Kuzma: What Gillis wants, and what Torts wants, are polar opposites

 

 
 
 
 
Fans haven’t exactly been lining up for GM Mike Gillis’s autograph like they did in 2011, when he was named the NHL GM of the year.
 

Fans haven’t exactly been lining up for GM Mike Gillis’s autograph like they did in 2011, when he was named the NHL GM of the year.

Photograph by: Jeff Vinnick, NHLI via Getty Images

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When Tom Gaglardi realized he had to get his hockey house in order, the Dallas Stars owner sought out Jim Nill as his general manager and Lindy Ruff as his coach in the offseason.

Gaglardi knew he needed the vision of Nill, who played a vital role in the enviable drafting and development of the consistent Detroit Red Wings, and a coach who would command respect from veterans an impressionable youth. Most importantly, despite a vested interest in day-to-day operations, he had to allow the hockey operations department autonomy.

When Mike Gillis delivered strong opinions Thursday of everything that has gone awry this season — including the possibility he may not return as general manager of the Vancouver Canucks — it signalled obvious cracks in the franchise foundation. And whether that indicates too much of a hands-on approach by a passionate owner and fan in Francesco Aquilini to alter the normal chain of command, there’s clearly a crumbling. Asked if John Tortorella would be retained as coach, Gillis offered this sobering response:

“I’m not sure I’ll be back next season,” he said in a weekly TEAM 1040 address.

Not sure there was a mushroom cloud on the horizon after that explosion, but that was quite the bomb blast.

While everybody and everything will be up for review, what shouldn’t be lost in the conversations or the defending of turf — call it the Gillis line in the sand — is how Tortorella suddenly supplanted John Stevens as the front-runner to replace the fired Alain Vigneault. Or how the new coach, who vowed to push a veteran-laden team hard, pushed them over the edge with a defensive-minded system that produced fatigue, a pop-gun offence and that crazy tunnel tirade.

Following his first game back from a six-game suspension, a 2-0 loss in Detroit, Tortorella said: “We need to change the complexion of our hockey club. Either with our play or with different people. Because we look like a slow team. I thought our best forward was David Booth, which is good for him but not good for us.”

Imagine how that was received by players and management? The coach was obviously defending his turf. An injury-riddled roster was testing his motivational mettle because it was going to be a struggle to make the postseason in re-alignment while butting heads in the Pacific Division.

But you can’t bang round pegs into square system holes. You have to compromise and a focus from pushing to defending and then from defending to pushing was telling. The Canucks would run out of gas and have been outscored 74-56 in the third period this season and have put three wins when trailing after 40 minutes.

When Stevens had a second interview here, it was thought Gillis had his man. The former Philadelphia coach is doing an admirable job as an assistant with the physical and playoff-ready Los Angeles Kings. And when Gillis went on to say what style must be employed to compete in the big-and-brutal Western Conference — where the Canucks have always seemed a step behind by drafting small centres in the Cody Hodgson in 2008 and Jordan Schroeder in 2009 — it came across as a shot at coaching. It should have included drafting and deadline decisions. Nicklas Jensen and Frank Corrado from the 2011 draft look like they can handle the NHL pace now. That may eventually hold true for 2013 selections Bo Horvat, Hunter Shinkaruk and Cole Cassels, 2012 pick Brendan Gaunce and free agent Dane Fox.

And who knows what would have become if the Canucks landed the available Antoine Vermette instead of Samuel Pahlsson at the 2012 deadline. What we do know is how well the Canucks played in 2011.

“I want us to play up-beat, puck possession, move the puck quickly, forecheck teams into mistakes and a high-transition game,” Gillis added Thursday. “We have the personnel to do it. If we don’t have the personnel, they’ll be changed. I really feel over the last couple of seasons we’ve chased goalposts that have been moving and got away from our core principles. We’re going to get back to the style of play we started six years ago. We just have to be committed and have the guts to be able to carry it out.”

Gillis didn’t say he had the coach to carry all this out. And while any trigger Aquilini may want to pull would be costly — Tortorella and Gillis each have four years remaining at $2 million US annually — something has to give. It’s season-ticket renewal time and the angst in this hockey-mad market is considerable. Changing the coach and the system may make Ryan Kesler think twice about moving on. Changing the general manager means Tortorella may have more staying power and influence than we all realize. There are yes-men out there clamouring to get back to the NHL in a managerial capacity. That could happen here.

The betting line is the coach goes and the GM gets another year. But it seems like those odds are changing on a daily basis. So are the odds of free agents finding this a favourable and stable environment.

bkuzma@theprovince.com

twitter.com/benkuzma

 
 
 
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Fans haven’t exactly been lining up for GM Mike Gillis’s autograph like they did in 2011, when he was named the NHL GM of the year.
 

Fans haven’t exactly been lining up for GM Mike Gillis’s autograph like they did in 2011, when he was named the NHL GM of the year.

Photograph by: Jeff Vinnick, NHLI via Getty Images

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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