You can breathe, Canucks fans. The wait is finally over. Effective today, coach John Tortorella’s reign has come to an end.
Assistant coach Mike Sullivan has also been relieved of duties.
Canucks President Trevor Linden held a press conference to explain the announcement this afternoon. His most revealing line:
“When I look at the number of players that had seasons that were disappointing, there’s no question that played a big factor.”
Linden also sent an email to season ticket holders this morning. From the email:
Today we are making a significant change in the direction of our team by relieving John Tortorella and Mike Sullivan of their coaching duties…
This is a fresh start for our team and you’ll see us make some other changes this summer. It starts with how we shape our management and coaching staffs and the roster improvements we’re able to make. Our goal is to be back in the playoffs next spring as we continue developing this group into a team that can challenge for the Stanley Cup.
It’s done. President Linden has made his first big move.
Why let him go?
At the end of the day, Tortorella’s biggest problem – the reason he lasted only one year – was that he never had the ability to comprehend what the problem was.
You heard it in his season-ending press conference two weeks ago.
“I know you guys think I’m hard, but I should have been harder,” he said, when asked what he could’ve done differently. “Your team has to have an edge. It’s my job to bring it out.”
That was his solution – he needed to be tougher, make his team play “stiffer.” He had to drill the defensive game into their heads.
They weren’t the same team they were in 2011, he said, and we all needed to get that idea out of our heads.
He was in his own world there.
When Vancouver’s core came within one game of the Stanley Cup, their coach didn’t have to tell them to play hard once during that run. They knew what it took to win – from the work ethic to having the killer instinct when everything was on the line. (You might bring up the Boston series, but don’t forget Game 7 against Chicago).
Sure they’re three years older than they were in 2011, but they didn’t have a team-wide outbreak of Alzheimers suddenly clearing their memories of how to play defense. Hell, the Canucks had defense-first hockey pounded into their psyches by Alain Vigneault for seven full years.
But Tortorella says he should have been harder on them.
No mention of the many glaring, hit-your-head-against-a-wall lineup decisions he made (but to defend them). No understanding of the horror show he caused.
So where do we start with that horror show?
The Kassian file
When Tortorella began the season, he was going to develop the young players on the team.
He promised to develop Zack Kassian into a top-six forward and give him all sorts of chances in offensive positions.
During his interviews with Mike Gillis and Francesco Aquilini last summer, it was one of the key pitches he made. Now, we’ve learned over the course of the season that Torts is a smooth talker. Given the challenge, he would be able to sell an 18 ounce rib-eye to a vegan – that’s how good he is.
We saw what happened: Kassian, despite ending the season as the Canucks hottest player and winning the team’s award for most exciting player, could not even make it off Tortorella’s third line.
Surely Tortorella would learn from his errs and change…
His thoughts on Kassian after the season: “Everybody wanted him on the top line, give him this, give him that. Not going to happen – at least with this coach.”
On a team that couldn’t produce goals, one of their best offensive players was buried.
And Kassian wasn’t the only young player who saw his development stunted this past season.
The Luongo mess
After seeing Cory Schneider traded to New Jersey last summer, Canucks fans were a changed bunch. They’d gotten to know Roberto Luongo through his Twitter account, realized he was funny and self-depreciating, and above all he was a regular guy. They were pulling for him.
Luongo, for his part, had gone to battle for the Canucks for seven years, and he continued fighting for them despite being treated like crap.
Tortorella gave no consideration to returning that loyalty and he had no thought of the mental make-up of either of his goalies. He showed that by starting Eddie Lack in the Heritage Classic.
Lack, an NHL rookie, had to play in front of 50,000 fans at B.C. Place and he took the brunt of the fans’ anger about the decision to pull the honour from Luongo.
Afterwards, Torts admitted Lack looked out of sorts. Yet, stubborn as always, he said he’d make the same decision again.
Where it all went wrong
Tortorella was asked several times where the season slid off the rails for his team.
He alluded to the injuries in January, and how he never managed to bring the team back to the aggressive way they were playing in December.
Again, wishing his team was “stiffer,” and saying he should’ve been harder on them. Would that have helped? Obviously Linden thinks not.
In Tortorella’s words: “I think we’ve got a really good core here, but I think we’ve got to surround it with some enthusiasm, youth, and build it that way. And then we’re going to get to where we want to be.”
Yet given the chance to play his young players in meaningful situations, he couldn’t bring himself to do it.
“There were some times I did the things I needed to do to win games because sometimes I looked (down the bench) and guys just weren’t ready.”
Instead of playing young up-and-comers in important situations and allowing them to learn and succeed, he went back to trusty Jannik Hansen and Chris Higgins for his second line over and over again. You know you’re going to get sound defensive play from these guys, but the offense is a crapshoot.
Tortorella needed to bring the best out of a roster that on paper was much stronger than the results showed. Alex Edler, Jason Garrison, Dan Hamhuis, Zack Kassian, Jordan Schroeder, Alex Burrows, the Sedins and Ryan Kesler – all had horrible seasons.
Same lines, louder yelling – that was Torts’ solution.
And that’s why he’s out of a job.
Note: Post updated as of 1:40 p.m.