When John Tortorella’s name first surfaced in connection with the Vancouver Canucks, the response was essentially, “This is a joke, right?”
Tortorella, after all, was the complete antithesis of everything Mike Gillis’s administration supposedly represents. Gillis was a man of reason and intellect. He was a new-age thinker who based organizational decisions on cool logic, metrics and analytics. The Canucks under Gillis were many things. But they were always rational and thoughtful.
Tortorella is the kind of knee-jerk decision that other organizations make, not the Canucks. Yes, he represents a personality type diametrically opposed from his predecessor Alain Vigneault. But he also represents a personality type diametrically opposed to Gillis’s core values. He is loud and profane; narcissistic and temperamental. He is emotional to the point of irrationality. Tortorella, in fact, is so far removed from Gillis and his methods that this hire had to originate from somewhere else; somewhere, and we’re just spitballing here, like Canucks ownership.
And when ownership gets involved in decisions of this magnitude, it’s a sure sign the organization is in a state of dysfunction.
The Canucks have built their brand on touchy-feely sentiments like We’re All Canucks and Our Team Our Way. True, those slogans had a Hallmark feel to them but, in good times, they sent the message that in the city and the province we’re all invested in the Canucks; that the team conducted itself in a certain manner, played in a certain way, represented certain values.
Tortorella, and we’re trying to be diplomatic here, isn’t exactly consistent with that message.
That he is obnoxious is a given. And the hope here is we get the full Tortorella, the vainglorious, I’m-smarter-and-more-important-than-everyone-here guy we saw in New York. That way, at least he’d be true to himself, and that will make things very interesting around the Canucks for the foreseeable future.
Francesco Aquilini, the man presumably behind this decision, is labouring under the misapprehension that the team needs a butt-kicker, a motivator to shake it out of its lethargy. That would be fine if this was 1964. But you don’t reach players with the drill-sergeant approach anymore. Today’s player has to be self-motivated and maniacally driven or he never reaches the NHL. The thought that players like the Sedins, Alex Burrows, Cory Schneider and Kevin Bieksa grew fat and lazy under Vigneault’s watch is insulting to them and their years of service to the Canucks.
But, in much the way exasperated parents think military school would benefit their wayward teenager, Aquilini thinks Tortorella is just the man to set the Canucks straight. That’s fine in theory. But in reality, Tortorella’s personality is simply an impossible fit for this organization. If the Canucks were about egos and stars, then maybe this might work. But under Gillis’s watch they’ve been about something else. They’ve been about the collective. They’ve policed themselves. Most of those players have also taken substantially less to play in this environment.
How is Tortorella going to go over with them?
If there was a country-club atmosphere with the Canucks, it started with Gillis’s vision for the team. He was the GM who was going to make Vancouver a destination franchise for other players. He was the one who was going to provide every conceivable edge — meals, sleep doctors, mind rooms, sports psychologists — to the players. If that led to an overdeveloped sense of entitlement, that’s on Gillis.
The real problem with the Canucks in 2013, of course, had nothing to do with that and everything to do with miscalculations on a number of fronts by the front office. The ongoing Roberto Luongo soap opera not only cost the team prime assets, it was a distraction throughout the season. Gillis acquisitions Keith Ballard and David Booth contributed very little. Organizational depth was eradicated by five years of bad drafting. The deadline acquisition of Derek Roy was a bust.
If Aquilini thinks Tortorella is going to fix all that, good luck. But what this feels like is another desperate coaching hire from Canucks history: the Mike Keenan era.
Keenan, if you need reminding, was supposed to restore order to a listing Canucks team in the late ’90s. Instead, he brought two years of chaos; two years in which the organization completely alienated its fan base; two years in which the Canucks became irrelevant. They came out of that turmoil largely unscathed, mostly because Brian Burke was able to rebuild the team in two short years.
And who knows. Maybe they’ll get lucky again.
They’re going to need it.
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