VANCOUVER - After all we’d seen, heard and been conditioned to believe, John Tortorella has been such a disappointment with the Vancouver Canucks.
Thirteen games into the regular season, he hasn’t screamed at any reporters, referees or players on his bench. The only guy he has yelled at is Keith Acton, and the Edmonton Oilers’ assistant coach deserved it. A warning to reporters about their cellphones? That’s the most volatile Torts has been? We remember worse from Tom Renney.
All Tortorella does is just stand behind the bench and ... and ... coach. We can’t even tell what that Mona Lisa grin of his means most of the time. And, yet, no Canuck had a better road trip than Tortorella.
Well, maybe Henrik Sedin did.
That and other random thoughts as the 8-4-1 Canucks, after a full weekend off thanks to Torts-the-magnanimous, open a three-game homestand tonight against the Washington Capitals.
KA-CHING: During contract negotiations, great players rarely get cheaper when the general manager waits. With their performance on the Canucks’ 5-1-1 road odyssey, which finished with back-to-back wins in St. Louis and New Jersey, Daniel and Henrik Sedin may have added another year and a half-million per season to their next deals.
Although general manager Mike Gillis and agent J.P. Barry have maintained a publicity blackout, the sides are believed to be periodically chipping away at an extension for the twins, who are eligible for unrestricted free agency after this season.
If Henrik plays the final 69 games like he has the first 13, he’ll win the Hart Trophy if Sidney Crosby gets hurt. The Canuck captain had points in all seven games on the trip, inching into second in National Hockey League scoring before Sunday’s schedule, and in its final 28 hours logged 50:47 of ice time.
Sedin’s 25:04 of playing time Friday in St. Louis and 25:53 Thursday in New Jersey were the busiest regular-season nights in his 13-year career. Daniel, who had two goals and five points in the seven games, set a career-high with 25:25 in New Jersey before taking it easy with 24:06 on Friday. Henrik and Daniel averaged 19:21 and 19:01 last season.
With a new coach, new system and a pile of injuries, the Sedins have never seemed more important to the Canucks in October.
The notion held by some that GM Mike Gillis somehow might get the 33-year-olds to accept a two- or three-year deal at close to their current salaries of $6.1 million seems nonsensical. Toronto Maple Leaf Phil Kessel, outscored by the Sedins over the last three seasons, recently signed for $8 million per year and Detroit Red Wing Pavel Datsyuk, who is 35, has a new three-year extension worth $7.5-million annually starting next season.
The Sedins were never going to come cheap. And they’re getting less so by the week.
TORTS POOL: Here’s predicting that when Torts finally blows, it will be because he has been asked for the 17th straight day about overplaying his top forwards. Ryan Kesler (22:32), Henrik (22:24) and Daniel (22:09) are now second, third and fourth in ice time among NHL forwards. Playing in a Western Conference outpost, during an Olympic year that features a compressed schedule with more travel than ever before.
Tortorella chided reporters on the road trip, reiterating that he simply doesn’t believe there’s some threshold of minutes beyond which his top players shouldn’t go. He’s wrong, of course. It’s a physiological certainty that every player has limits, otherwise the best ones would play 60 minutes a night. And Gillis, a man of science, knows this.
The minutes for Kesler and the Sedins are not sustainable.
THE PACIFIC THEATRE: Lest there was any doubt about how much tougher realignment has made it for the Canucks to make the playoffs, their winning percentage of .654 was only fourth best in the Pacific Division as of Sunday afternoon. Even at 8-4-1, the Canucks were barely ahead by winning percentage of the fifth-place Los Angeles Kings, who had a game Sunday night against the Edmonton Oilers.
The Canucks get the Kings and the rest of the mighty Pacific’s top five during a road trip that starts next Tuesday against the Phoenix Coyotes. Only the top three finishers in each of the NHL’s four remade divisions are guaranteed playoff spots, although there are two wild card berths per conference.
WHO’S ON FOURTH? In fairness to Tortorella, he hasn’t had much choice with the playing time of his top players. Not if he wants to win. There are five injured forwards missing from a lineup that had questionable third- and fourth-line depth to begin with.
Already, the Canucks have used 19 different players, including defencemen, at forward positions this season. A couple of nights on the road, Vancouver barely had a third line, let alone a fourth.
Key winger Alex Burrows, out since cracking a bone-blocking shot in the Canucks’ season-opener Oct. 3, should return to the lineup this week. Forwards Jannik Hansen and Jordan Schroeder were placed on the long-term-injured list last week, meaning they’ll be out a minimum 10 games.
GOOD NEWS: Beyond the play of the Sedins, the rebirth of Kesler as a goal-scoring winger, and the NHL resurrection of forward Mike Santorelli, there were some other vital developments on the road trip for the Canucks.
Rookie backup goalie Eddie Lack, coming off major hip surgery, is proving he is NHL-ready and capable of starting in at least the 17 back-to-back situations the Canucks face this season. Key defencemen Alex Edler and Kevin Bieksa are playing some of the best hockey of their careers, 23-year-old blueliner Chris Tanev averaged 21:07 on the trip and sixth defenceman Ryan Stanton, 24, looks like a waiver-pickup lottery prize.
And the Canucks’ power play is now only the sixth-worst in the league after generating the overtime winner in St. Louis where, a day after Tortorella implored officials to give his reformed team “some goddam calls,” Vancouver had more man-advantages than the opposition for just the second time this season.
© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun