Let’s get one thing straight first. John Tortorella is a good coach.
But if you’ve read anything published by the Vancouver media, by far the toughest and most annoying in the league, you’d think Tortorella was bottom of the barrel trash.
There are two main criticisms of Tortorella. First, he’s a fiery, demanding coach who doesn’t communicate well with his players. Second, he preaches a defensive style that wouldn’t be conducive to a Canucks’ offense which ranked among the league’s best under Alain Vigneault.
I have no idea what any of those references are. Bad communicator!
Not only are those two criticisms invalid, they’re products of a narrative constructed largely by very superficial observations. Tortorella is demanding, but he’s no more demanding than all the other notorious slave drivers who have graced the league, Scotty Bowman included.
(Best story about Bowman? That players hated him for 364 days of the year, except for the one day they get their rings.)
Re-watch HBO’s 24/7 series with the Rangers and Flyers. In the very first episode, Brad Richards was asked what it was like to be re-united with Tortorella.
“[Tortorella's] definitely not the same. I don’t think anybody’s the same after 10 or 11 years of doing something. He’s obviously picked up on other things, other methods.”
(In retrospect, “not the same” was a huge understatement in regards to Tortorella and Richards’ relationship.)
“I’m asking more questions of them than telling them right now ’cause it’s a matter of respect. I think they have grown, and I think you need to allow them to have some input here.”
Says Marian Gaborik, who was frustrated in Minnesota when Jacques Lemaire preached a defensive system but posted two 40-plus goal seasons under Tortorella:
“He’s very honest. He tells you whether it’s good or it’s bad… He tells you directly, which is very good. You don’t have to wonder how did he mean that.”
Honest people make good communicators. Even if you don’t like what they say. Clearly, Tortorella didn’t consult a thesaurus when he said Carl Hagelin “stinks” on the powerplay, but no one can deny that Tortorella was accurate in his assessment.
It was also made clear over the four episodes that captain Ryan Callahan and Tortorella shared a good relationship, the two bouncing ideas off one another during intermissions.
That Tortorella goes out of his way to maintain a relationship with Liam Traynor, the young Rangers fan who suffers from cerebral palsy, shows Tortorella is not cold, abrasive and short-tempered all the time.
Tortorella is also outspoken about maintaining discipline and not yapping to the refs, something the Canucks obviously had trouble avoiding under Vigneault.
As for the supposed young players that Gillis wants to bring in (there’s really nobody beyond Schroeder, Jensen and Corrado, and none are blue-chippers), remember that Bobby Clarke declared live on-air that Tortorella was the best coach for young players. (Sorry, no video clip, but it was on a TSN panel. This was strictly from memory, though, I do have supporting evidence Clarke actually said those words.)
As for Tortorella’s penchant for playing defensive hockey? When the Lightning won the Cup in 2004, they had the league’s fourth-best offense. That alone should dispel any notion that Tortorella is guaranteed to instill a defensive system in Vancouver.
The Rangers don’t have anyone whose offensive abilities resemble that of an MVP like Martin St. Louis. 2013 Richards was just a shell of his former 2004 Conn Smythe-winning self. The Rangers were not built to outscore their opponents. Vigneault was a good hire because he brought something completely different to the Rangers, a calm, even relaxed, voice to the dressing room, not because he can suddenly work magic with the Rangers’ offense as Glen Sather believes he will. (There’s a chance, but don’t bank on the Rangers becoming an offensive powerhouse. They simply lack the personnel.)
And remember when Vigneault was hired as the Canucks coach? He wasn’t considered an offensive guru at all. His trump card was that he had been a coach with the Moose and was familiar with players in Vancouver’s system. His reputation for being an offensive coach came from the Sedins developing into star players and his stubborn use of zone starts.
Those who are quick to label coaches as either “offensive” or “defensive” types don’t understand that the best coaches work with what they have. Don’t be surprised if the Rangers don’t improve their overall offensive totals and still rely on Lundqvist on a nightly basis. Don’t be surprised if the Canucks’ offense continues to rank among the league’s best instead of tanking into the league basement.
Look at it this way: if you have Henrik Lundqvist in net and Girardi and Staal on defense, wouldn’t you play from the net out too? Nash doesn’t have enough weapons in his arsenal to carry an offense and Richards was never considered an elite playmaker at any point of his NHL career. There are no Art Ross winners in the Rangers lineup. The Canucks have two.
True, coaches nowadays do more managing of egos and ice-time than drawing up x’s and o’s, but Tortorella isn’t a guy you hire to make a team comfortable. If anything, the Canucks have been too complacent, too often unable to find an extra gear in the playoffs. If a team needs a dire kick in the pants, as the Canucks do having gone 1-8 in their last nine playoff games, Tortorella’s the guy.
Tortorella certainly has his faults just like any other coach. Rangers fans will soon learn about Vigneault’s stubbornness and propensity to play favourites. When Sean Avery tweeted that Tortorella had essentially lost the room and that his fiery tirades had essentially become gimmicks, there was some truth to it.
Head coaches in professional sports have a very short shelf life. That doesn’t mean Tortorella lost his job because he doesn’t communicate well. There wasn’t any other good reason for the Canucks to fire Vigneault beyond the fact that Vigneault had gone stale. With what’s being said and written about Tortorella, you’d think he was behind the Canucks bench for a decade already.
(And apparently the same criticism of poor communication doesn’t befall Dan Bylsma, who can’t seem to figure out any in-game adjustments to get his team going. I actually think the title of “poorest communicator” should go to the team who gets charged with the most too many men penalties.)
But you know the one thing that everyone has overlooked? The one glaring omission from the Canucks’ 40-plus years of existence and the most decorated Canadian team over the past decade? A championship title.
Tortorella has a Stanley Cup ring, Vigneault doesn’t. For a team that came within one game of winning it all in 2011, that’s huge.
In all honesty, Tortorella might not last very long in Vancouver, but he certainly is a coach who can push this team over the hump.