Vancouver Canucks: A Tale Of Tortorella

John Tortorella, Vancouver Canucks

John Tortorella with former team the New York Rangers. Image courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.

When the New York Rangers fired head coach John Tortorella this past summer, there were some who believed the often irate bench boss would never work in the NHL again because he had earned a reputation as an angry ranter. The former Cup winning coach became notorious for post-game media outbursts that regularly included intense scrutiny of his players and rudeness toward reporters. Throughout his time in NYC Tortorella earned a particularly publicized reputation for targeting his favourite punching bag: New York Post columnist Larry Brooks, who Torts called “Brooksie.”

Shortly after his termination in New York, the Vancouver Canucks hired Tortorella to step in and provide the necessary leadership required to salvage an aging core, three years removed from a Stanley Cup finals appearance in 2011. Tortorella’s tenure in Vancouver began strongly, despite the critics and doubters who took every opportunity to point out the coach’s flaws and predict his inevitable looming failure. Torts is often condemned for his tendency to speak off the cuff, a character trait that sometimes lands him in hot water. However, in early November he used his special powers for good when he defended his franchise players, Daniel and Henrik Sedin. Tortorella ranted about the lack of respect for the Art Ross winning Swedes. On November 1, the Canucks bench boss told media:

“These [The Sedins] aren’t soft people. These aren’t soft players. I’ve had the honour, in this short time, to be with them, up close and personal and see how hard they work and see what they do on the ice.

“It pisses me off, the reputation that’s still out there. It’s so undeserving and so disrespectful.”

Quote courtesy of the Toronto Sun. Read full article here.

The candid commentary of an opinionated public figure can be profound, or detrimental. And in Torts’s case, shying away from speaking his mind is not part of his DNA. He will say what he feels; he’ll do it with cameras and recorders in his face, and he’ll do it behind closed doors, which is his job. Yet, as is the case with all coaches when the message gets lost – Torts eventually lost the Rangers room.

In September, Larry Brooks explained why Tortorella had been fired by the Rangers, citing the latter’s confrontational nature as the main reason:

“The coach was not fired by the Rangers because of his prickly nature at press conferences. He was ultimately dismissed because of his endlessly confrontational nature in dealing with his players.”

Quote courtesy of the New York Post. Read full article here.

The Canucks played well through the first two months of the 2013-14 NHL season. They secured a wild card spot in the NHL’s toughest conference, and built up a decent lead on the rest of the pack, but the wheels have kind of fallen off the bus in recent weeks.

When the Calgary Flames rolled into town for an episode of Hockey Night In Canada on Jan. 18, chaos erupted between the two teams at the opening face-off. In total, five fighting majors were assessed after a melee that saw all ten players on the ice drop their gloves and brawl. Eight players were ejected at the 19:58 mark of the 1st period.

The brawl was bad, but things got much worse when the initial frame came to a close. Tortorella was furious with his counter part – Flames head coach Bob Hartley – who had dressed his fighters to start the game. The move by Hartley spawned Tortorella to match muscle with muscle, loading up the Canucks starting lineup with pugilists. In the 1st intermission Tortorella was spotted on camera, trying to push his way into the Calgary Flames locker room to do lord knows what had he succeeded. Thankfully, Flames on-ice enforcer Brian McGrattan played the part of off-ice pacifist. The six-foot-four bruiser became the critical barrier between Torts and the Flames’ room.

Tortorella made a mistake when he took the game to the hallway. Social media quickly had its way with the video footage of Tortorella outside the Calgary Flames dressing room and the damage was done. On January 20, Tortorella faced discipline in his old stomping grounds, New York City, where he met with the league’s top officials: executive vice-president of hockey operations, Colin Campbell, and the league’s commissioner Gary Bettman. Tortorella was suspended for fifteen days, or, six games. It was reported by former NHL general manager Brian Lawton that Tortorella’s suspension would cost him in and around $80,000.

The Canucks place in the Western Conference standings has since plummeted from safely securing a wild card spot to desperately grasping onto 8th place with 63 points, only 1 more than the 9th place Phoenix Coyotes. Since the brawl against the Flames the Canucks have earned two wins and six losses.

And then, yesterday, Tortorella ruffled some feathers when he criticized his players. He told media:

 “We have some thinking to do here as far as where we are as a hockey club here, as far as personnel and as far as what players think and how they have to play. Do players believe they can win? There’s a lot of questions that need to be asked here.”

Quote courtesy of the New York Post. Read full article here.

Who knows? Who knows how this all ends for Tortorella and the Vancouver Canucks; how this recent slide to the bottom of the Western Conference’s top eight will sort itself? This is Canada, after all. And in Canada, hockey is kind of a big deal. Coaches in Canada, their job security is always in question when the team isn’t winning enough. In January alone, several media outlets called for the heads of Leafs coach Randy Carlyle and Montreal Canadiens bench boss, Michel Therrien. The “Fire Torts” chants aren’t loud, yet, but I wonder if that changes in light of his team’s recent struggles, his comments to media, and his infamous YouTube starring role outside the Calgary Flames dressing room. And if things don’t go well for Torts; if he can’t rectify this season, and he does get axed at some point between now and the beginning of 2014-15, what does the future hold for John Tortorella?