RICHMOND, B.C. – If this was the beginning of the John Tortorella era in Vancouver, it was an inauspicious start.
Tortorella arrived at Vancouver International Airport on Friday amidst reports that he is about to be named as the new Canucks coach. The former New York Rangers bench boss, who is known for run-ins with the media, tried to slip out of the international arrivals area as a few reporters and photographers gave chase.
Accompanied by a woman and burly security guard who doubled as a driver, he declined to answer questions, got into an awaiting SUV and the group drove off.
Multiple media reports have indicated that the 55-year-old Tortorella has been hired to replace Alain Vigneault, who was named coach of his former Rangers club earlier Friday. The Canucks declined to comment on reports that Tortorella has been hired.
“We have interviewed several exceptional candidates for our head coaching vacancy,” the team said in a statement to the Canadian Press before Tortorella’s arrival. “At this time it would not be appropriate to comment on the process; however we look forward to announcing a decision soon.”
Speaking later in the day on the Team 1040 Radio, general manager Mike Gillis indicated the club was close to hiring a new coach and hoped to name him soon. He indicated Tortorella was a strong candidate.
Tortorella appears poised to join the Canucks after five seasons with the Rangers. During his 12-season NHL coaching career, he has also coached Tampa Bay, guiding the Lightning to the Stanley Cup in a seven-game series win over the Calgary Flames in 2003-04.
He was fired by New York after the Rangers were eliminated by the Boston Bruins in the second round of playoffs. His fiery coaching style and temperamental ways differ drastically from Vigneault, Vancouver’s all-time winningest coach, who was laid back, had a rapport with media while sidestepping questions on injuries and, as he admitted in a news conference Friday, prefers to give veterans leeway.
Vigneault was fired last month after the Canucks were swept by the San Jose Sharks in the first round of the playoffs. It marked the second consecutive spring that they had failed to advance past the opening round.
Tortorella’s arrival in Vancouver came as the Canucks were running out of coaching candidates.
The Dallas Stars also named a new coach Friday as former Buffalo bench boss Lindy Ruff took the helm of the club that took the Stanley Cup from the Sabres in 1998-’99. Meanwhile, the Phoenix Coyotes renewed the contract of coach Dave Tippett.
Multiple reports have indicated that the Canucks have already interviewed Tortorella twice, while Ruff was also a candidate, along with Los Angeles Kings assistant Jon Stevens and Scott Arniel, who coached Vancouver’s former AHL farm team in Chicago last season.
Stevens has head coaching experience with the Philadelphia Flyers, while Arniel formerly guided the Columbus Blue Jackets.
News of Tortorella’s apparent hiring evoked a strong reaction from Canucks fans. Some callers to a sports radio talk show said they would boycott the club if Tortorella was behind the bench.
Some local media also criticized the move. On Twitter, Vancouver Province columnist Ed Willes called the move “a bad idea that just got a whole lot worse.”
Critics contend that Tortorella’s coaching style goes against the club’s desire to be innovative through such initiatives as sleep management and other approaches that Gillis has stressed during his tenure.
But it’s clear that there are likely to be few dull moments if he does take the helm of the Canucks.