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Mike Gillis at a loss to explain Canucks' skid ... but John Tortorella not to blame 0

By Chris Stevenson, QMI Agency

Head coach John Tortorella stands behind the Canucks bench during first period action of the NHL's Heritage Classic game against the Senators at B.C. Place Stadium in Vancouver on Sunday, March 2, 2014. (Carmine Marinelli/QMI Agency)

Head coach John Tortorella stands behind the Canucks bench during first period action of the NHL's Heritage Classic game against the Senators at B.C. Place Stadium in Vancouver on Sunday, March 2, 2014. (Carmine Marinelli/QMI Agency)

BOCA RATON, FLA. - 

The Vancouver Canucks have had a rough 2014.

Since Jan. 1, they are 6-17-3 and have dropped from one point out of a playoff spot to six.

It's looking like a pretty safe bet they will miss the playoffs for the first time since 2005-06. A new low point might have been hit Monday night when they gave up seven goals in the third period to the New York Islanders, who were without injured star John Tavares or traded scorer Thomas Vanek, and lost 7-4.

They are 4-12-1 since coach John Tortorella charged into the hallway outside the Calgary Flames dressing room.

Canucks general manager Mike Gillis didn't give Tortorella a vote of confidence Wednesday as he chose his words carefully to avoid adding to the "rumour and speculation," as he put it, when asked if Tortorella, who signed a five-year contract last summer, was safe for the rest of the season.

"I'm not commenting on that because then it just lends credibility to what's out there with bloggers and all kinds of different people," Gillis said. "So it's unfair to comment on any future plans other than what we've already said, which is we're trying to get younger, we're trying to retool and we're trying to do some things a little differently the next one, three, five years.

"You know, John's an honest guy and he took responsibility, but it's all of our responsibility and I don't want to focus on John. We have a hockey team, we have an organization. To focus on one or two people in that organization's unfair. We have to win as a group, and every guy in that room has to win as a group. To single out anybody is unfair and I'm not going to do that."

Gillis said he couldn't explain what's happened to his club since the calendar turned.

"No. I can't. To go from December, where you win every game in the month, to what's occurred since then is remarkable. But there are some reasons and they're not excuses, but we've had massive injuries this year, we've had key guys out of our lineup for extended periods of time. We had an incident in January (the Tortorella vs. the Flames) that was hard to describe. It is what it is. We have to continue to try and find ways to win games.

"It's been a tough month and a half for us. When you're not performing up to a standard that you think is acceptable, it's never easy."

HEAR AND THERE: NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said new ownership for the New Jersey Devils was one of the considerations in easing the penalty they incurred for circumventing the salary cap with the back-diving contract given to former winger Ilya Kovalchuk in 2010. Under the original penalty, the Devils had to give up their third-round pick in 2011 along with a first-rounder, which they deferred to this year. The Devils asked for reconsideration and got it. They'll get the 30th pick in this summer's draft and their fine was reportedly halved to $1.5 million. "I think in the context of everything that took place, and the circumstances, I thought the penalty could, and should, be adjusted. It is still a severe penalty, considering the fact that if the Devils don't make the playoffs, not only is it a lottery pick they might lose, it might be the first pick of the draft. So, under all the circumstances, I was very comfortable making the modification," said Bettman ... The league is going to continue to look at tweaking the definition of what constitutes a puck being kicked into the net with the idea being to allow more goals while not compromising player safety. "People are looking for more clarity, but at the same time, and we've seen some pretty horrific skate cuts, we don't want players kicking at pucks because sometimes things besides the puck can get in the way," said Bettman.

THE BUZZ: It sounds like the league is going to make a move to ban teams from having their own scouting combines. The Buffalo Sabres, for instance, brought in 85 prospects for testing apart from the combine the NHL runs in Toronto. One source figured it probably costs an average of about $1,000 a player, a cost the Sabres obviously felt was worth it for the additional intel. So, the teams that don't have the money or can't be bothered are moving to ban individual club combines. "A change like that would require Board of Governor approval, but I think there was a sense in the room that that might be a good idea," said Bettman. Rookie Sabres general manager Tim Murray took up the fight for club combines. "(Edmonton Oilers GM Craig MacTavish) said, 'it was a great battle, but you couldn't win.' It's not lost. It looks like majority wanted it to be streamlined into one combine and not allow us guys who are doing a little more to benefit."

JUST SAYING: The overall feeling coming out of these meetings is the general managers are happy with the game right now. The proposals coming out of these meetings are subtle, but could be significant: having teams change ends for overtime to bring in the long change and hopefully increase scoring chances and reduce the number of games going to a shootout; widening the hashmarks by a couple of feet and instead of throwing a player out for a violation, making him back up a foot or 18 inches, costing him leverage and lessening the chance of winning the draw. It's going to be interesting to see if the players go for the faceoff change. If I was going to guess right now, I'd say no. They're not going to want to see their faceoff percentages dinged ... Discussions will continue on the idea of putting a television monitor in the penalty box to allow referees to review possible goalie interference for goal/no-goal calls. It might get a trial in the pre-season next year.

THE LAST WORD: Bettman said there are no plans in place for expansion any time soon and echoed what deputy commissioner Bill Daly said about the Quebec City situation. Former Quebecor boss Pierre Karl Peladeau, who had been fronting the effort to bring back the Nordiques, is running in the provincial election as a Parti Quebecois candidate. "Quebecor has, on an ongoing basis, expressed interest. I wish Mr. Peladeau well in his next endeavour, but to the extent that Quebecor or somebody in Quebec City might or might not be interested, that didn't change."

chris.stevenson@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/CJ_Stevenson

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