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‘They play so slow,’ says scout on Torts-coached Canucks

Mar 31, 2014, 2:38 PM EDT

Eddie Lack, Joe Colborne, Dan Hamhuis AP

Alain Vigneault will be back in Vancouver tomorrow night, leading his playoff-bound Rangers side against John Tortorella and the Canucks, who will almost certainly miss the postseason for the first time since 2008.

A few weeks ago, I listed three things the Canucks have struggled with under Tortorella, starting with this:

1. They can’t move the puck

Specifically, from their end of the ice and into the attacking zone. Which is important in hockey, and also something the Canucks used to do really well during their salad days with Alain Vigneault behind the bench.

Mike Babcock — a good coach, we can all agree, right? — is always talking about the importance of getting the puck moving out of the defensive end in order to transition quickly through the neutral zone and into the opponent’s end, WITH POSSESSION.

So you can imagine I perked up when I read the following passage by Vancouver Province columnist Ed Willes:

Talked to a longtime NHL scout on Wednesday in St. Paul who delivered the defining word on the Vancouver Canucks under John Tortorella.

“They play so slow,” the scout said.

The problem, of course, is they aren’t built to play that way.

To be clear, playing “fast” doesn’t mean skating fast. It means making fast plays, pushing the puck and not giving your opponent time to get set defensively.

Here’s a great quote from Team Canada assistant coach Ken Hitchcock, during the summer Olympic camp:

“I think the sucker play is you have more space, you have more time, so the tendency is to take more time. It’s the big mistake. When we play well as Canadians, we play fast defensively and even faster offensively.”

Hitchcock was actually talking about playing on the big ice, but he preaches the same thing with his Blues.

“To me, transition … the whole game has to be played behind people,” Hitchcock said back in 2011, per In The Slot blog. “It’s not so much chipping it in, it’s just making people turn. That’s the whole focus of the game. If everybody’s on that page, then you play faster. You don’t slow down to make a play.

“The whole attitude is you’re converging pucks, bodies and traffic at the net, so your whole game is towards the net. But in order to do it, you have to make people turn. We’re trying to create an environment where we make them face their goalie as much as we can so that they can’t defend facing up ice.”

When Vigneault was coaching the Canucks, there were a lot of fans who thought he treated Keith Ballard unfairly. Despite the veteran defenseman’s healthy contract and good skating ability, he was often made a healthy scratch.

Well, here’s what Ballard said after he returned to the lineup in the 2011 playoffs and was pleased with how things went while paired with Chris Tanev: “We were solid. It was probably what they wanted out of us. We got the puck up to the forwards as soon as possible.

What does that tell you? It tells you Ballard was being told to get the puck moving faster. (Pretty much the same thing, by the way, that Ian White was being told last season in Detroit, where he was often a healthy scratch under Mike Babcock.)

Under Tortorella, getting the puck up to the forwards as soon as possible doesn’t seem to be a priority.

That, or the Canucks’ defensemen aren’t doing a good job of it.

That, or the forwards aren’t in good enough position to receive passes.

The result is defensemen holding on to the puck for what seems like forever — often being forced to circle back, or pass it back and forth with their partner — and no chance of a dangerous transition.

The result is an offense that ranks 28th in the NHL.

The result is a style that is boring to watch.

The result is empty seats.

The result is a coach that may be fired after the first year of a five-year, $10 million contract.

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

  1. wranglerick - Mar 31, 2014 at 2:46 PM

    Torts is the new Keenan

    • sumkat - Mar 31, 2014 at 2:53 PM


      Keenan was better than Torts will ever be

    • bigtganks - Mar 31, 2014 at 3:20 PM

      It all falls back on Gillis and how he’s unable to evaluate any type of talent at the player, scouting, and now coaching level. AV was hired by Nonis. Most of the core when really good was found before Gillis. Not only are Gillis’ players and scouting bad, but his only hire as a coach is a epic fail as well.

      This man is NOT the right person to be GM and most everything he touches rots. Bad contracts, bad players, bad scouting, bad coaching. And don’t give me how well he did with Higgins and Lapierre on the trade deadline. Even a broken clock is right twice a day and that sums up Gillis.

      • kaptaanamerica - Mar 31, 2014 at 6:50 PM

        Santorelli, Richardson, Kassian (Hodgson sucks defensively and can’t be a first line centre on Buffalo?!!), Hamhuis, Garrison (when healthy), Matthias, Dalpe, Sestito (he’s better than Volpatti), Erhoff….

        Where MG screwed up was not re-signing Erhoff, not trading Schneider when he had a chance to the lightning (avoiding the whole Luo trade fiasco), not trading Edler when he had a chance last deadline, trading Grabner plus for Ballard, getting Booth with this cap hit instead of keeping Samuelsson…

        MG made some good moves, but hurt the clubs with bad ones and ones he didn’t make at the right time. Guys like Chiarelli make the moves they make at the right time, even if they make mistakes like Kaberle, Redden, etc.. they still make the moves that need to be made – ie; getting iggie.

  2. blomfeld - Mar 31, 2014 at 2:51 PM

    Excellent piece Brough and ‘bang on’ in terms of relaying the truth to the people. I also applaud your use of ‘bullets’ at the end of this article, which of course is an effective and time-proven technique often used by ‘skilled’ communicators …

    – The result is an offense that ranks 28th in the NHL.

    – The result is a style that is boring to watch.

    – The result is empty seats.

    So in the words of Lord Louis Mountbatten … good show, jolly good show ! :)

    • hammerhead5573 - Mar 31, 2014 at 3:44 PM

      Is it just me or does everyone have to be totally wasted when reading your posts? I think that may be the best way to understand you?

      • kaptaanamerica - Mar 31, 2014 at 6:52 PM

        i used to feel that way. so i gave you a down vote cuz I don’t feel that way now.

    • machosasquatcho - Apr 1, 2014 at 12:22 PM

      Everything you say is just so pointless.


  3. imleftcoast - Mar 31, 2014 at 2:57 PM

    Trading coaches with the Rangers always seemed to be driving the decision. I wonder that Aquilini didn’t make the choice. The rumor today was that Gillis would take on more of a President role.

  4. c9castine - Mar 31, 2014 at 3:02 PM

    yeah i mean, cant argue much with that analysis. Hes a decent coach, but the game has passed him by and he is obviously too thick-headed and stubborn to adapt with it.

    doesnt help that there isnt really a ton of speed on that team. their two best offensive players in the Sedin’s are not particularly quick. Keslar is a good strong skater but isnt going to dust many people. Raymond is long gone. then there are some decent 3rd line types guys like Kassian but again, not lightning fast.

    you should have atleast one line on your team that buzzes the offensive zone hardcore, and id say typically thats your 3rd line. Only guy i see on that team that fits the bill is Mathias. then again i dont seem them too often maybe im wrong.

  5. stakex - Mar 31, 2014 at 3:21 PM

    The thing I still don’t get with Torts is that when he was in Tampa and won the Cup, the Lightning had an up tempo offense that played under the motto “Safe is death”. What exactly happened to that style of coaching from him?

    Despite complaints from Rangers fans, Torts coached the Rangers exactly like he had to. They didn’t have the high powered offense needed to play run and gun hockey, and were built to play a tough/grinding style. That’s how he coached them, and with decent results.The Canucks aren’t however built like that, and it seems like Torts is still preaching a style that was tailored for the Rangers.

    Granted, I think its fair to say that the Canucks aren’t the same team they use to be no matter who is coaching them. AV was fired after all because the teams performance was on the decline (they were 18th in goals for last year), and the results weren’t coming. To expect Torts was going to turn that around without any sort of roster changes would have been naïve.

    • 7mantel - Mar 31, 2014 at 3:24 PM

      Spot on stakex !

  6. hsnepsts - Mar 31, 2014 at 4:08 PM

    My verdict on Gillis:

    I will cut any GM some slack when it comes to trying to predict the future – its impossible to really know how well guys will play (though a good GM should be better than most).

    What is unforgivable is when a GM can’t properly assess the present.

    When Gillis traded a prospect and a pic for a rental in Roy, he lost me. It was obvious that the Canucks werent going to win the Cup – so why did we throw away assets? It was simply bad bet. Its what a fan would do, not a GM.

    Meanwhile, Wilson in SJ was trading Ryan Clowe at the deadline because the offers were too good to pass up – even though SJ was a top 4 team. Imagine a GM in a Canadian market trading away top 6 player at the deadline, even though they were going into the playoffs with home-ice advantage? It wouldn’t happen – but that’s what it takes to win. Buy low and sell high. Don’t let assets walk away free agents.

    • bigtganks - Mar 31, 2014 at 5:01 PM

      Buy low, sell high…

      Sedins coming off a three year decline, Gillis re-ups them for FOUR MORE YEARS at $7M per. Absurd. They had another year on their contract. Play that out. As you said you can’t be a fan. Nonis never re-upped Naslund because Naslund was on the decline and he walked for the NYR… then retired because he was just spent and still declining before his two year deal was up.

      I’m certain this team will not be elite or even a remote contender until the Sedin’s new deal is up and they”re off this team. They’re so spent and declining rapidly for the past four years. They have no fire or jump. My only hope is they retire well before the contract runs out which I think is still a possibility. They’re too proud I assume to be two 30 point players holding back a second line or dare I say, relegated to the fourth line.

      • hosewater2 - Mar 31, 2014 at 6:17 PM

        I don’t disagree with you from a hockey perspective, but look at all the flak Ottawa got for not giving Alfredsson a big loyalty bonus contract last year. Conscious decision on ownership’s part here to reward them for past service.

      • kaptaanamerica - Mar 31, 2014 at 6:58 PM

        Henrik is still a top center in this league. If anything it’s Daniel holding him back. Daniel should be on the second/ third line and Henrik on the first. Burrows Henrik and Jensen were on fire. I’ll give Henrik the benefit of the doubt cuz he showed after his injury and he was back that he can make plays, thread the needle, and do things other players in the league just can’t do offensively.

        Daniel is supposed to score, but he can’t do that and you can’t have two playmakers on the top line. The Sedins are better off being split apart at this point. Daniel needs to get his confidence back and playing against the other teams third line and 2nd/ 3rd pairing D men should help him.

  7. hosewater2 - Mar 31, 2014 at 4:18 PM

    Will the Canucks still be on the hook for Torts salary after they’ve fired him and he’s signed on to coach Toronto? Anyone know?

    • nobandwagoners - Mar 31, 2014 at 4:52 PM

      Typically coaches have employment contracts with the club and it will be the specific terms of the contract that will determine issues such as early termination of the contract and any amount owing for early termination of the contract (e.g., lump sum payment or salary continuance to be paid out over the length of the contract as if he had not been fired), and to address the scenario what happens if the coach then finds a replacement position within the time period that he was supposed to still be employed under the contract (e.g., that any replacement income earned to be deducted from the amount paid under the contract). It’s really up to the parties’ negotiations as to what the terms will be. So without seeing the actual contract, it’s only conjecture.

  8. nicofthenorthstar - Mar 31, 2014 at 5:40 PM

    Good read here.
    I love articles that analyze team strengths, weaknesses, and strategies. ESPECIALLY when we get to read insight from coaches. And Hitchcock and Babcock are, hands down, the first two coaches I want to hear analyzing and explaining the finer points (or not so fine, as the case may be.)

  9. bleedrangerblue - Mar 31, 2014 at 7:44 PM

    He’s fired this season. The Rangers struggled to score with him. Our team now is faster, scores a bit more, PP is way better, defense is offensively minded. All of this is due to the fact that shot blocking is not top priority. The game is fast today. I like our style better than the Torts years. I will say miss his post-game interviews.

  10. Wineshard - Mar 31, 2014 at 8:16 PM

    Well at least Torts’ contract doesn’t count against the Cap.

  11. bucfanforlife - Apr 1, 2014 at 12:45 AM

    the sisters are the problem

  12. fabdeezy77 - Apr 1, 2014 at 2:19 PM

    I love how there is never a article about Gillis and how bad talent in Vancouver is. Funny how things work I guess.

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