VANCOUVER – After a frustrating season which saw his team miss the playoffs, Vancouver head coach John Tortorella was rather blunt Monday in his assessment of what the Canucks must change if they hope to return to the NHL’s elite.
While Tortorella took some of the blame, he also didn’t pull any punches. He said the Canucks are getting old, the core group has become complacent and the team needs to get younger.
“I felt from day one that it’s stale,” said Tortorella. “That’s not their fault. This is a group that has been together for a long time.
“It needs youth. It needs a change. The team needs to be retooled. It’s a young man’s game. It’s certainly not a criticism of (the veterans). We need to surround them with some enthusiasm.”
After a promising start under Tortorella, the Canucks finished the year with a 36-35-11 record for 83 points. Vancouver managed just 13 wins in 41 games since Jan. 1 and settled for a 25th-place finish in the overall standings.
The poor showing has already cost Mike Gillis his job as president and general manager.
New president Trevor Linden—the Canucks’ former captain—still must decide Tortorella’s fate. The two were scheduled to meet later Monday.
Centre Ryan Kesler, who was the subject of trade rumours this year, said the players have to take responsibility for the season.
“We’re all flabbergasted right now,” said Kesler, who led Vancouver with 25 goals. “Going into this year I would never think we would be sitting here in this situation.”
The Canucks ended their season with a 5-1 win over the Calgary Flames last Sunday but the victory was soured by an ugly incident late in the second period. Daniel Sedin was taken off the ice on a stretcher after being hit from behind by Calgary’s Paul Byron.
Sedin was taken to hospital and later released. After the hit, Sedin lay crumpled on the ice and couldn’t raise his head.
“I was scared,” he said at Monday’s season-ending news conference. “I tried to lift my head at first and couldn’t get it off the ice.
“The only thing I thought was lay still. I tried to move my hands and it felt good. I went to the hospital and everything looks good. I feel OK today.”
Tortorella said fans and management can’t keep reminiscing about the Canucks’ loss in Game 7 of the 2011 Stanley Cup final, but instead must concentrate on making the team better again.
“We’re not in 2011,” said the man hired last year to replace the fired Alain Vigneault. “We have to stop talking about 2011.
“The core needs to change.”
Canucks captain Henrik Sedin said the team was “really good” until halfway through the season when injuries became a problem. Both Sedins, Alex Burrows and defenceman Chris Tanev all missed a significant number of games with injuries.
“You never want to use injuries (as an excuse but) we had a tough year,” said Henrik. “We had guys playing out of position. We had guys playing more minutes than they were used to.
“We had to play a different way and we weren’t able to win playing that way.”
Tortorella said during this period he made a coaching mistake by giving the room to the players.
“I didn’t get back in the room and continue to teach the details,” he said. “I didn’t stay on top of it.
“I needed to be pounding away at the details. I think that hurt us in situational play. I think that hurt us in trying to understand how you change momentum. That’s not the team, that’s me. That’s my biggest regret.”
A lack of scoring haunted Vancouver all season. The Canucks managed just 196 goals, leaving them tied for second fewest in the league.
For the first time in a non-lockout season, Vancouver had just one 20-goal scorer in Kesler. Daniel Sedin finished the year with 16 goals and went through a stretch of 23 games without scoring.
Henrik Sedin had just 11 goals. Burrows, who hadn’t scored less than 25 goals in the last four full seasons, had just five.
“People talk about we are playing too much defence,” said Daniel. “Honestly we played as aggressively as we have been.
“That has nothing to do with why our production is down. It’s up to us to play like we can.”
Defenceman Alex Edler, who begins a US$30-million, six-year contract next season, finished the season at -39, the worst plus-minus in the NHL.
“There was a lot of changes this year (in how we played in own end) and a lot of new things to get used to,” said Edler. “I think I didn’t have the year I should have had but I know I am a good player.”
The Canucks have had several distractions to deal with over the last year.
Tortorella’s hiring was a surprise. Goaltender Cory Schneider was traded during the summer, meaning Roberto Luongo was the Vancouver starter after believing he was gone. Luongo was eventually traded to Florida.
Tortorella missed six games after being suspended for trying to get into the Calgary locker-room following a line brawl to open a Jan. 18 game against the Flames. The Canucks were 2-4-0 during that period, then 2-7-1 when Tortorella returned.
“When you lose a head coach it’s never good,” said Henrik Sedin. “I don’t think it was specifically that incident that made us start losing.”