John Tortorella is the man that is most well suited to become the next head coach of the Vancouver Canucks. I will admit, this opinion took me a while to come around on. Tortorella is loud, rude, and has a temper. He is everything that Mike Gillis isn’t (style-wise anyway), but the man can coach.
Pierre Lebrun reported today that John Tortorella, John Stevens, Scott Arniel and Lindy Ruff are Mike Gillis’ final four coaching candidates.
It appears I might have missed the mark with my big list of coaching candidates last week. All of the rumblings I heard from Jason Botchford and others seemed to suggest that the Canucks wanted more of a “Mike Gillis type” coach. In other words, someone cut from the Dan Bylsma or John Stevens cloth. As such, I didn’t give much time to consider John Tortorella or Lindy Ruff. But when a well respected insider like Pierre LeBrun is reporting something, you have to believe it.
Now, back to Tortorella.
To the casual hockey fan, Tortorella is nothing but a loud mouthed jerk who yells and screams and coaches defensive hockey. The second coming of Mike Keenan (minus the defensive hockey) if you will. But I take issue with this.
First and foremost, Tortorella is a good hockey coach with a proven track record. He began coaching when he was 28 years old and has been an assistant or head coach in the NHL or AHL since 1989. So he has experience.
Tortorella won one Calder Cup championship in his two seasons as an AHL head coach. He has won one Stanley Cup in eleven seasons as an NHL head coach.
But the argument against Tortorella is that he coaches too defensive and gets all of his players to do nothing but block shots. His critics will point to Brad Richards’ poor season this year and the fact that Marian Gaborik wanted out. Nevermind that both Richards and Gaborik were excellent the season prior with Tortorella at the helm.
Bursting onto the scene with the Lightning
In Tampa Bay, Tortorella took over a non-playoff team that finished second last in the NHL in 2001. Vincent Lecavalier, Brad Richards, Martin St Louis and Dan Boyle were young players back then and had yet to establish themselves as star players. In just his third year in Tampa, Tortorella’s Lightning won the Stanley Cup. The year that Tampa won the cup, they finished 3rd in the NHL in scoring. In his other five years behind the bench in Tampa, the Lightning finished 28th, 13th, 16th, 12th and 16th respectively in goals per game. So Torts isn’t exactly the second coming of Ken Hitchcock or Jacques Lemaire in the goal scoring department.
Things began to go sour for Tortorella’s teams in Tampa Bay when he no longer had a goaltender. Nikolai Khabibulin was his goalie in his first three seasons with the Lightning. Once they lost Khabibulin as a free agent, Tortorella was forced to trot out the likes of John Grahame, Marc Denis and Johan Holmqvist as his starting goalie. No wonder they didn’t make long playoff runs without the Bulin wall.
The New York Experience
So what about the New York experience? The first thing that comes to mind might be his epic battles with New York Post writer Larry Brooks, but it should be the Rangers surprise great season in 2011-12.
People seem to forget that the Rangers were not loaded with all stars when the Rangers won the Eastern Conference in the regular season and almost made it to the Stanley Cup finals last year. They did that with a roster that was deep, but not exactly star studded. Again, the assertion that Tortorella’s teams don’t score simply isn’t true. The Rangers were 16th, 16th, 11th and 15th in goals for respectively with Torts behind the bench. Those aren’t spectacular goal scoring rankings, but his teams weren’t loaded with goal scorers for the most part either (with the exception of this past season perhaps).
Is he a fit with Vancouver?
Tortorella can coach all sorts of types of players. Guys like Gaborik, Lecavalier, Richards, St Louis, Callahan, Prospal, Boyle, Staal and Girardi have excelled under Tortorella at different times. I don’t see any reason why the Canucks roster is any different. Players like Kesler, Burrows, Hansen and Higgins should excel in a Tortorella system, as should defencemen like Bieksa, Hamhuis and Garrison. David Booth and Alex Edler might not be favourites of Tortorella initially, but they could both use some Tortorella personality (ie. more aggressive/simplified approach) in their game.
The players who I am most unsure about with concerned with Tortorella are the Sedins. How would they respond to his coaching style and how would he respond to them? Would he require them to play their style of game? I don’t doubt that he would want them to simplify their game to a degree, and I think that would be the right move. The Sedins style of play (short passes and moves in tight traffic) is not as effective when the referees decide to put their whistles away. Trying to change the way Daniel and Henrik Sedin play the game isn’t advisable in my opinion, but subtle changes could work.
If Totorella is hired by the Canucks, there’s no doubt he will have to tone down his bombastic attitude. He can’t become a sideshow on a daily basis, and that will be particularly hard to do in Vancouver. You can’t teach an old dog new tricks, but if he can tone it down by 20%, I think he can be just what the Canucks need.
Teams often take on the personality of their coach, and the Tortorella personality is what I would like to see on the Canucks 2nd, 3rd and 4th lines. In the last couple of seasons I often find many of the Canucks role players try to play a little too much like the Sedins (which simply isn’t possible) when they should be simplifying their game.
Call me crazy, but a little bit of snarl (with good tactical decisions of course) would be good for the Canucks. At the very least, it’ll be entertaining.