VANCOUVER — John Tortorella is not only poised to become the first American to coach the Vancouver Canucks, he’s from Boston, no less. Yes, Boston. Home of the Bruins, the team that swiped the Stanley Cup from under Canuck noses two years ago.
Tortorella had nothing to do with that loss and if he can reverse the playoff losses of the last two springs — one win, eight defeats — maybe he’ll be a fit in Vancouver. He certainly has a lengthy resume. He coached a Stanley Cup winner in Tampa Bay in 2004 but spent 16 years working towards that summit in both the minors and as an NHL assistant in Buffalo and Phoenix. Overall, he’s been a coach for 25 years.
He spent six seasons with the Lightning and four-and-a-half with the New York Rangers. He’s won seven rounds in the playoffs, four of those coming in the ’04 championship season. He also went six years without winning a playoff round, from 2006 to 2011, and missed the playoffs twice. He was NHL coach of the year in 2004 when the Lightning posted a 46-22-8 record. His overall regular-season mark is 410-330-104 in 844 games.
Tortorella, who turns 55 on Monday, is not a physically imposing man at 5-8. He was a right-winger during his playing days for the NCAA Maine Black Bears and then in the Atlantic Coast League for Hampton, Erie, Nashville and the Virginia Lancers. His last active season was 1985-86 when he had 96 points and 153 penalty minutes in 60 games. He became the Lancers’ head coach the following year and won promptly won the ACHL championship.
Canucks GM Mike Gillis refused on radio Friday afternoon — timeline 3:13-3:30 p.m. — to confirm that Tortorella was the club’s choice to succeed Alain Vigneault, who was fired May 22. Tortorella himself was fired a week later by the Rangers. He arrived Friday in Vancouver, presumably to put name to paper, after two interviews with the team, most recently Wednesday in Boston.
Here’s how Gillis responded to the Tortorella question: “John is certainly in the mix, and very strong, and we’re going to finish off the process the way we designed it initially and it shouldn’t take us much longer. I would expect to have an announcement when we’re finished with what we need to do.”
Asked specifically what he liked about Tortorella, Gillis replied only in vague generalities.
“There is lots to like about everyone I’ve spoken to,” he said. “They are all very different … some younger coaches, some with more experience and some with lots of experience. There were a few very prominent ones. Going through the process has been extremely helpful and it played out the way I had anticipated.”
Tortorella is a polarizing figure. He’s emotional, he’s intense and when his teams play, there is always a camera on him in the hopes of catching another one of his outbursts. Rangers backup goalie Marty Biron, in a recent radio interview, explained the essence of the man.
“He wasn’t hiding anything,” said Biron. “He wasn’t going 10 different ways to tell you one thing. It’s funny with Torts. Being the kind of coach he is, he is walking this very fine line. Obviously when things are really good, he’s walking the good side of the line and when things are a little bit not going as well, a lot of media people and lot of the critics are going to put him on the bad side of the line. But, as players, we always respected what he was trying to do and I have to say that Torts was really good to me.”
One ex-Ranger who apparently didn’t enjoy Tortorella all that much was high-scoring winger Marian Gaborik, who waived his no-trade clause this season to go to Columbus.
“We had some good conversations, sometimes heated up, but I enjoyed playing there,” Gaborik said upon arriving in Columbus. “That’s his style of coaching.”
Vinny Prospal had Tortorella for five seasons in Tampa during two different stints. It appears he was not a big fan of the Torts style.
“Let’s put it this way,” Prospal told the Columbus Dispatch. “That’s the only way coach Tortorella knows how to coach, and that’s the way it’s been since I met him in 2000. He’s not going to change because of certain players. You can either play under him, or you can’t. Sometimes it works for a while and then you just go different ways.”
Canucks netminder Cory Schneider opined in a recent radio interview that Tortorella would “definitely bring an edge” and “certain attitude” to the team.
“I’ve talked to a few guys who played under him and they said he demands a lot out of you and he’s very intense but he’s honest,” Schneider said. “Straight, blunt and honest in his assessment. Some guys like to know where they stand. They don’t like to have to guess and play that game ‘Am I in? Am I out? How am I doing?’ ”
They’ll presumably find out in less than three months time.