The Vancouver Canucks announced the inevitable today as they fired Head Coach John Tortorella. Assistant Coach Mike Sullivan has also been relieved of his duties, the club announced. This marks Trevor Linden’s first major move as President of Hockey Operations, and Linden will speak to the decision as the team holds a news conference today at 1pm Pacific time at Roger’s Arena.
“Today we are making an important change in the direction of our team,” said Linden in a statement. “On behalf of the entire organization, we extend our thanks to John, Mike and their families for their commitment to the Canucks and wish them the very best.”
Linden continued, “We have a lot of important work to accomplish this off-season as we build our management and coaching staffs, improve our roster and connect with our fans. Our General Manager search is well underway and we will begin assessing head coaching candidates immediately.”
Tortorella spent just one season behind the Canucks’ bench, with some questionable decisions punctuating his tenure and no doubt sealing his fate. During a January clash with the Calgary Flames, Torts stormed to the Flames locker room during the first intermission and instigated a scuffle with Flames Head Coach Bob Hartley. The incident, prompted by a line brawl on puck drop due to Hartley starting his fourth line grinders against the Canucks’ top line, earned Torts a 15-day suspension and no doubt a spot in a SportsCentre ‘Top 10 Meltdowns’ countdown in the not-too-distant future.
In another questionable move, Tortorella benched Roberto Luongo in favour of rookie Eddie Lack at the team’s Heritage Classic game, prompting a 50,000-strong round of boos at BC Place. Luongo was traded to the Florida Panthers two days later.
It’s clear that after the team’s disappointing end to the season, Torts’ dismissal was almost certain. It’s the coach’s responsibility to right a floundering team. But I can’t help thinking that Torts was brought on to right a sinking ship and, when the ship took on too much water and finally sank, Torts received the blame.
Torts, however, made no excuses when interviewed by Hockey Night in Canada’ Scott Oake during the team’s penultimate game of the season on April 12, 2014.
Referring to the injury-riddled line-up, Torts said, “It eroded our hockey club. But that falls on me and I needed to get our team back. We changed our style, we had to be a little more conservative with all the injuries but I needed to get my team back to that aggressive style of the first 40 games. So that’s my responsibility.”
Foreshadowing today’s announcement, Oake asked Torts about his level of concern that he may not have a place behind the Canuck’s bench next season. Torts replied, “I don’t have any level of concern. That’s out of my control. I’ll coach the hockey team (tomorrow night) right to the bitter end, the way I feel it should be coached. I can’t answer the question as to what is going to happen as I don’t make a decision on it. Those are the people above me. It’s their call.”
“It’s part of the game. Do I worry about it? I can’t. I’ve never worried about that. I’m going to coach the way I think I need to coach.”