Former New York Rangers head coach John Tortorella walks through a throng of reporters and cameramen to a side door leading outside, where there is a waiting vehicle, upon arrival at the Vancouver International Airport in Richmond on Friday, June 21, 2013. Tortorella is considered close to being announced as the Vancouver Canucks’ new head coach.
Photograph by: Darryl Dyck, Canadian Press
VANCOUVER — Markus Naslund wants to make one thing perfectly clear: John Tortorella did not chase him from the NHL.
In fact, the former Vancouver Canucks captain says he enjoyed the half-season of hockey he played under Tortorella with the New York Rangers.
But in a telephone interview Sunday from his home in Ornskoldsvik, Sweden, Naslund did acknowledge that Tortorella will bring a very different coaching style to the Canucks than did his predecessor, Alain Vigneault.
"He is more intense, both on the bench throughout the games and between periods and stuff," Naslund said of Tortorella. "But in a good way. In my experience, and that's only half a season, I thought he was honest and straightforward. And as a player I appreciate that, even if sometimes it's stuff you might not like to hear. I appreciate people that bring it to you and are up front."
Tortorella is expected to be named the Canucks' new head coach early this week. To avoid making the announcement on the same day as Game 6 of the Stanley Cup finals, many expect the Canucks to delay formally introducing Tortorella until Tuesday.
After leaving the Canucks as a free agent, Naslund signed a two-year deal with the Rangers in the summer of 2008. He played only one season, walking away from the $3 million he stood to make in the second year of his contract.
Tortorella replaced Tom Renney as head coach of the Rangers during Naslund's one year in the Big Apple. Naslund insisted Tortorella's intense and sometimes abrasive coaching style did not factor into his decision to take early retirement and head home to Sweden, where he is now general manager of his hometown team, Modo, in the Swedish League.
"No, not at all, it was just that I had found that it was my time to walk away," Naslund said. "I enjoyed playing under John.
"He was demanding, but I thought he was a good coach. He did a good job for us coming in and changing a little bit of the structure and how we approached the game. I think he's a good hockey mind."
Tortorella managed to get the Rangers into the playoffs that season.
"But we lost in seven games to Washington in the first round," Naslund recalled.
Naslund expects the Canuck veterans, many of them his former teammates, will have an adjustment to make playing under Tortorella.
"Yeah, any time you make a coaching change there definitely will be changes," he said. "A lot of those guys have only had Alain as their coach in the NHL. I am sure it will be an adjustment."
But players will always know where they stand with Tortorella.
"I think he's a coach that doesn't want his guys guessing and like I said he'll tell you good or bad," Naslund said. "It keeps the guessing game away. He had a good dialogue with the players when I was there. But again, that was only for half a season. I don't know if things changed after he was there for three or four years. I can only speak to the time I was there and my experience."
There have been reports suggesting that some of the Rangers expressed their displeasure with Tortorella during their end-of-season exit interviews with general manager Glen Sather and that played a factor in his firing. Vigneault was announced as his replacement this past Friday.
Naslund, who as a former Canuck captain understands the intense media scrutiny the team faces better than most, also said Tortorella will have to commit to having a more positive relationship with reporters in Vancouver.
"I know he's had a couple of run-ins with (New York Post reporter) Larry Brooks," Naslund said. "He has to have a working relationship for it to work and I would think he understands that, too.
"I didn't find any comparison in the media scrutiny in New York compared to Vancouver. There is so much focus on the hockey team in Vancouver. It's something that comes with the territory and you need to be able to handle it if you are the coach. Coming from Tampa to New York was probably a big step media-wise for John. Now it's another step."
Another former Canuck, Dixon Ward, thinks Tortorella will handle the media just fine in Vancouver. Ward, who is now vice president of the Okanagan Hockey Academy in Penticton, played one season (1995-96) for the Rochester Americans when Tortorella was the head coach. The team won the AHL's Calder Cup that season.
"He is very intense, he is very passionate, but from my experience everything he did was based around what was going to help the team win," Ward said Sunday. "Anything he does in the media is usually to try and deflect attention from his group. He is a very smart guy, he doesn't do anything without thinking about it first."
Ward said the Canuck players can expect a more hands-on coach. He remembers Tortorella as being a coach who was constantly communicating with his players.
"He will be a contrast (to Vigneault)," Ward said. "He's a hands-on guy. He is very communicative and he'll have that communication and those conversations will happen on a daily basis. The one thing he does very well is set expectations for each and every player very early on so there's no confusion about what is expected of them."
Ward, who played two seasons for the Canucks in the early 1990s, thinks Tortorella just might turn out to be a good hire for the Canucks.
"Obviously, when you change a coach you're looking to change some sort of a culture," he said. "Alain did a heck of a job, but every team needs a culture change after seven or eight years. That's just the way it is and if you are going to do that you are going to have to find someone that is entirely different than what you had and that's John."
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