Canucks’ new style to blame for team’s struggles: GM Mike Gillis
General manager's comments 'as big a distancing from the coach as I've seen,' says NHL analyst Ray Ferraro
Vancouver Canucks general manager Mike Gillis listens as new head coach John Tortorella answers at a reporter's question at the latter's introductory news conference last June at Rogers Arena. The Canucks have become one of the NHL's lowest-scoring teams under Tortorella, and Gillis told Team 1040 radio on Thursday that that must change.
Photograph by: Ward Perrin, PNG
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VANCOUVER — General manager Mike Gillis says the Vancouver Canucks have strayed from the style of hockey that made them successful and is adamant that the team return to a more up-tempo brand.
In a revealing interview Thursday morning with Team 1040 radio — during which he openly questioned his own job security — Gillis seemed to suggest that the more defensive style adopted this season by coach John Tortorella is largely to blame for the team's struggles.
"When you have an entire team's level of performance drop off there has to be reasons for it," Gillis said.
The Canucks have become one of the NHL's lowest-scoring teams under Tortorella and Gillis said that must change.
"I want us to play an upbeat, puck-possession, move the puck quickly, force teams into mistakes, high-transition game," he said. "And I think we have the personnel to do it and if we don't have the personnel to do it they will be changed.
"That's my vision. That's how I believe you are going to win in the Western Conference and the National Hockey League. Look at the top teams in the West. There isn't a lot that separates any of the teams in the West, but the top teams play that way. That's the way we played and in playing that way we made a lot of enemies, but we had the success that we wanted to have. And that's the style that we are going to get back to and that is the way I want to see our team play."
Gillis's comments could clearly be interpreted as a my-way-or-the-highway ultimatum to Tortorella, whose job appears to be on the line. He may also be essentially saying to the team's owners, the Aquilini family: Him or me? Your choice.
Asked about Tortorella's future, Gillis said he was not certain of his own future.
"I'm not sure if I'll be back next season," Gillis said, adding that everyone in the organization will be evaluated at season's end.
Former NHL player and TSN analyst Ray Ferraro said Gillis is clearly trying to distance himself from Tortorella.
"That is as big a distancing from the coach as I've seen," Ferraro said in an interview Thursday. "That's pushing you to that side of the room and I'm on this side of the room and whoever is making the decision upstairs, you've got one or the other.
"I see it as totally unlikely that both are gone and totally unlikely that both are back."
When asked if there was a disconnect between the players and the system Tortorella has them playing, Gillis seemed to suggest Tortorella may be given a chance to get with the program.
"Six years ago people thought Alain Vigneault couldn't change from a defensive-style coach to an offensive-style coach," Gillis said. "If given the resources and if the players are committed to it, I think any coach can coach the team that he has. Having said that, our problems are far-reaching and they will be addressed. If people don't want to get onside with how I view this team and how it is supposed to play, then they won't be here."
The Canucks are all but mathematically eliminated from the playoffs and have five regular-season games remaining. Tortorella has four more years remaining on a contract that is believed to pay him $2 million a season.
Gillis has also faced considerable criticism for the team's rapid decline. A small group of protesters calling for his firing gathered outside Rogers Arena before Tuesday night's game against the New York Rangers.
"This season has been difficult to describe with all the things that have happened and what we have endured that we certainly didn't anticipate," Gillis said. "John, like myself, like everybody, will go through a thorough evaluation at the end of the year and decisions will be made. The running of this team is my responsibility and I really feel the last couple of seasons we have chased goalposts that have been moving and got away from our core principles of how I want this team to play and how I want it to perform and the tempo we want to play with.
"People love to pick someone to blame but the reality is as an organization we have deviated from some of the things that made us successful and some of the things that I know will be successful. We're going to get back to those levels, get back to that style of play that we started six years ago. We have the personnel to do it, we just have to be committed and have the guts to be able to carry it out."
Ferraro said Tortorella's style of coaching should not have come as a surprise to Gillis or anyone else in the organization.
"The coach doesn't ever come in and employ a style that isn't discussed in the meetings prior to hiring," he said. "So this is not a surprise and anyone that knows John or has followed John's career knows that's the style that he was going to use."
Ferraro is of the opinion that Tortorella's style is not suited to the current makeup of the Canucks.
“I agree that style doesn't work with this team, they don't have the personnel for it and I don't know how that could have been thought to be a successful combination," he said.
Gillis said everything will be on the table when the season ends and didn't rule out a reorganization of the executive ranks. Some have suggested Gillis could become team president and hand the general manager's duties to someone else, perhaps assistant general manager Laurence Gilman.
"That hasn't been discussed," Gillis said. "The job here in Vancouver is beyond a full-time job in terms of the responsibilities that you have and the pressure and scrutiny that you have. I accept that, it's part of the job here. We have really good people who work for us so that hasn't been a consideration to date.
"But like I said, we are going to do everything we can to win the Stanley Cup and if that means sharing some roles, if that means reorganizing this place differently that is what we are going to do. I am not in this to hang around, I am in it to win. I got in it to win six years ago. We came close but we didn't finish it off and my sole purpose is to win and I am prepared do what it takes to do that."
Canucks owner Francesco Aquilini could not be reached for comment on Thursday.
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