A tale of two coaches: Looking at John Tortorella

Torts & Players

It’s hard to know which coach Vancouver is getting with the hiring of Torts. Will he be the coach who led the Tampa Bay Lightning to a Stanley Cup Championship in 2004 or the one who didn’t achieve the desired effect on a contending roster for just over four years with the New York Rangers, or otherwise?

To start, I think it was important that Canucks‘ management made a change in coach. This isn’t because I think Alain Vigneault is a bad coach – quite the opposite actually – but because there is a shelf-life for any coach with a given team. If you don’t believe me just ask Lindy Ruff.

It seems that AV’s voice in the room wasn’t as pungent as it needed to be to maximize the most out of the individuals on his roster anymore. Vigneault is widely regarded as a players’ coach who allowed a core group of veterans to take on large responsibility for preparing the team.

When a team loses out to a lower seeded team in consecutive first round appearances, there needs to be a change; and hiring a coach known for pushing his players could be what’s needed.

Over The Top?

The question is whether he will push too far and cause the players to become disgruntled. There are widespread rumors that players in New York were simply sick of the constant prodding by Tortorella and appealed to have him replaced. He has been known to call out his players in the media (ahem… Carl Hagelin), which would be unlikely to fly under the Vancouver microscope.

Will Tortorella be able to work alongside the veterans on the Canucks' roster?

Will Tortorella be able to work alongside the veterans on the Canucks’ roster?

To his credit, Tortorella stated that he knows his relationship with the media and conduct will need to have some amendments made. I watched his full introductory press conference and came away from it impressed with what he had to say. Maybe I’m naive, but I believed Torts when he stated the changes and development in his ways and am also intrigued on the effect he could have on the players.

Youth Is Served

Young players such as Derek Stepan, Ryan Callahan, Marc Staal, Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonaugh flourished under Tortorella with the Rangers.

Furthermore, the 2004 Stanley Cup winning Lightning team got massive contributions from their young players – Brad Richards (Conn Smythe winner at 23), Vincent Lecavalier (23), Ruslan Fedotenko (25), Dan Boyle (27), Pavel Kubina (26) and Marty St. Louis (28) were all under 30 years old.

This should (hopefully) bode well for the likes of Zack Kassian, Bo Horvat/ Brendan Gaunce, Alex Edler and Frank Corrado.

How the veteran players will perform, many of whom have only played under AV for six seasons, is anyone’s guess. There seems to be a variety of both hit and miss cases with veteran performances under his reign. Take for instance Marian Gaborik, who played well under Torts for some time before being ultimately being led to his doghouse this past year.

He became so unhappy in New York that he ended up waiving his No Trade Clause to accept a deal to Columbus… yes, that Columbus.

Henrik Lundqvist, the Rangers’ superstar goalie, reportedly said it was unlikely he’d re-sign with the Rangers when his contract expires at the end of this coming season should Tortorella remain coach. Brian Boyle and Brad Richards also both found themselves seated in the press box at times during this year’s playoffs because they weren’t performing.

Looking to Vancouver, it will be interesting how a new coaching style will go over. How will different systems, coaching tactics and messages be interpreted and adapted to?


There are some strong personalities in the room, such as Kevin Bieksa and Ryan Kesler. They’re both the rugged type of player Torts likes, but I could see potential for clashes there should there be differences that arise between them. We also have an already fragile Roberto Luongo returning (maybe), who I’d assume wouldn’t want to be beaten down any further.

Another lingering question is how he handles the Swedes – namely the Sedins and Edler – who the Canucks will need to maximize their output for a run at a Cup. I expect that they will be leaned on heavily as they have been in recent history, but what happens if there’s a stumbling point along the way?

Only time will tell how this plays out, but I do believe John Tortorella will be a slightly different coach than he was in both New York and Tampa Bay. As other coaching candidate, Dallas Eakins, said:

“[You] coach the 23 individuals [that comprise a team],” implying that each player responds to their own form of teaching.

Let’s hope Tortorella can push the right buttons to maximize the effectiveness of the individuals in blue and white this year and lead them to the promised land.


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About Alex McPhee

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