VANCOUVER – Vancouver Canucks general manager Mike Gillis wants his team to get back playing the style that got them to within one victory of the Stanley Cup.
And with the Canucks set to miss the playoffs for the first time in six years, Gillis spoke candidly on Team 1040 radio on Thursday, appearing to take a shot at embattled head coach John Tortorella.
“I want us to play up-beat, puck possession, move the puck quickly, force teams into mistakes, high-transition game,” Gillis said in the interview. “I think we have the personnel to do it. If we don’t have the personnel to do it, they’ll be changed.
“That’s my vision, that’s how I believe you are going to win in the Western Conference and the National Hockey League. If you look at the top teams in the West, there isn’t a lot that separates any of the teams in the West, but the top teams play that way. That’s the way we played.”
Tortorella has preached a defence-first, puck-pressure, shot-blocking style since taking charge of the club in the off-season after Alain Vigneault was fired following a first-round playoff exit. The Canucks have struggled to score under Tortorella and sit six points back of the final playoff spot in the Western Conference with just five games to play.
Vancouver took the Boston Bruins to Game 7 of the 2011 Stanley Cup final, but it became clear to some after that series that the team needed more toughness to get over the hump. Gillis seemed to admit Thursday that was the wrong course for the franchise.
“The running of this team is my responsibility and I really feel over the last couple of seasons we’ve chased goalposts that have been moving and got away from our core principles of how I want this team to play and how we want to perform and the tempo we want to play with,” said Gillis. “People love to pick someone to blame, but the reality is that as an organization we’ve deviated from some of the things that made us successful and some of the things that I know will be successful. We’re going to get back to those levels.
“We have the personnel to it and we just have to be committed and have the guts to carry it out.”
Gillis would not commit to Tortorella’s future or even his own in the interview, only saying that everyone will be up for a review after what has turned into a disastrous campaign.
“I’m not sure if I’ll be back next season,” said Gillis. “I think everyone’s open for evaluation. I think we’ve had players that have severely underperformed. Our team has underperformed. I think that we’re all open to evaluation and we all deserve evaluation and that’s what’s going to come.
“Having said that, I have a clear vision of where we (have) to go. I had one six years ago. I have one today that we have to execute on in order to compete for the Cup in the Western Conference, and that’s what I intend to do.”
Gillis appeared to leave the door open for Tortorella to return next season, but only if he changed his system after it clearly failed to mesh with the players on the current roster.
“Six years ago everyone thought Alain Vigneault couldn’t change from a defensive-style coach to an offensive-style coach,” said Gillis. “If given the resources and if the players are committed to it, I think any coach can coach the team that he has. Having said that, our problems are far-reaching and they will be addressed.
“If people don’t want to get on side with how I view this team and how it’s supposed to play then they won’t be here.”
Gillis currently servers as the club’s president and general manager, but told Team 1040 that he’s open to whatever shakeup might be required to get results, including him relinquishing the GM’s title.
“We’re going to do anything we can to win the Stanley Cup. If that means sharing some roles, if that means re-organizing this place differently, that’s what we’re going to do,” he said. “I am not in this to hang around. I’m in it to win. We got in it to win six years ago. We came really close but we didn’t finish it off. My sole purpose here is to win and I’m prepared to do what it takes to do that.”
Gillis also had a message to Vancouver’s frustrated fanbase, which has become accustomed to division titles.
“We’ve had a lot of success in the past and none of this sits well with me,” he said. “It’s been an incredibly frustrating season on a variety of different levels. For me, I’m committed to getting back to the levels that we expect and we have a plan to do it.”