Like all members of Canuck Nation, we here at Critically Canuck have suffered a long time. We will not die happily unless the Stanley Cup makes its way to Stanley Park.
Here you'll get the straight goods on our heroes. With both feet on the bandwagon, we will, however, pull no punches. As long time season ticket holders, that's our prerogative.
Expect analytical insight with a strong sense of history. We'll ask the tough questions. And answer them. Enjoy.
Ask me anythingSubmit
It is hard to imagine a more perfect weekend for the local hockey club. The current franchise icons had their contracts extended, their only hall of fame player had his number finally and rightfully enshrined and the hometown heroes dispatched the previously high riding Maple Leafs in easy, but dramatic fashion.
With the news of the Sedin contract extension surfacing on Friday, it was easy to feel a little sorry for Pavel Bure, whose long-deferred moment of respect was at risk of being overshadowed.
But this kind of news could not be surpressed and will put to rest a matter that was only weeks away from becoming a significant distraction for the club.
In the end, a four year commitment to these players is not surprising nor exorbitantly expensive. And it is consistent with Mike Gillis’ organizational modus operandi.
Ultimately, it is a move that will ensure the Canucks are competitive for quite some time. Though with the Sedins’ confirmed inability to consistently score in the post-season, a salary commitment of this size will likely impair the club’s championship aspirations lest the long anticipated emergence of some youthful scoring ever happens.
As for Bure, we’ve blogged endlessly that his moment of recognition from the club was long overdue. Simply put, he was the most exciting player, not only in franchise history, but of the entire post-Gretzky generation. He singlehandedly put the Canuck franchise on the sporting map and catapulted them into the global business they’ve become. Whatever version of his demise in this market you accept, he’d done more than enough to merit the ultimate recognition he received last night.
The 4pm local start time certainly ensured that the rest of the nation got a reminder about how great he was - and though few will admit it, he represents the greatest player to lace them up for a Canadian team since Gretzky left Edmonton. Like Don Cherry (or Ron McLean) would ever tell you that.
Some interesting revelations from last night’s ceremony:
Pat Quinn has dramatically aged. He has in recent years lost his trademark girth, but now appears frail and gaunt. We hope he is well.
The grumbling boo-littered reception for Mike Gillis was shocking. He’s gotten a mostly free pass from the media in this town, but clearly the fan-base has become impatient. Anyway, at that moment, as the ultimate architect of the ceremony, deserved a better response.
Pavel was remarkably well spoken, humble and thankful. It’s a shame that his introversion and shyness were mistaken for indifference, or worse, to this insecure market all those years ago.
Any reference to the ceremony cannot be complete without reference to Pavel’s wife, whose choice of attire was a welcome distraction for many, icing on the proverbial cake.
As for the game, the choice of opponent represented the site of Bure’s greatest post-season accomplishment, notwithstanding his trademark first round game seven double overtime winner. In the ‘94 five game semi-final dismissal of the Leafs, Bure was easily the Canucks’ best player, scoring often and in his typical thrilling fashion against arguably the greatest Leaf team since 1967.
And this time, the Leafs rolled into town as one of the league’s supposed heavyweights so says the frenzied media in the centre of the universe - a young quick team with significant size and two supposed number one goalies.
But the Canucks, as they have for many, many years, dominated the Leafs. If not for some lucky saves from the nervy James Reimer, it could have been a 7-0 blowout.
In the end, the Canucks looked inspired, as they have most nights of the John Tortorella era. And despite an ineffective power play, were full value for the 4-0 win.
The Leafs looked flat and frustrated, a failing that will be chalked up by their friendly media to the travel no doubt. Or more likely a second period incident that resulted in a significant injury to Leaf centre David Bolland and a goal for malingned Canuck winger Zack Kassian
As Zack Kassian steered the hated David Bolland into the boards, he severely cut his leg in the process with Kassian then scoring while Bolland was agonizing and out of the play.
As with most incidents in the NHL these days, one’s perspective is defined by what team they back. Kassian will argue he was simply finishing his check. Leaf fans will accuse him of an intentional kick to the unprotected back of Bolland’s leg.
It seems clear that Kassian appears to steer Bolland into the boards using his left leg while finishing his check - not necessarily “dirty”, but clearly, in hindsight, dangerous. He’s a repeat offender. And it’s against the Leafs on HNIC. This guy seems to have the luck of Todd Bertuzzi. If he only had the game.
No matter, with their only hall-of-famer officially celebrated, their iconic franchise leading scorers again contractually committed and another nationally televised beat-down of the hated Maple Leafs in the books, all is good. For now.
It being obviously far too early to pass any judgement on the John Tortorella era in Vancouver, we can only comment on the tremendous contrast of the Canucks’ current 3-1 start to this season to the often lumbering beginnings of every Alain Vigneault season.
From the moment Tortorella was hired, it was clear that he was here to push buttons and get more from which Alain Vigneault was getting much less. And the Canucks’ last two come-from-behind victories are direct testimony to that.
If the Canucks’ about-face intensity level late in recent wins against New Jersey and Calgary wasn’t enough, the post-game commentary from both the coach and his players should be confirmation that this time around the players are clearly accountable to more than just themselves.
After getting the early lead in Calgary on Sunday, the team went to sleep for two periods before a presumed dressing down from the feisty Tortorella, who explained to the media afterwards that his team figured it was going to be an easy night after their early fortunate start to the game. That a once near championship team needs to have their chain yanked to eke out a victory over a doormat Flames team confirms exactly why a coaching change was required.
And after last night’s dramatic come-from-behind overtime win against New Jersey, Roberto Luongo was questioned about the Canucks’ new found ability to come back. To which he jokingly replied that Torts wouldn’t allow them otherwise - a cheeky, but telling insight to just how different the dressing room environment has suddenly become.
Last season, the Canucks’s winning percentage when trailing after the second period was .083%, 26th in the league. For a team that was still a division champion and recently noted as a high scoring juggernaut, this was a startling indicator of the team’s lack of fortitude.
Despite his tremendous success in Vancouver, Vigneault’s teams were never quick out of the gate (most often because their goaltender wasn’t either). And while we should temper our enthusiasm about a 3-1 start that could just as easily be a 1-3 train derailment had the goaltending of both Luongo and his back-up Eddie Lack not been superlative, it is quite clear that there will be no getting off easy this season. And for now, that’s the most important news of all.
Picking up where we left off yesterday, we preview the defense and goaltending followed by our summary conclusion on the “organizational reset” promised by Mike Gillis.
Defense and Goaltending
Alex Edler - The Tortorella quote machine is already working in overdrive, proclaiming that he likes Edler’s “stiffness”. Some things ought to stay in the room. But if this public sweet talk is what it takes to inspire the tepid Edler, we will have to tolerate Tortorella’s word play. Like we have a choice.
Dan Hamhuis - Injury has limited his action thus far, but we expect his dependable play to put him at the top of the Tortorella defensive depth chart.
Kevin Bieksa - The Canucks’ most dynamic and charismatic defender. You would expect this style to make him a favourite of the new coach. Here’s hoping he can stay healthy.
Jason Garrison - A full season of him anchoring the power play should be a bonus for all involved. After all, Tortorella would have seen plenty of Garrison’s booming shot two seasons ago.
Chris Tanev - He has looked typically unremarkable this training camp. If Tanev looks to earn major minutes this season (and more money down the road), he’s going to need to add some dimension to his steady game.
Andrew Alberts - It’s been a long time since Alberts play has been so noticeably poor (in fact, you’d need to go back to his first season here to find anything as remotely bad). But we expect that his physical presence will be even more valuable this season considering the new divisional alignment.
Yannick Weber - His play was notably volatile in the pre-season and he has a spot that was rightly Frank Corrado’s, but the conclusion is that Corrado is better served getting 20 minutes per night at the AHL than being the swing man on the Canucks’ currently healthy defense.
Ryan Stanton - A recent waiver wire pick-up with one game of NHL experience. He is a WHL grad and seems to come with some size and physicality. At the very least, he presents a subtle inducement for Alberts to pick up his play.
Roberto Luongo - We expect that Lou will have an uncharacteristic strong start to the season. The volatile Luongo seems to have recovered from the emotional setback he endured as the organization flip-flopped again on their choice of starting netminder. And if he does survive the season here, he’ll play plenty of games. So says the pre-season play of back-up Eddie Leak Lack.
Eddie Lack - After three seasons of the goalie controversy, the old days are back. Luongo is the only legitimate NHL keeper on the roster and the nights he does not play will be carefully managed and a white knuckle ride for all until Lack can display some kind of consistency.
Thursday night’s season opening game in San Jose will officially mark the beginning of Mike Gillis’ “organizational reset” - his second term in office as he would have you believe. For those keeping score at home, here’s what that really means to what you’ll see on the ice this season:
OUT - Alain Vigneault, Mason Raymond, Maxim Lapierre, Keith Ballard, Cory Schneider, Andrew Ebbett
IN - John Tortorella, Mike Santorelli, Brad Richardson, Yannik Weber, Ryan Stanton, Zac Dalpe
Besides the striking coaching change, the personnel is noticeably younger (and cheaper), but none of the players added are considered high level prospects. This team, on paper, is worse than the prior - older at the core, younger at the fringes, but lacking the addition of youthful talent with significant upside, who are deemed, for the time being anyway, not ready. The younger fringe players added should be a compliment to a Tortorella system that will simply require his troops to be more energetic. But the lack of scoring depth could be disastrous if there is a single significant injury to the top six forward group. The same lack of depth applies to their goaltending, as well.
Suffice is to say, the term “organizational reset” is typical Mike Gillis spin doctoring. The mandate for new coach Tortorella is clear - push the buttons of the senior core players with the aim of getting more out of them before their clocks expire.
Tonight’s season opening battle against San Jose should be a great measure of just how much the inherited players are buying into their new leader. This team was bounced in embarrassing fashion by the perpetually underachieving Sharks last season. Let’s hope there is payback in store.
With the Canuck preseason over, it is fair to say that this is a team in transition. As predicted, new coach John Tortorella gave plenty of leash to young players during his inaugural training camp. There was a noticeable focus on aggressive fore-checking and reckless shot-blocking.
Indeed, as the team shifts philosophy, the learning curve excuses the overall uneven results of the mean-nothing exhibition schedule. But yesterday’s announcement of the opening roster, which included some recent acquisitions and excluded some of the aspiring young talent, means some player commentary is in order as we commence business after Mike Gillis’ “organizational reset”.
The Sedins - They are embracing their role as penalty killers. And why not? They’ve never shirked taking more responsibility and they successfully killed penalties earlier in their careers. Their lack of foot speed is more than offset by their smarts and quick sticks. A successful season for the Sedins (and the Canucks) would be one in which they can settle comfortably into second liners. Calling Ryan Kesler…
Ryan Kesler - “Kes”, as new coach John Tortorella calls him, seems uniquely fired up this season. We think that’s a good thing. Though the line between discipline and determination is often a very blurry one for the only prominent Canuck forward still in his prime.
Alex Burrows - The feisty francophone will likely get shuttled back and forth between the top two lines for the foreseeable future while Tortorella weighs his options (i.e., waits for Zack Kassian to get his act together).
David Booth - We have equal parts sympathy and impatience for this character. At some point, does a player’s inability to stay healthy reflect on him and not his misfortune? At any rate, Booth’s fragility is not a good fit for a player who was once described as a “power” forward. Any prognosticating on the Canucks’ fate should exclude his involvement.
Zack Kassian - His disciplinary history in the AHL and OHL has certainly preceded him, earning him a lengthy suspension for his reckless stick-work. Zack will spend the time getting in shape, apparently. As every moment ticks by, he’s looking less like Todd Bertuzzi, let alone Cam Neely, and much more like Alek Stojanov (to Cody Hodgson’s Markus Naslund).
Mike Santorelli - He was, by far, the biggest surprise of training camp. A local boy with some proven NHL pedigree (Florida, of course), he will do nothing to alleviate the lack of size up front, but will bring some much needed speed, determination and face-off expertise to the bottom end of the forward depth.
Chris Higgins - Like Dale Weise, Higgins came to Vancouver via a Tortorella coached Ranger squad. His new contract (signed before Tortorella was hired) will ensure he sees major minutes this season.
Jannik Hansen - We’ve always been big backers of the mighty Dane, but never imagined him as the $10 million man (so says his new contract). With his youth and the coming salary cap increase, it is money well spent though. He will likely find himself on any of the top 3 lines from night-to-night.
Zac Dalpe - A cast-off from Carolina of all places, Dalpe can play wing and centre and has decent size and skill. Apparently. Though he has done little at the NHL level over four seasons. And his name is Zac. We’re sensing a theme.
Dale Weise - His pre-season play was brief after getting suspended. Tough to know where he fits in the Tortorella scheme. Likely not a viable top 9 forward and is clearly not an NHL heavyweight.
Tom Sestito - Tortorella is not a fan of his conditioning. But guys that have been playing 6 minutes per night at the NHL level aren’t going to be game ready. Reading between the lines, the mountainous Sestito will be the recipient of more ice time this season if he can get himself in shape.
Jordan Schroeder - It’s seemingly too soon to give up on this guy, but it’s hard to see where he fits roster wise. He’s undersized and over-skilled for a job on the bottom two lines. Besides a move out-of-town, he might be worth a try as a play-making winger on Ryan Kesler’s line.
Brad Richardson - Didn’t shown much this pre-season, but by virtue of his contract, experience and positional versatility will be in the line-up consistently.
Players notable for their absence on this list include Bo Horvat, Brendan Gaunce, Hunter Shinkaruk and Nicklas Jensen. These four represent the future of the Canuck forward ranks and received varying degrees of ice time and media adulation during the pre-season.
In the end, Shinkaruk seemed the most likely to stick, but was a late demotion to his junior squad. Jensen, who will be starting the season in Utica, will likely return as the season progresses. In the end, despite the supposed commitment to getting younger, these players simply aren’t ready enough.
Overall, the core forwards are older, the fringe additions are younger, but with little upside. Don’t expect more goals from this configuration, but you should expect more energy and aggressiveness, hallmarks of a John Tortorella coached squad.
Come back for Part 2 of our player-by-player preview tomorrow where we review the defense and goal-tending and offer our summary conclusion on the “organizational reset”.
As the Canucks enter what will likely become the keystone campaign of the Mike Gillis era, it seems impossible that it will be a season that will simply slowly and quietly fizzle out. The ride is sure to be spectacular with an ending that will prompt another typically tragic regime change or, much less likely, something finally satisfying.
Forget reality television, with the cast of characters and circumstances constituting this campaign, the Canucks will be appointment viewing almost every step of the way.
There is obviously the guaranteed theatrics to be provided by new coach John Tortorella - a simple cell phone ring away from a public meltdown. The selection of Tortorella to lead this team this season is an “all-in” move from short stacked general manager Mike Gillis, a gamble that is not unprecedented in this market.
After a grueling start to the inaugural training camp of the Tortorella era, long time Canucks fans couldn’t help but conjure up images of Bill Laforge, the shortest tenured coach in team history, whose PHD (pride, hustle, desire) mantra didn’t stick with an odd assortment of veterans, Europeans and solid young prospects.
Yes, the image of players performing dry-land training in full hockey gear is a hard one to forget. And it was a legacy that LaForge, an accomplished and sought after junior coach, couldn’t shake either - never again coaching at the NHL level after a disastrous 20 game stint with the Canucks.
Truthfully though, the Tortorella hiring has little in common with the high risk hiring of LaForge nearly 30 years ago. Tortorella’s pedigree is well established and compares best with the previous Canuck coaching hire of Mike Keenan in 1997.
Like Torts, Keenan was a proven winner. But certainly often sandpaper to those he coached. And like Keenan before him, Tortorella inherits a team that rightfully appears to be in no mans’ land - a few years removed from a Stanley Cup Final, having seemingly lost their way despite a roster laden with veteran high-priced talent.
And as if we needed reminding, the Keenan era ended badly with unforeseen carnage. In less than 2 seasons, franchise icons like Trevor Linden, Pavel Bure and Kirk McLean were long gone. As were notable fan favourites and character players like Martin Gelinas, Scott Walker, Jyrki Lumme and Dave Babych.
Despite circumstances being slightly different this time around (the hiring of Keenan occurred after the dismissal of Pat Quinn, leaving Keenan with the proverbial keys to the car), it is still possible that the Tortorella hire is the tip of an iceberg of significant personnel change to come (though the roster is now cluttered with no movement clauses).
Most notably, the Sedins are without contracts for next season. Though that could change at any moment. Or not, providing another distraction not unlike last season’s goalie controversy. One can only imagine the scenarios that may present themselves to Mike Gillis as the trade deadline looms with his team out of the playoff mix (a real possibility given the new divisional structure) and his franchise icons without contracts.
Despite Roberto Luongo’s now stiff upper lip, it’s not unthinkable that he’ll be gone after one more year of decent service, his lengthy contract perhaps finally trade-able with another year off the clock and a bumped up salary cap.
Which brings us to Gillis and his future. It’s tough to figure exactly what the expectations should be for his squad this season, but it would seem entirely plausible that his job would be in jeopardy if Tortorella isn’t successful in immediately getting more out of this now depleted veteran crew. It is unfathomable that a season out of the playoff mix would be acceptable to ownership at this stage in the team’s “development”.
Expectations in this market have been at the highest water mark possible for the last three years running. They will be rightfully lowered this time around. Mike Gillis’ “organizational reset” amounts to rolling the dice on a veteran crew with a new bench boss. Will it be enough? Enough to be entertaining.
With the opening day roster now finalized, come back tomorrow for part one of our player-by-player preview.
This off-season has had no shortage of big stories in Canuck Nation. So much so that news the Canucks were going to finally retire the jersey of Pavel Bure, their most exciting player (not to mention only Hall of Famer), didn’t get all the good press it should have. And today, the Canucks have announced the date of the coronation to be November 2nd, to make Bure the fourth player to have his jersey hang from the rafters of Rogers Arena.
The selection of this particular date is an interesting one. It is against the Toronto Maple Leafs, already just about the biggest draw in this market. And it’s occurring on a Saturday night and played early (4pm) so that it can be the feature game on Hockey Night in Canada - which seems to be a condition of any Maple Leaf appearance on HNIC anyway.
For hockey fans of the Bure era, the selection of Toronto as the opponent is a fitting one. You will recall the Canucks trouncing the Leafs in five games on their way to the Stanley Cup Final in 1994. And while many will think of Greg Adams, with his game 5 overtime winner, as the hero of that series; it was Bure who was the real star, notching four goals and three assists in five games, scoring in spectacular fashion. As always. And the Leafs haven’t got any closer to a Cup since.
The 4pm start time though has never been popular with the fans in this market. The offset, of course, is the Canucks get to show off Bure to the rest of the nation one last time. Since Gretzky left Edmonton, Bure has been the most exciting player to lace them up for a Canadian team. That’s a long time. And it’s a stone cold fact. Except no one outside of this market much realizes that. Maybe now they will.
While players like Markus Naslund, Trevor Linden, and Stan Smyl fully deserve all the respect they have received in this market, on a pure talent level they couldn’t compete with Bure, who had the once-in-a-lifetime skill set that puts people in seats. And then gets them on their feet. It will happen. One more time. It’s about time.
The annual Canuck Young Stars Classic gets underway this week, usually setting into motion media coverage that will accelerate through training camp and into another season. In past years, this tourney, however, has been much more ceremony than circumstance - with the chances of a young Canuck player cracking a loaded line-up in the near future always a near impossibility. This time around will be much different. In fact, the history of new Canuck coach John Tortorella would teach us that it is quite likely that one or two of the participants at this week’s event in Penticton will make a major impact on this year’s Canucks.
New coach John Tortorella shares much in common with his predecessor, Alain Vigneault, in terms of their NHL accomplishments. They’ve each coached over 800 regular season NHL games - each for two teams - with very similar results. Each have had some playoff success - Tortorella winning it all with Tampa Bay in 2004 and Vigneault falling one game short two seasons ago. But how they’ve gone about their business is radically different - particularly as it relates to the use and development of young players.
Simply stated, Vigneault took his time to develop his youth whether in Vancouver or Montreal. So much so that over his 11 years of NHL head coaching, only twice (21 year-old Dainus Zubrus in 1999-00 and 21 year-old Alex Edler in 2007-08) has he relied upon a player under the age of 23 to play significant minutes in any one season.
Contrast that with Tortorella, who over the same period of time has fifteen times relied on a player under the age of 23 to play more than 50 games in a season (with 15 minutes or more of ice time per game). That is a radically different approach. Albeit often under different circumstances.
Of course, Tortorella had the benefit of riding young superstars Vincent LeCavalier and Brad Richards in Tampa Bay. But he also got early maximum benefits out of mostly unheralded youngsters like Cody Sarich, Paul Ranger, Michael Del Zotto, Derek Stepan, Artem Anisimov and Ryan McDonagh - of these six players, only two were first round picks.
Meanwhile, in addition to Edler, Vigneault certainly gets the credit for developing the likes of Ryan Kesler, Alex Burrrows, Cory Schneider, Chris Tanev and Jannik Hansen. But with the exception of Edler, each of these players was brought along slowly (not a single one contributing significantly before their 23rd birthday) and only then so because of their commitment to defensive hockey first. Young players with more offensive instincts (Cody Hodgson, Michael Grabner and Zack Kassian) were more likely to be held off the ice.
Canuck General Manager Mike Gillis has spoken at length about the need for the Canucks to get immediate contributions from young players - in today’s salary cap constrained world, it’s a requirement for any successful team. And with the hiring of Tortorella combined with the Canucks’ depleted depth, it is finally sure to happen.
So on that basis, the likes of recent Canuck top picks like Niklas Jensen, Brendan Gaunce, or Bo Horvat could find themselves with tremendous opportunity this week. And it may not stop there. Tortorella has gotten significant contributions from young players drafted in later rounds, too. Bottom line, this week’s display of the Canuck young talent may not simply be celebrating the potential of their talent pool, but providing a look at players that just might contribute now.
With another Canuck season on the horizon, the improbable has occurred. Roberto Luongo remains - front and centre - as he has for nearly every moment since his arrival here seven long years ago. And while this latest turn in the never ending melodrama might have seemed incredibly unlikely only months ago, having the ultra sensitive Luongo as the centerpiece of this tortured franchise has become as inevitable as a dreary Vancouver winter.
On paper, he is easily the most successful keeper in franchise history and would certainly qualify as one of the top netminders of his generation. As such, any discussion about him should end right there. But it can’t. Because there has almost always been a drama that surrounds him. And while, at times, it seemed that this sideshow was sadly happening ‘to’ him, it has become clearer that it is often happening ‘because’ of him.
At the very least, Luongo plays the victim rather well. There has been the tearful admission after the last unfulfilled trade deadline about how his lavish contract ‘sucks’. And more recently, about how he was upset that he wasn’t consulted before the Canucks dealt Cory Schneider instead of him - forgetting for a moment that he still had a contractual obligation to his team for the rest of time if they so chose.
In the end, after personal visits from team ownership, his general manager and his new head coach, he has vowed to return to Vancouver and ‘honour’ his contract. By his own admission, this season (with a possible return to the Olympic team in the offing) is an important one for ‘him’.
Many in the media painted a sympathetic portrait of Luongo last season. Yes, it seemed poor Roberto was enduring plenty. He had been overtaken by his protege, who was better, statistically at least, by only the slightest of margins and who had yet to win a playoff series. Meanwhile his general manager was bluffing at the poker table with his considerable playing rights in the balance. Geez, the poor guy, he just wanted to play. In spite of it ‘all’, he soldiered on, filling in capably, though not successfully, in Schneider’s brief post-season absence.
But what exactly has he been the victim of in this market? A complete market adulation that has ‘Lou’ed’ his every routine save? A team that was so desperate to flatter him that they made him, unprecedentedly though unsuccessfully, their captain? Agreeing to a monumental contract extension (with a coveted no movement clause) making him the highest paid player in team history? Being supplanted, after some notable big game volatility, and if only temporarily, by a younger, cheaper goalie with considerably more upside?
There is no doubt that we will never know exactly what transpired behind the scenes since the decision was made just over a season ago to start Schneider and not Luongo halfway thru a playoff loss to Los Angeles. Were the Canucks simply changing keepers mid-series for the sake of waking up a slumbering team or were they officially anointing Schneider as the goalie of the future? If simply the former, did Luongo demand a trade (hence the signing of Schneider to a longer term contract later that off-season) at this indignity? When attempting to trade Luongo was Mike Gillis simply asking too much? Did Luongo ever exercise his no movement clause to nullify an otherwise acceptable trade?
We may never get definitive answers to these questions. But what remains is clear. Roberto Luongo is the undisputed number one goal keeper on a team with solid playoff aspirations. He will get to play. A lot. And will make $6.7 million this season to do so.
It is hard to forget Luongo’s messianic arrival in this market seven years ago. Received essentially in exchange for Todd Bertuzzi, the Canucks’ original tortured soul; from the hockey graveyard of Florida, Roberto arrived triumphantly in the goalie graveyard of Vancouver, despite never having played a playoff game in his six NHL seasons.
And now, after failing to successfully land back in Florida (for now, still a hockey backwater), Roberto finds himself still in Vancouver (seemingly another victim of the goalie graveyard) as the highest paid player on a team that while surely in decline still has more than a chance to compete in the playoffs once more. At this point in time, it might be best for Luongo to simply adopt the mantra of the incumbent Bertuzzi - ‘it is what it is’.
You’d think that the breaking news of ex-New York Rangers’ head coach John Tortorella interviewing for the Canucks’ vacant coaching job is simply a matter of General Manager Mike Gillis operating in his typical methodical fashion, taking his due diligence to the maximum.
After all, no other potential coach would draw nearly the ire in this market as the prickly Tortorella.
There is, of course, the mind-numbingly boring playing style he has insisted his team adopt in recent years. In Tortorella’s world, everyone is a shot blocker. The muckers muck. And the scorers are expected to as well lest they want to find themselves parked in the press box. Indeed, if finicky Canuck fans were bored by watching this year’s edition, they’d be driven even further away by the drudgery of a Tortorella team that believes every game should end 1-0.
More notoriously, it is Tortorella’s relationship with the media that would rub many the wrong way in this town. But with the on-ice entertainment value of this team fading fast, the off-ice sideshow could be a welcome distraction. Anything would be more riveting than Alain Vigneualt’s accommodating but always vanilla relationship with the media darlings in this town. Indeed, many in the local sports press could use a good verbal ass hammering from the vicious Tortorella.
But more realistically, Tortorella is a winner. And while the antics of his team during his time in New York would not likely pass muster in a more fickle market like Vancouver, it is worth noting that his 2004 Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning were THE most entertaining team of that era - the one that sadly preceded another descent into dead puck purgatory. The simple fact is that he’s proven to be adaptable for the time and place. And successful all the while.
Further, while it might be trendy to go with highly touted but unproven younger coaching talents like Dallas Eakins (who opted to sign with the youthful Oilers) or current Kings’ assistant coach John Stevens or even Canucks’ minor league head boss Scott Arniel, Mike Gillis may not simply have the luxury of waiting to see how these coaching talents develop at the big league level.
While Gillis may like to think his talk of another organizational reset will buy him another 5 year mandate, it is impossible to see how that would be possible. The dreaded closing of the contender window has irreversibly begun. And the experienced, but volatile Tortorella might be just the man to get the maximum out of what had become an underachieving crew in Alain Vigneault’s hands-off country club.
Five years into the Mike Gillis era, we are still awaiting final delivery of the brash and bold out-of-the-box thinking that was promised. The move to a volatile coaching winner, who has a typically short shelf life, could be the needed high-risk, high-reward gamble for a team that is running out of time…
In the wake of this season’s miserable ending, Canuck President and General Manager Mike Gillis has often appeared frustrated, conflicted and most certainly beleaguered. It seems that Gillis, who typically displays a mostly smug cocksure demeanor, has a much thinner skin than you’d have imagined. Indeed, what is a dream job to most has morphed into a nightmare for the once NHL Executive of the Year.
In various public addresses since season’s end, he’s made many excuses about the drop in his team’s performance. From the difficulties of navigating an apparently unpredictable lockout abbreviated season to the vagaries of playoff luck to the supposedly understated loss of Manny Malhotra, Gillis has been a lot less culpable than he should be as the man who is ultimately accountable for the fate of the franchise.
The decision to remove his coach seems to have been a serious philosophical crisis for the introspective Gillis. But the move was a no-brainer, really. His team had played a half dozen inspired games in two seasons. They simply couldn’t elevate their play when it mattered most. That screams coaching change. No matter how much one may respect Alain Vigneualt, the man, he was hired to be fired. It’s the way professional sports works. It’s business, it’s nothing personal.
Most surprising has been the revelation that Gillis feels a little persecuted in this market - that people have been out to get him since day one. For the most part, Gillis has led a charmed life in this town. He inherited a skilled team entering their prime and kept them together for under market rates. He has been openly and properly lauded for that - even though it essentially amounts to taking previous GM Dave Nonis’ car for a drive on cheap gas.
But other than that, most of his initiatives have failed. His trading record is best described as hit and miss. His drafting resume, to put it completely mildly and favourably, is still open for assessment. His forays into the free agent market have been failures with some rare exceptions (Dan Hamhuis and Jason Garrison).
So it is completely understandable that Gillis is now feeling the heat, from both within the organization and outside it. In the end, his team’s success, no matter how much of it accrues directly to him, has won him the opportunity to make things right.
As such, there has been talk from Gillis of another organizational “reset”, essentially an open plea for another five year mandate. But is that really necessary in this market? It shouldn’t require so much contemplation and hand wringing as to where to move the franchise next.
After all, he has the luxury of running a team with deep pockets that can and will spend to the salary cap every season. Further, he can continue to deploy assets in innovative player development initiatives that other teams simply can’t. In short, he’s in an ideal position for an NHL GM, but yet he protests like his hands are tied.
The more we see and hear of the exasperated Gillis, it is becoming clear that his analytical and sensitive nature is an impediment to any decisiveness. Developing an action plan to move forward doesn’t seem like the rocket science Gillis makes it out to be.
He has got two number one goalies. No one else does. The depth of his goaltending was tested in the playoffs and it provided no benefit. Trade one already. To the highest bidder. For whatever you can get. Yesterday, if possible.
He is paying players (David Booth, Keith Ballard) to not play in a salary cap constrained environment. Buy them out already. Take your lumps and drive on.
Since the playoff loss to Boston two seasons ago, it became clear to everyone (Gillis admittedly included) that his team needed to get a little bigger and harder to play against. Play Zack Kassian prominently. Say goodbye to the perimeter prancing of Mason Raymond and replace him with third line sandpaper.
His top line of the Sedin twins has failed to contribute significantly in the playoffs for over two seasons. They are aging and their contracts expire at the end of next season. They should be positioned in the long term as the team’s second line at a discounted salary or simply moved before the next trade deadline.
Firing a coach is often the first bullet in a general manager’s arsenal. Mike Gillis had the good fortune of waiting five years into his reign before pulling the trigger. By no means will it be enough to move this team forward. That means Gillis has plenty of work to do. And unlike the work he has successfully done to date, renewing player contracts, it will be outside his comfort zone.
These days the heat in the kitchen seems a little much for the once unflappable Gillis. We can only imagine the inferno that awaits him next season should his team fail in similar circumstances.