VANCOUVER - John Tortorella was in outstanding form on Tuesday, which is good news for the Vancouver Canucks because the coach is the best hope that the team's “reset” doesn't become a rerun.
As another National Hockey League season begins, the reset general manager Mike Gillis promised last spring turned out to be not so much physical as metaphysical. The Canucks have some new ideas how to play, thanks to their new coach, and that's about it.
Rising star goalie Cory Schneider is gone without a player in the Canucks' opening-night lineup to show for him. Perimeter forwards Mason Raymond and Derek Roy have been replaced by modest veteran Mike Santorelli and Carolina Hurricane castoff Zac Dalpe. Brad Richardson has replaced Max Lapierre as the abrasive fourth-line centre, and waiver pickup Ryan Stanton takes Keith Ballard's spot on defence.
The Canucks new backup goalie is untried rookie Eddie Lack, and the new starter is the old one – Roberto Luongo.
Winger David Booth, who has battled injuries since his trade from the Florida Panthers two years ago, is a wildcard – slightly less predictable than the X-factor that is Ryan Kesler's return to health.
Mostly, the Canucks are as the Canucks were, plus a fiery new coach pushing a philosophy of aggressive attacking and tenacious, all-for-one defending.
“I don't know if a coach is a reset,” Tortorella said Tuesday after the Canucks practised at Rogers Arena. “I will never put myself out in front of the team. I think we have a good nucleus here that has been successful. We're trying to add to that with maybe a little bit different style of play to add some grind into it. I think the players have been receptive, I think they've practised well. We've still got work on our pace.
“The expectations to reset this, that and the other thing, that's for you guys. We're going to take it one day at a time in the locker room and try to be better each and every day and we'll see where we go from there.”
Where they start is San Jose and an opener against a Sharks' team that has beaten the Canucks nine straight times, including pre-season, regular-season and – last May – the playoffs.
Where the Canucks end up, who knows?
With their core intact, Luongo still capable and Daniel and Henrik Sedin driven to win a Stanley Cup, the Canucks should remain a strong team, just as they were when they won the last five Northwest Division titles under former coach Alain Vigneault.
But the Canucks are now in a realigned Pacific Division, which includes among others the powerful Sharks and Los Angeles Kings.
Winning their division will be more difficult, as will be simply making the playoffs.
The question, given the lack of obvious lineup upgrades, is: Will the Canucks do any better if they make the Stanley Cup tournament?
Maybe Gillis will improve the roster before the playoffs. For now, it seems up to Tortorella to coax more from a veteran group of players who had gone stale under Vigneault, yet only two years ago won the Presidents' Trophy and nearly the Stanley Cup.
“We've got good guys,” Tortorella said. “That's one thing about our sport in general, not just our team: We have really good people in this sport, as far as players, and I think they're always trying to improve, they're always wanting to learn. My job is to get them there to maybe some areas where (they) didn't think they could get there. That's my responsibility as a coach. And get them there consistently. That's what we're looking to do. We haven't hid from it as a coaching staff; we're going to go at it hard, we're going to be direct. There will be no misunderstanding how we want them to play.
“The most intriguing thing for me. . . is the challenge. Because all you guys talk about is the Stanley Cup. Everybody I see on the street talks about the Stanley Cup. I think there's a tremendous amount of pressure. I think there's a tremendous amount of expectations. It's a tremendous challenge and I'm looking forward to the opportunity. (But) we're not going to get involved with all your expectations. We're going to take it day by day. We can't look at the big picture. We need to worry about ourselves each and every day.”
Universally, Canuck players will tell you there is a different vibe to the locker room this season with Tortorella pushing them from their comfort zone.
They can also view the lack of changes to the core group as affirmation of management's belief in them.
“Yes, or they couldn't move anyone out,” winger Alex Burrows smiled. “One of the two. I feel we're right there with the best. I feel the core is strong and can compete with any core in the league. We feel the urgency, too. I think with John, our practices and our pace, the way he addresses the group, you can tell there is urgency. Even between each other, we know it's a big year.”
Transitioning to a different system, the Canucks were understandably erratic through the pre-season. They were good a couple of nights, awful on others. Learning and growing comfortable with Tortorella's system could take weeks, but the NHL season started Tuesday night in Montreal, Chicago and Edmonton.
Nine of Vancouver's first 13 games are on the road. All four of their games against the Sharks occur in the next six weeks. The Canucks can't afford a shallow learning curve.
“I think we're going to make a few mistakes,” Danny Sedin said. “But every team is making mistakes during games. We're excited about the new system and everyone's buying into it and that's all that matters.
“It's always on the players. That's never going to change. The coach is going to prepare you well. They're NHL coaches, they're going to do a good job. But it's up to the players.”
The same ones as last season.
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