If you have any doubts about John Tortorella, just give the guy five minutes.
Fans and pundits have gone back and forth about the Vancouver Canucks and their two administrators – Tortorella, the head coach, and Mike Gillis, the former general manager – as the team’s 2014 season wound down. The coach’s critics have said his system can’t work in Vancouver, that he grossly misread the team in front of him, and that the zebra couldn’t change his stripes and got eaten alive because of it.
But on Monday morning, one day after Vancouver’s year-ending 5-1 win over the Calgary Flames, there he was… answering questions and seeming everything but complacent.
Honest. Responsible. Both reflective and cautionary.
“I felt from Day 1 that it’s stale,” Tortorella said, answering a question from Vancouver Sun columnist Iain McIntyre. “And that’s not their (the players’) fault. This is a group that’s been together for a long time. It’s stale. It needs youth. It needs a change.
“We’re not in 2011. We have to stop talking about 2011.
“The team needs to be retooled.”
Tortorella accepted the blame for his players’ lost season, insisting that – while his critics have said he pushes his players too far, going back to his days in Tampa and New York – he wasn’t on his players enough, that he wasn’t active enough in the dressing room, and wasn’t drilling his system into Vancouver’s four lines like he should have.
And while the coach has always come off as an old-fashioned curmudgeon – because of the yelling or the angry faces, and even his march down to Calgary’s dressing room that netted him a pre-Olympic suspension – Tortorella is professing youth, even though he still sees blooming power forward Zack Kassian as a project.
“It is a young man’s game,” Tortorella said. “It’s certainly not a criticism of (our core). We need to surround them with some enthusiasm.”
The coach also insisted that he wants to play four lines – a criticism levelled against him was his over-playing of Canucks stars like the Sedin twins and Ryan Kesler – but that the team didn’t have enough depth this season to do so.
“The team is older, it’s trending,” he said. “I’m not gonna sit up here and pretend. You have to understand… it’s getting older. It does need to be revitalized. You have to stop thinking about 2011.
“That’s not an excuse for me. I could get gassed out of here today. It’s the truth of what’s going on.
“For us to get back in a different division, to get back to being competitive for a long time, you may have to slide sideways, and find your way as far as a little bit of a rebuild. You have to. It’s just the nature of the game.”
In saying that, Tortorella acknowledged the rebuilds or retools that have happened with “some of the teams in our division” and how successful they’ve been. Perhaps he means the ascension to perennial contender status of the Los Angeles Kings or the Chicago Blackhawks – both once floundering franchises – or the prolonged excellence of teams in Anaheim and San Jose, and now St. Louis.
Tortorella is believed to be on his way out as head coach of the Vancouver Canucks after just one season behind their bench, with the firing of Gillis and the hiring of Trevor Linden as the club’s President of Hockey Operations.
The coach is yet to have his exit interview with Linden while the latter makes his decision to retain or sack personnel before the start of next season.
“You can say, ‘Okay, we’re old, we’ve gotta get younger, but we’re gonna win a Stanley Cup’ when we get younger,” Tortorella said, when asked what the Canucks need to do this offseason to correct the past year’s wrongs.
“It doesn’t happen that way. You need to go through the process… things change and teams change. Personnel changes.
“That’s a decision that management has to make, as to how they go about it.
“I think we’ve got a really good core here. But I think we need to surround it with some enthusiasm, youth, and build that way. And then you’re gonna get back to where you want to be.”