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Is Tortorella’s system to blame for Canucks’ woes?

Mar 3, 2014, 11:35 AM EDT

Tom Sestito, John Tortorella AP

No longer just a great song you hear at Joe Louis Arena, “Don’t Stop Believing” has apparently become the mantra of the Vancouver Canucks.

To wit, here’s coach John Tortorella after Sunday’s 4-2 loss to Ottawa in the Heritage Classic: “The only thing you can do from (general manager) Mike Gillis right on down to our team, we need to keep believing as an organization and take each and every day.”

And here’s winger Alex Burrows, still without a goal this season: “We’ve got to rely on our system, and keep believing that we’re doing a lot of good things. You’ve got to keep believing that your structure and your system is strong.”

It’s funny, because that’s the exact same message I heard from countless members of Team Canada in Sochi. When the goals weren’t going in, they said the only thing they could fall back on was the system, and they had to believe that it would eventually pay off.

You know how that ended. Mike Babcock’s puck-possession system was ultimately celebrated, along with the gold medal.

But — and this is the thing when it comes to the Canucks — what if the system is, you know, completely and utterly wrong?

We only ask, because, not long ago, Vancouver was one of most dynamic offensive teams in the NHL. Today, with largely the same core players, its offense ranks 27th, averaging a paltry 2.33 goals per game.

And back when the Canucks were piling up the points in the standings, Burrows and the Sedin twins formed one of the best, most entertaining lines in hockey. Today, that line is a shadow of itself, no disrespect to the shadow.

I asked Burrows if Tortorella’s system made it harder to do the things his line used to do so well.

“It’s a little different, that’s for sure,” Burrows said. “But we’ve got to make more plays.”

I asked him how the system was different.

“Well, I’m not going to comment, go down into it,” he said. “But we have to be better.”

I didn’t expect to hear a detailed breakdown of the system, or for Burrows to bash his coach’s game plan. Besides, the players do “have to be better,” regardless of the system.

But let’s face it, Tortorella was fired as coach of the Rangers for a reason. Actually, it was a few reasons, but the “style of play” he dictated was a big one, according to the guy who fired him.

“If you look at these playoff games (like the Stanley Cup Finals matchup) you’re gonna see tonight, the style that they play, I mean there’s not a hell of a lot of dump-ins,” Glen Sather said in June. “I mean, (if) you have to dump the puck in, you have to dump it. But there’s a lot of puck control and hanging onto the puck and moving the puck out, and there’s not stopping behind the net to gain control. There’s a lot of things that are done differently than what we were doing. So you have to look at the style of play. That had a lot to do with (the decision to fire Tortorella), too.”

And when the Canucks’ last coach, Alain Vigneault, was hired by the Rangers, it wasn’t a commitment to shot-blocking and collapsing in front of the goalie that Sather was trumpeting.

Tortorella said before the Heritage Classic that he was hoping the quasi-outdoor experience might help jump-start his “big guys” (translation: Sedins and Burrows) offensively.

“I think some of our guys need to offensively allow themselves to play some shinny hockey,” he said. “Just let them play. Maybe this will help us. I don’t know.”

Of course, he also said his “biggest concern” was “staying with our structure.” Which doesn’t exactly translate to, “Just let them play.”

But hey, don’t stop believing.

Related: Apparently Glen Sather and Mike Gillis don’t see the game evolving the same way

  1. joey4id - Mar 3, 2014 at 11:40 AM

    Wow! It’s a sad time in Vancouver when the coach is hoping a semi-outdoor will help change the direction of this team. Wpg has just passed the Nucks and are on the heels of the Stars.

  2. elwaysagenius - Mar 3, 2014 at 11:45 AM

    Torts and the Canucks deserve each other.

  3. hosewater2 - Mar 3, 2014 at 11:55 AM

    Asst GM Gilman called this season an anomaly over the weekend, gotta think Torts won’t survive to coach next season, he is most likely the anomaly. Don’t get me wrong, the core group is older and not what they used to be, but this is still a playoff team under most coaches.

    • kaptaanamerica - Mar 3, 2014 at 2:25 PM

      The Canucks have to get better scouts or at least someone who isn’t arguably the worst head scout in the league. How Ron Delorme keeps on as a scout I have no idea?!. The one guy who finds real players is Thomas Gradin. They need to pick up some guys who can draft from Detroit or Pittsburgh.

      • hosewater2 - Mar 3, 2014 at 2:49 PM

        Would love to see them draft better, could always do better scouting. It is amazing though when you look at old drafts from 3+ years ago what a crapshoot the whole process is for all teams.

      • nothanksimdriving123 - Mar 3, 2014 at 3:25 PM

        Hose: Absolutely a crapshoot! Among many classic cases, is 1982. The first pick was Gord Kluzak, a good d-man whose career was cut short by injuries. Taken 134th was future Hall of Famer Doug Gilmour.

  4. pone27 - Mar 3, 2014 at 11:57 AM

    Pretty sure the proof is out there: Torts system sucks….

    Torts system is completely defensively minded, and which is why you see the goal production suffering. Same thing happened in NY, and NY doesn’t have nearly the same offensive weapons that Vancouver has.

    • davebabychreturns - Mar 3, 2014 at 12:48 PM

      Based on where the team finishes in league wide scoring, Torts years as the Rangers coach were the best of the last decade. I mean, I hate to see facts getting in the way of a good story, but…

      • elvispocomo - Mar 3, 2014 at 2:33 PM

        Not to mention Torts’ Stanley Cup ring from his time in Tampa. I understand the NHL changes and perhaps what worked for him them might not work any more, but this isn’t strictly that he’s coaching a bad system.

    • sunderlanding - Mar 3, 2014 at 4:27 PM

      The Rangers aren’t exactly way better without Torts, and the Canucks aren’t exactly way worse with him. I’m pretty sure personal is to blame.

    • elrock7 - Mar 3, 2014 at 9:56 PM

      You cant play any system without the players suited to that particular system.

      A good coach will adapt his system to the strengths of his players. Example, you cant use the Denver Bronco offence on a team like say, the Buffalo Bills.

  5. kicksave1980 - Mar 3, 2014 at 11:57 AM

    Staying within a structure is fine, if you have the right players for it. The best coaches adapt to their players strengths.

  6. earpaniac - Mar 3, 2014 at 12:00 PM

    This is one hiring I really didn’t get. Unless they blew up the entire team, that is.

  7. runhigh24 - Mar 3, 2014 at 12:10 PM

    Maybe they just hired him to get everyone to waive their no trade clauses? It makes sense if you think about it.

  8. jjregan21 - Mar 3, 2014 at 12:12 PM

    Cheers to whoever picked out that Jesus-y looking photo of Torts

    • patthehockeyfan - Mar 3, 2014 at 4:17 PM

      Jesus-y looking, as in he looks like Jesus? Or, that he’s praying to Jesus?

      I’m thinking the latter. That’s his best bet for post-season play.

  9. chiadam - Mar 3, 2014 at 12:13 PM

    Assbag coach for a team full of assbags. Good.

    • micasa81 - Mar 3, 2014 at 6:58 PM

      What is an assbag? (Honest question)

      • lesleyvissersfacelift - Mar 3, 2014 at 9:34 PM

        A person that is one massive bag of dirty ass.

  10. pigpen1013 - Mar 3, 2014 at 12:15 PM

    How is Torts going to get players to waive their NTCs?

  11. purpleguy - Mar 3, 2014 at 12:22 PM

    Or maybe father time is finally catching up to the Canucks.

  12. timmylaz99 - Mar 3, 2014 at 12:33 PM

    Torts is a terrible coach. The only thing he’s done so far is to manage to piss off the best players on the team. Vancouver get rid of the wrong front office people during the power struggle and will be paying for it over the next few years!

    • imleftcoast - Mar 3, 2014 at 1:23 PM

      This is starting to look like the Keenan hiring, and it took years to repair the damage from that one. Let’s hope we can get a commitment out of ownership to never hire an ex-Ranger coach again.

  13. davebabychreturns - Mar 3, 2014 at 12:46 PM

    Wow, looks like they are scuttling out of the woodwork in full force to revel in the Canucks struggles.. enjoy it guys because Canucks fans certainly aren’t.

    As for “is it the system,” the team’s offense was in decline well before the coaching staff was changed. It’s amazing what the departure of a powerplay quarterback, a conference-wide fall in scoring, a career-altering head shot to the team’s best scorer, three straight years of depleted roster depth and a bunch of injuries will do to a team’s offensive production.

    I don’t think there are any easy answers here, and even though it would take a new coach and a full training camp to put into place, “a new system” is one of the easier answers..

    • mackattack29 - Mar 3, 2014 at 1:14 PM

      I’m an avs fan. But I feel for your team. And I will just say that a bad coach can make all the difference. Look at the avs last year with Sacco, aka arguably the worst coach in the history of hockey, and then all of a sudden this year with mostly all the same players. We have a coach now who has a wonderful relationship with the players. I really think the days of the herb brooks, “it doesn’t matter if the team likes me as long as they execute my system… I truly believe that once the Canucks get a coach who listens to his players and doesn’t do things like sit out the veteran goalie on your team before an outdoor historic game just to prove a point. Stuff like that really turns the players against the coach because their allegiance is to each other like brothers. I’m sure even Eddie Lack felt incredibly uncomfortable being put in that position.

      • davebabychreturns - Mar 3, 2014 at 1:29 PM

        I think that’s a bit overblown.

        And anyway if you looked at the Canucks in December when they were the hottest team in hockey I don’t think anyone would have said there was an issue with the coach/system or predicted one either.

        I think the bottom line is that this team doesn’t have the skill or depth to outscore their problems, basically they are either going to score just enough to win or they won’t – they were doing it until injuries started hitting the team (Santorelli was great for us, he’s done, Henrik’s been playing hurt since December, Daniel was playing hurt apparently, lots of injuries on defence now twoo) and they just could not even manage that 2-3 goals a game anymore.

    • soro17 - Mar 3, 2014 at 1:54 PM

      Add to the list, a terrible draft record. Despite this, the scouting staff remains unchanged. Some of the guys that are rumoured to be trade targets are guys the Canucks could have drafted. Instead we have Anton Rodin, Brendan Gaunce, Nicholas Jensen and a bevy of other no-hopers. In order to succeed, you need to support your top guys with pieces added in the draft, which the Canucks have failed to do in a spectacular way. Plus, the system sucks.

      • elvispocomo - Mar 3, 2014 at 2:38 PM

        “Some of the guys that are rumoured to be trade targets are guys the Canucks could have drafted.”

        Is it just me or does that not make sense. I’m sure you mean that there are pieces the Canucks may be getting back in return for our trade targets (Kesler, Edler, Luongo) that the Canucks could have drafted, but if you want to list the returning players out that we should have known to draft instead it might make more sense.

      • soro17 - Mar 3, 2014 at 3:07 PM

        Well, the most obvious is Tomas Tatar, taken right after Anton Rodin. At the time Tatar dominated the WJC (along with Jarosalv Janusz and Richard Panik) knocking the US out in the process. Rodin, couldn’t make the Swedish squad because he was too soft.

      • elvispocomo - Mar 3, 2014 at 3:31 PM

        29 other teams passed on Tatar too – including Detroit who picked Landon Ferraro 32nd overall. How’s he working out for them?

        And Rodin had 10 points in 6 games with Sweden at the 2009/10 WJHC after being drafted. He seemed to do just fine, but did have issues translating his play to the North American game. Tatar made it for Solvakia, so certainly an easier squad to crack, but had a marginal (5 points in 6 games) WJHC the same year Rodin did quite well.

        Clearly NHL production is different since Tatar’s doing well, but it’s a great example of hindsight being 20/20.

      • davebabychreturns - Mar 3, 2014 at 3:48 PM

        They have made changes to the scouting department, so that kind of undermines your argument.

        I’m not happy with all of the picks in that period but IMO 2011-13 look drastically better than 2008-10 (which still looks better than 2006-07 under Nonis).

      • soro17 - Mar 3, 2014 at 4:25 PM

        That is kind of my point, sure there may have been some changes but Nonis or Gillis, Ron Delorme has remained in charge. Kind of bizarre based on his track record and Gillis’ statement of intention regarding doing things smarter back when he started. I am not sold on the 2011 to 2013 picks. 2011 – Jensen (bust), Corrado (might pan out), the rest (meh). 2012 – Gaunce (will be a bust. Underwhelming skill set. Might turn into a Dolpe), the rest (meh). 2013 – Horvat (looked out of his league at WJC – another worker drone at best), Shinkaruk (looks promising, but is he too fragile for the NHL?). 2008 to 2010 is even more grim.

      • elvispocomo - Mar 4, 2014 at 1:35 PM

        Wow, no wonder you feel our drafting is so terrible. You’re way underrating those players.

    • gret9 - Mar 3, 2014 at 3:04 PM

      davebabychreturns, I disagree with the ‘career-altering head shot’ excuse. If he couldn’t play because of it that’s one thing. But I can’t think of another player who has come back, not missed a game since, and still has fans using that as an excuse for him.

      A much more likely reason is it was at the end of his 31 year old season and the next year he was 32 years old.

      His production had already dramatically dropped BEFORE THE INJURY from 104 points in 82 games (1.27 pts/game) to only 67 points in 72 game (.93 pts/game) when his season ended.

      His production the season he came back was actually similar to his production the previous season prior to the injury, 40 points in 47 games (.85 pts/game).

      • davebabychreturns - Mar 3, 2014 at 3:49 PM

        His goal scoring rate dropped through the floor with that injury, but yes his points production dropped prior to it (along with that of virtually every other player in the Western Conference).

  14. stakex - Mar 3, 2014 at 12:50 PM

    There are some things to remember here.

    First, despite being 1-8-1 in their last 10 games, the Canucks are amazingly still tied for the last Wild card playoff spot. They have played three more games than Dallas, but they are far from out of the race.

    Second, the Canucks players are all getting older and they lack young talent. Both of the Sedins have seen their numbers fall off slowly over the last couple years, and the team as a whole has seen its offense wane since its high water mark a few years ago. While they might have been a very dynamic offense a few years ago, last season under Vigneault the Canucks were 18th in goals scored….. down from 4th the year before. All the stats indicate a continued decline under Torts, instead of a sudden crater.

    Finally, I don’t think there is any surprise that Tort’s current style of hockey is an iffy fit for the Canucks. It worked well with the Rangers because they had a team built for it, but the Canucks just don’t have that hard charging/grinding mentality and probably never will. Again his system is far from the only issue the Canucks have, but it doesn’t seem a good fit to squeeze more life out of an over the hill Canucks team.

    • nobandwagoners - Mar 3, 2014 at 1:06 PM

      I still can’t believe that Gillis gave the Twins a four-year extension at $7m per season (!) when their skills are – or unavoidably will be – on the decline. Sure, you want to retain them and treat them well in light of what they’ve given the team and the community, but from a cap perspective that had me scratching my head. Doesn’t make sense to me to reward players for taking a discount to help build a competitive team to simply overpay them the next time contract negotiations roll around.

      $7m per season is clearly first line money but the Twins are sliding down to second line production. And that cannot all be laid at the feet of Torts.

      • davebabychreturns - Mar 3, 2014 at 1:33 PM

        They’ll be at second line production before the end of these deals but even ~60 points is still first line production in this league, sadly.

        As for it being too much, for that to be the case the team has to have a better use for that cap space and unless we have some 28 year old franchise player hit free agency with the intent of signing in Vancouver (for the first time ever) and can’t fit them in, or unless Zack Kassian scores 75 goals next year, it’s extremely unlikely that’s going to be the case.. particularly if the team goes through something of a rebuild here.

  15. jason9696 - Mar 3, 2014 at 12:57 PM

    As a Canuck hater. I am loving this. Even if they manage to make the playoffs they will be one and done. I’m sure Torts will be canned and so should Gillis.

  16. sonofsamiam - Mar 3, 2014 at 2:48 PM

    Torts system is fine, if you have the players to run it. Problem in Van is that Gillis built a soft, fancy boy roster, and then scrambled to try and toughen it up with Neanderthals like Kassian. Gillis is the real reason this team is imploding.

  17. blomfeld - Mar 3, 2014 at 2:52 PM


    The Canucks hit the high water mark 3 years ago against the Bruins. Since then however they’ve been spiraling downward as an organization, much like an aircraft plummeting from the sky. There are ‘many’ possible explanations for this ‘sad’ current state of affairs, including …

    1) the Luongo ‘good-bye/hello’ fiasco
    2) the ‘great’ Schneider giveaway
    3) the ‘deplorable Hodgson treatment
    4) the Booth ‘animal bloodbath’ debacle
    5) the ever more ‘geriatric play of the Sedins

    etc … etc … etc …

    The bottom line is that apart from Canuck Nation, everyone already knew last summer that this team was heading for big trouble. The days of ‘easy pickings’ in the Northwest Division were over together the perennial 50 ‘gimme’ points in the standings. Even the owner himself was going through an ugly divorce. And then came the Torts hiring, which to most almost seemed like a sort of ‘self-inflicted’ gun shot to the head. Nonetheless, it would be ‘wrong’ to paint Torts as the villain, as the dye was cast for this mess long before he arrived. On the contrary, if you’re looking for a culprit, then you needn’t look any farther than the office of one ‘Michael David Gillis’ … it’s as simple as that. And until such time that he’s dealt with, there remains little hope for the Canucks to reverse what’s unfortunately now unfolding …

  18. penvik - Mar 3, 2014 at 4:26 PM

    Keslar deserves to go to Pittsburgh. He would look great in black and gold.

  19. bleedrangerblue - Mar 3, 2014 at 6:29 PM

    Torts stinks!!!! Go Rangers!!

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