not. This should be unacceptable for a team with Stanley Cup aspirations. It is most definitely unacceptable for a John Tortorella team.
'Good enough' simply should not be good enough for this team. By hiring Tortorella, the Canucks management is sending exactly that message.
And that's music to this fans ears.