If there was one decision Mike Gillis had a wealth of options for, it was picking his new head coach this off-season. Sure, they weren’t all great options, but they were plentiful nonetheless. Of the regularly mentioned names to choose from all came with their individual styles, benefits and baggage.
In John Stevens you had the defensive specialist, who is lauded mostly for his role in developing LA’s young and talented blueline. In Dallas Eakins you had the young upstart from Toronto’s system who preached defensive responsibility and developed a reputation as being somewhat of a player’s coach.
Then there was the eventual choice, John Tortorella, whose style is somewhat of an unknown to this point.
I’ve yet to give much thought as to what a Stevens or Eakins hire would imply about the Vancouver Canucks future and present, but with August being the dog days of summer (especially where hockey is concerned) I had plenty of time to read between the lines on Tortorella’s hire.
The easy and obvious reasoning for choosing Tortorella is that his raging psychopathic ways will light a fire under the collective rear ends of the Vancouver Canucks and shake up what’s become a rather stale locker room. It also seemed at first glance like this hiring was meant to squeeze out what little the Sedins, Ryan Kesler and other key veterans had left in the tank for a final run at the Stanley Cup.
Sometimes the Obvious Answer isn’t the Right One Though
Looking beyond face value though it became increasingly clear that the selection of Tortorella couldn’t have less to do with winning now. I mean, like any team in the NHL the Canucks obviously are looking to improve this season and it’s not out of the realm of possibility that they do just that. But that is likely not the mandate of Tortorella and his assistants.
The forward thinking Gillis has his sights set on the future, and that is exactly why he chose Tortorella. For teams to remain competitive in the salary cap era it is imperative that they have a mix of both veteran and youth throughout their lineup — something the Canucks have sorely lacked for the past few years.
Due to the entry-level contracts that accompany younger players in their earlier years, if they can be an effective part of your roster it allows you to be more of a player in free agency or trades. And if these past two summers of free agent futility have proven anything, it’s that the Canucks are in desperate need of that salary relief.
More importantly than getting salary cap relief from inexpensive younger players is the production. While the Sedins turned in one of the best defensive seasons of their respective careers last year, it came at the expense of their offensive production.
I’m not of the belief that last season was in any way indicative of the toll age is taking on their bodies and in turn their offensive production, but they are on the wrong side of 30 and going into a contract year; if there was ever a time to start planning for the future, it’s now.
They may not be heading into serious regression, but I think they could be in for a declining role offensively going forward.
It also wouldn’t hurt the Canucks to find a relatively competent fill in for the perennially injured Ryan Kesler. Such a find would prove costly in free agency; think Mikhail Grabovski’s one year deal at $3M. It seems more cost effective and future-friendly for the Canucks to develop that third line center, with the offensive capabilities to fill in when/if Kesler goes down.
There’s Finally Some Prospects to Develop
Enough with the ambiguity though. Time to put faces to these thus far nameless prospects that I’m expecting Tortorella to develop.
Of the Canucks suddenly burgeoning pipeline of prospects, expect Tortorella’s attention to be heavily spent on the mercurial Jordan Schroeder. At no point last season did he ever look out of place in the NHL, but the offense that made him a highly-touted prospect and first-round selection has yet to come for the diminutive center at the NHL or AHL level.
From where I’m sitting he’s currently penciled in as Vancouver’s third line center, but it will be interesting to see if time under Torts can elevate his offensive game to a level commensurate with most top-six forwards.
Can Tortorella work his magic on Schroeder and make him Vancouver’s equivalent of Derek Stepan? Probably not, but I’d gladly settle for something similar.
Then there’s Frankie Corrado to take into consideration. Should he make the team – and I’m of the belief that he should – he will surely receive the same sort of attention. There’s no reason Corrado can’t become a top-four defenseman with this club, if not this season than at some point in the not-so-distant future.
Whatever knowledge Tortorella and his assistants will impart on Corrado could play a pivotal role in shaping the future of the Canucks blueline.
Of all the prospects that Gillis presumably wants groomed though it’s the one’s that either aren’t on the Canucks roster as of now or won’t be for years to come that are the most tantalizing. Brendan Gaunce and Bo Horvat jump out at me, but Jordan Subban and Nicklas Jensen should play an equally vital role in shaping the future of Vancouver’s core.
Reasons To Believe
Of which there are plenty. His first head coaching gig in Tampa Bay went famously, and culminated in the franchise winning it’s only Stanley Cup. Leading the way in Tampa was the youthful trio of Brad Richards, Martin St.Louis and Vincent Lecavalier, all of which were developed by Tortorella.
Most notably though is the fact that these developed stars didn’t come with first-round pedigree, save for Lecavalier. While we’re dissecting his work in Tampa, it’s also worth mentioning that it was under Tortorella that the undrafted Dan Boyle became a top-flight defenseman.
More recently though he worked wonders with the New York Rangers prospects and turned that club from the butt end of every free agency joke to the teeny-boppers of the East. That in itself is borderline miracle material, especially with Glen Sather running things in the front office.
The Sad-Ish Inevitable Truth
Most Canucks fans aren’t going to want to hear this, but this team isn’t looking to win the Stanley Cup this season. This Tortorella hire, as I’ve stated probably 8,000 or so times in this article, is about building for the future.
The Canucks finally have prospects worth developing, and they chose the man they best saw fit to do it.
While this season is more or less a wash, for the first time in a long time, I can honestly say I’m excited for the future and whatever player’s the Canucks can groom into being a part of it.
Give us your thoughts in the comments section.