On a connecting flight to Vancouver, a passenger recognized John Tortorella and asked the bombastic bench boss if he was the new coach of the Canucks. The fiery Italian turned and winked. That was Friday.
Tortorella was then whisked through the airport by a big, burly dude in a suit, who doubled as security and driver, before the coach exited through a side door with the media in hot pursuit.
He said nothing, climbed into the back of a Cadillac Escalade and that was it. Quite the quiet arrival for the outspoken successor to Alain Vigneault.
A driven taskmaster, who gained as much notoriety for his fencing with the media as for guiding the Tampa Bay Lightning to a Stanley Cup championship in 2004 and the New York Rangers to the Eastern Conference final in 2012, the former mayor of Madison Square Garden will own this town if he does what 16 predecessors couldn’t — bring a championship to Vancouver.
That process starts with a contract, a coaching staff and some clarity in an eventual press conference to make it all official. As for the deal, Tortorella can point to Vigneault who received a five-year, $10 million contract to direct the Rangers.
But whether emotional owner Francesco Aquilini, heavily involved in the hiring, or methodical general manager Mike Gillis see Tortorella as a short-term solution or long-term fit is moot.
He might get the money but maybe not term because the aging Canucks core must win now. If Tortorella can temper his approach and push the motivational buttons, it could work for a guy who turns 55 on Monday. Then again, Gillis hasn’t confirmed the hiring. He said the process is ongoing, that Tortorella was a very strong candidate and that “it shouldn’t take us much longer.”
Tortorella had his differences with the departed Marian Gaborik, demoted Brad Richards and the disgruntled Henrik Lundqvist, who denied having any role in the coach’s firing May 29.
He also fast-tracked younger players like Derek Stepan and the challenge in Vancouver will be no different than in New York. Don’t just rely on great goaltending and good defence. The Rangers were 10th in offence and 23rd on the power play in the regular season while the Canucks were 19th and 22nd respectively.
Tortorella has to get through to the core and get Henrik and Daniel Sedin to buy in to a new way of doing hockey business and understand that the coach knows the way to the locker-room. And he won’t knock first. So-long comfortable sanctuary. Hello reality.
“We needed a change in voice,” Gillis told the TEAM 1040. “We needed a change in direction and part of the re-set is really about whether we were ready to have a change in voice and approach. And we were. We need to get our bearings back. You can’t make a block-buster trade and the hiring of a new coach is going to go a long way to establishing a different voice in how our team operates and plays.”
In being selected over finalists John Stevens, Lindy Ruff and Scott Arniel, the mandate for Tortorella is simple, but the message may be more complex. He needs to win in re-alignment where a high playoff seed in the former Northwest Division is a thing of the past.