Vancouver Canucks fire Tortorella
Cutline: John Tortorella, fired Thursday as head coach of the Vancouver Canucks, is pictured leaving an end-of-season news conference in Vancouver on April 14. (CARMINE MARINELLI/24 HOURS)
Another year, another coaching change for the Vancouver Canucks.
John Tortorella's reign as the team's bench boss is over, lasting just one season — the shortest tenure by a non-interim Canucks coach since 1984.
Although it took longer than expected, new club president Trevor Linden — who was hired nearly a month ago, the day after former general manager Mike Gillis was axed — stuck to his word by doing his "due diligence" before making a decision on the coaching staff.
He made it official Thursday, firing head coach Tortorella and assistant coach Mike Sullivan.
"This was a tough decision," Linden said Thursday. "The more I looked into the situation, I felt the change was necessary and a fresh start was needed, especially with the direction we were going with a new manager.
"The timing is right … and starting with a clean slate is important."
The decision shouldn't come as a surprise.
Not only did the Canucks fail to make the playoffs in Tortorella's first of a five-year contract, it was one of the worst offensive seasons by the team in franchise history.
He was brought in to revitalize a veteran core and to lead them to at least past the first round of the playoffs — which his predecessor Alain Vigneault failed to do in the two seasons after reaching the Stanley Cup final in 2011. Instead, Tortorella couldn't even guide the Canucks into the post-season, finishing 12th in the Western Conference.
Vancouver missed the big dance for the first time in six years and finished as the third lowest scoring team in the league.
With a 36-35-11 record, they also had their lowest point percentage since 1998-99, and went from a 100-point club to 83.
Tortorella's most memorable moment behind the bench came on Jan. 18 when he tried to storm the Calgary Flames' dressing room during the first intermission — irate at opposing head coach Bob Hartley following a line brawl to start the game. The former Jack Adams award winner was suspended 15 days and the Canucks went 2-4 in his absence as part of a miserable second half that saw them win just nine of the final 41 regular season games.
Tortorella's style clearly didn't work with the make-up of the group, yet he insisted on a defensive-minded system that saw a majority of players post career-worst numbers or significant drop-offs.
In the end, it cost both Gillis' job as the team president and general manager and now his as head coach.
"Our team is set up to play a certain way," Linden said. "When I look at the number of players that had seasons that were disappointing, that was concerning and there's no question that played a big factor."
Looking ahead now, Linden will have two key front office roles to fill with the 2014 NHL entry draft fast approaching. Assistant coaches Glen Gulutzan, Daryl Williams and Roland Melanson will retain their jobs, while other staff positions will be made by the new general manager.
Linden says he has a strong candidate list and will be starting the interview process next week.
"I've gotten less pushback, if any, timing-wise," he said of his GM search. "I'm encouraged by that. Those two processes (GM and coaching search) can move along together for a certain period of time. Obviously it's important that the manager have a great deal input on the coaching direction."
According to Linden, he is looking for a "career coach." The new hire needs to be experienced, is a teacher, and able to communicate with his players. He must also believe their style of play is the way to success. Here are three possible coaching candidates:
John Stevens, L.A. Kings assistant coach — The former Philadelphia Flyers head coach was in the running, and even a favourite, for the Canucks gig before they hired Tortorella last season. Will the runner-up welcome another shot with the team that looked him over?
Todd McLellan, San Jose Sharks head coach — While he hasn't been fired yet, there's speculation he would be after his Sharks blew a 3-0 series lead to exit the first round of the 2014 playoffs. But McLellan should top the hiring list on most teams if he becomes available. He's smart, motivating and seems like the right man to rejuvenate this veteran Canucks core.
Barry Trotz, Nashville Predators head coach — After 15 seasons with the Preds, Trotz's time is up and is now certainly coveted by several teams. He certainly has an experienced resume, but has only reached the playoffs seven times with Nashville and the second round twice. That said, he knows how to bring out the best in his players — young or old.