Dave Lozo's Bag Skate: John Tortorella Got a Raw Deal in Vancouver

Dave Lozo@@davelozoNHL National Lead WriterMay 2, 2014

John Tortorella’s firing in Vancouver was inevitable, just like it is for 99 out of 100 NHL head coaches (you’re excused, Mike Babcock).

Every coach has a shelf life, and while Tortorella’s may have been shorter than most, he certainly deserved more than a year with the Canucks. Unlike his jettisoning from the New York Rangers, which was the product of four-plus seasons of grinding his players into a fine dust, he barely had time to mold the Canucks into the hard-nosed team that ownership and former general manager Mike Gillis wanted.

While Tortorella was his own worst enemy in New York, he never received a fare shake in Vancouver thanks largely to what appears to be one of the more dysfunctional organizations in the league.

When you hire Tortorella, you are hiring a certain style of coach. The Canucks asked him to reform his ways with the media and Tortorella admitted before the season that he may need to soften a bit, but he was brought there to instill the toughness that management believed was missing. To think he would be anything less than the taskmaster that transformed the Rangers into one of the more formidable teams in the East was foolish.

Granted, Tortorella without question crossed a line when he tried to get into the Calgary Flames locker room in an effort to fight or chastise coach Bob Hartley, but outside of that one incident—as embarrassing as it may have been—it was the only public blowup he had this season.

He took over a team that had 101 (pro-rated for 82 games), 111 and 117 points the past three seasons, making the optics of his arrival and the Canucks missing the postseason for the first time since 2008 less than optimal for the coach. But he was dealt a stealthily bad hand this season, like a pair of pocket 10s when everyone else at the table was holding two jacks or better in the hole.

Five days after Tortorella was hired, the Canucks traded Cory Schneider to the New Jersey Devils for a first-round draft pick that was going to offer zero help in the 2013-14 season. Less than a week on the job, and the Canucks went from having one of the best young goaltenders in the NHL and perhaps the best goaltending duo in the league to having something far short of that.

As the season progressed, the injuries began piling up.

Alexandre Burrows missed 33 games with three separate injuries. Henrik Sedin, Daniel Sedin and Ryan Kesler are the first names that come to mind when the topic of the Canucks’ top forwards is discussed, but Burrows is just as valuable as any of them. Burrows scored 130 goals the previous five seasons. Only Daniel Sedin, with 143 goals, scored more over that time.

Just about every player of moderate to extreme value missed games this season—Daniel (9), Henrik (2) and Kesler (5) were only minor inconveniences, while Alexander Edler (16), Roberto Luongo (9) and Jannik Hansen (10) were part of a team that lost the sixth-most man-games to injury in this season, according to ManGamesLost.com

Making matters worse, Gillis traded Luongo with 18 games remaining in the regular season, leaving Tortorella with Eddie Lack and Jacob Markstrom for the home stretch. As time fades, that trade will be reflected upon as a deal by a team that needed to give up on the season, but the Canucks were just two points out of a wild-card spot when Luongo was shipped to Florida.

Give Tortorella enough time, and he can rub anyone the wrong way and create plenty of ammunition for his exit. But in his previous two stops, a poor first year before having success has been his calling card. 

In Tortorella’s first seasons with Tampa Bay and New York, each team fell short of the postseason. But two years later, the Lightning hoisted their first Stanley Cup and the Rangers reached the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time in 17 years. Say what you want about his tactics and demeanor, but the man has proved in two different places that he knows how to coach.

The problem for the Canucks, one that was foreseeable, is Tortorella needs players willing to commit to his below-the-goal-line, along-the-wall, shot-blocking, rugged-toughness style of play. The Canucks weren’t exactly loaded with those players when he arrived, so the first season was destined to have growing pains.

Sure, there were injuries and a GM trading goalies out of town for absolutely nothing of value in return, but Tortorella’s system is an acquired taste that takes time for players to embrace. 

It may be boring, watching five players collapse in front of goaltender or refuse to carry the puck into the offensive zone, but it works. History shows that. 

The Canucks this season were the eighth-best team in Fenwick percentage in close-score situations and had a 99.6 PDO, sure signs that luck wasn’t on their side. In Tortorella's final season with the Rangers, the team climbed to fourth in Fenwick percentage in close-score situations after finishing 14th in 2011-12. Tortorella’s system may not be popular, but it has proved to work in more than one location.

In hindsight, Tortorella should’ve taken a year off after the Rangers let him go, but his competitive spirit got the best of him. There should be plenty of openings this summer, but teams might be hesitant to commit to Tortorella after another tumultuous season (trying to fight another coach does not reflect well on an organization) and when his track record has shown Year 1 usually ends without a playoff trip.

Tortorella is one of the better coaches in the league and deserved another year in Vancouver. Whether he gets another year behind the bench with another organization in the near future will be interesting, as he’s shown to be successful on the ice, whether you like his style or not.


Six Letters

@DaveLozo is a hot dog a sandwich?

— Tragic Johnson (@sarahesoltan) April 28, 2014

This may not seem like a hockey question, but it really is. At Montreal Canadiens games, they have these hot dogs that are supposed to be worth the price of admission. Former goaltender and current NHL Network analyst Kevin Weekes has tried to sell me on how these hot dogs are better than any other hot dogs, but, well, they're hot dogs, so how can they be better?

Anyhow, this is a very important debate, so let's first look at the definition of "sandwich" via Dictionary.com.

1. two or more slices of bread or the like with a layer of meat, fish, cheese, etc., between each pair.

So let's go through the hot dog checklist: Hot dog, which is a meat, and bread. A hot dog roll is a piece of bread that is connected, but you can separate them the same way you would a hamburger roll, thus having it meet the requirement of being two slices of bread.

@DaveLozo What's it going to take for the NHL to do something about the sub-par officiating, especially in the playoffs? #BagSkate

— Stacy (@BruinsKumu77) April 28, 2014

They don't care. At least, they don't care because they don't think it's bad.

Ask any hockey person about what you perceive to be bad calls, and they'll throw rationales at you about how things would be much worse if referees from any other league in the world were employed in the NHL. They'll tell you how badly games are officiated in Europe. As someone who does not watch many Swedish league games, it's hard to refute.

It takes something really bad for the league or for officials to apologize for a bad call, like maybe Matt Duchene being 10 feet offside for a goal or a puck going into the netting unseen by any officials and having the carom lead to a goal. What you and I may see as inconsistent officiating in the postseason is not seen the same way by the powers that be.

Even if you don't want to admit it's bad, you have to admit it's incredibly inconsistent and deviates greatly from how games are officiated in the regular season.

@DaveLozo If Colorado beats the Wilds, will they win a game against Chicago?

— Legendary (@CopStrut) April 28, 2014

Probably not. And you can scream all you want about what the Avalanche did to the Blackhawks in the regular season (won four of five), but that just does not matter now. The Blackhawks are healthy and rolling after winning four straight against the Blues. Meanwhile, the Avalanche are not a very good team and have skated by on great goaltending all season. Plus, Colorado will not have its best offensive defenseman, Tyson Barrie.

Consider this: If regulation hockey games were 90 seconds shorter, the Wild would have already won five of six games against the Avalanche. And this may not be breaking news either, but the Wild are not very good. The Avs have won two games in this series as the result of late-game goalie pulls and one missed offside that led to a tying goal in Game 5.

You know the scene in Ferris Bueller's Day Off when Ferris says if he's going to get caught cutting school, it's not going to be the snooty waiter? Imagine that same scene, only it's the Blackhawks talking about the Avalanche beating them in Round 2.

@DaveLozo Where does Ryan Miller end up? #BagSkate

— Ed Anderson (@AndersonEd27) April 28, 2014

Boy, this is a good question after he had quite the unimpressive showing with the Blues. He had a .903 save percentage in 19 regular-season games and .897 save percentage in six postseason games. He will be 34 years old when the 2014-15 season starts and, outside of a great stretch to start 2013-14 with the Sabres, has been decidedly average since 2010-11.

So of course, there will be a huge market for him this summer.

Maybe if Marc-Andre Fleury disintegrates in Round 2, the Pittsburgh Penguins will buy him out and make a push for Miller, but that's a big if right now. Miller's wife is actress Noureen DeWulf and she lives in Los Angeles, so maybe he'd have interest in going to the Anaheim Ducks—but they're pretty set in goal with Frederik Andersen and John Gibson.

My best guess is he stays in St. Louis on a four-year deal for about $5 million per season.

@DaveLozo How often does Brad Treliving eat at Boston Pizza? And now that he's moving to Canada, will this number increase? #BagSkate

— John MacDougall (@MacDougall_John) April 28, 2014

For those who don't know, new Calgary Flames GM Brad Treliving is the son of Boston Pizza co-owner Jim Treliving. Boston Pizza is a chain restaurant that sells pizza throughout Canada and was not founded in Boston—it started in Edmonton, probably one of the few places on Earth that would think "Boston" is a great way to sell people on pizza.

Brad is 44 years old, so I doubt he's at a place in his life where he is eating pizza every night. And if he is in that place, I doubt he's eating the cardboard/sauce combo that is Boston Pizza on a regular basis. There's a lot of great beef in Alberta, so if he's up for eating fatty food that's bad for you, I'd bet he goes that way.

@DaveLozo what do the Leafs need to do to make Clarkson successful?

— Justin Baxter (@JFBaxter) April 28, 2014

Trade him to the Boston Bruins.


If you'd like to ask a question for the weekly mailbag, you can reach me via email at dave111177@gmail.com, fire your query at me via Twitter at @DaveLozo or leave a question in the comments section for next week.

All statistics via NHL.com or ExtraSkater.com.



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