VANCOUVER – The man charged with the job of revitalizing the Vancouver Canucks made his first major move toward erasing the memory of one of the team’s worst seasons in recent history.
Trevor Linden, the former Vancouver captain who has taken over as the team’s president, put his stamp on the Canucks by firing head coach John Tortorella on Thursday.
Linden said the action was the first step in moving on from a frustrating season that saw the Canucks miss the playoffs for the first time since 2008.
“Today is about the future of this team and the goal of getting it back to the Stanley Cup playoffs,” Linden told a news conference.
Tortorella’s firing was expected, but Linden said he didn’t want to rush the decision.
“I tried to come in from a neutral place,” he said.
“At the end of the day I kept coming back to a lot of things I didn’t like that I saw trending. I just felt to move forward and kind of put a new perspective and new direction, it was the right thing to do.”
Besides Tortorella, assistant coach Mike Sullivan was also relieved of his duties. They join fired president and general manager Mike Gillis as those paying the price for a dismal year that saw the Canucks finish 25th overall.
Assistant coaches Glen Gulutzan and Darryl Williams and goaltender coach Roland Melanson will keep their jobs.
Linden hopes to have a new general manager hired by the end of the month. The search for a coach could coincide with looking for a GM.
“I have a real strong (GM) candidate list that I will be starting the interview process next week,” said Linden. “I think the two processes can move along together for a certain period of time.
“It’s important the manager have a great deal of input on the coaching direction. That would be the ideal situation.”
One of the names most frequently mentioned for the Vancouver GM’s job is Jim Benning, Boston’s assistant general manager and a former teammate of Linden. The Bruins have the potential to play deep into the Stanley Cup playoff.
Linden refused to be specific about any candidates but indicated playoff teams may be willing to let him talk to their staff.
“I have not got any pushback on timing from a playoff standpoint,” he said.
Linden wants a coach with experience at “many levels.” The person must be a teacher and be able to communicate with his players.
One of the most popular Canucks of all time, Linden is trying to repair the team’s image and its relationship with fans left disillusioned by Vancouver’s drop from the ranks of the NHL’s elite.
“This is a fresh start for our team and you’ll see us make some other changes this summer,” he said in a letter to season ticket holders. “It starts with how we shape our management and coaching staffs and the roster improvements we’re able to make.”
The Canucks had a good start under Tortorella but finished the year with a 36-35-11 record for 83 points. The Canucks had just 13 wins in the 41 games since Jan. 1. Vancouver also struggled to score, managing just 196 goals on the season, leaving the Canucks tied for second least in the league.
At an April 14 season-ending news conference Tortorella was blunt when he said the Canucks are getting old and the core needed revitalizing.
Linden was asked about the comments.
“We talked about that,” he said. “I don’t totally agree with everything he said.”
Tortorella, who won a Stanley Cup coaching Tampa Bay in 2004, was hired as the Canucks’ 17th head coach last June to replace the fired Alain Vigneault.
Vigneault took over Tortorella’s old team, the New York Rangers, and has led them into the second round of this season’s playoffs.
Tortorella has four years remaining on a contact which is estimated at US$2 million a season. It’s estimated the Canucks owe Gillis $4 million for the remaining four years left on his contract.
Tortorella could be cantankerous, even rude, when dealing with the media during his five seasons with the Rangers. He kept his promise to be different in Vancouver, where he was cordial and often humorous when talking to reporters.
On the ice Tortorella preached defence and shot blocking. He used star players Daniel and Henrik Sedin on the penalty kill. He also faced criticism for the amount of ice time he heaped on front-line players like the Sedins and centre Ryan Kesler, who averaged 21 minutes 48 seconds of ice time a night.
Tortorella’s decision to start rookie goaltender Eddie Lack in the outdoor Heritage Classic game frustrated veteran Roberto Luongo. That decision eventually resulted in Luongo being traded to Florida.
A rash of injuries took their toll, Both Sedins, Alex Burrows and defenceman Chris Tanev all missed a significant number of games with injuries.
Noted for his fiery manner behind the bench Tortorella shocked management and the team’s owners when he tried to get into the Calgary Flames’ locker-room following a line brawl in a Jan. 18 game in Vancouver. Tortorella was prevented from getting at Flames’ coach Bob Hartley and was suspended for six games.
The Canucks were 2-4-0 during that period, then 2-7-1 when Tortorella returned.
Linden said that incident did not factor in Tortorella’s firing.
Canuck players said they played a role in the fate of both Gillis and Tortorella.
“The bottom line is if we win more games, then guys don’t lose their jobs,” said defenceman Kevin Bieksa.
Among the available coaches is Barry Trotz, who was fired from Nashville last month after 15 seasons with the Predators. Other candidates include L.A. assistant coach John Stevens and former Tampa Bay coach Guy Boucher.
“We will do everything we can to make this team as good as it can be and get back to the Stanley Cup playoffs,” Linden said. “We have ideas of how we can do that.
“Going down that path you need things and puzzles to fit together.”