Tortorella looks like the odd man out, and I mean that literally. Aquilini and Gillis are the same height, and they’re dressed identically.
You knew the question was coming. When the Team 1040 announced that Mike Gillis would be joining Jake Edwards and Dave Pratt for a segment on the morning show, Canucks fans tuned in — given a rare reason to do so — to hear either Edwards or Pratt ask the big ask: Will John Tortorella be back next season?
It’s an almost impossible question to answer about a coach on the hot seat. Gillis isn’t going to say “absolutely not, I fired his ass, just now, he’s done, I’m watching him clean out his desk right now.” So he’s left with just two options. He could say “no comment”, a response listeners will only hear the first half of; or he could say “yes he will, I have the utmost faith in John’s ability to do the job,” or something to that effect. And, as longtime hockey fans will tell you, the vote of confidence is often the kiss of death.
But this isn’t Mike Gillis’s first rodeo. He’s always excelled at giving lawyerly answers to difficult questions (it’s probably that law background), and his response to this one was among his best.
“I’m not sure if I’ll be back next season.”
Bravo. I say Gillis should retain his job just for that alone. That bit of redirection, that display of verbal showmanship — it’s the sign of a man on his game.
Lest you think Gillis is considering stepping down, or sees his dismissal coming over the horizon, or was really giving any real insight into himself and his future at all, he did go on.
“I think everyone’s open for evaluation,” he said. “We’ve had players that have severely underperformed. Our team has underperformed. I think that we’re all open to evaluation and we all deserve evaluation and that’s what ‘s gonna come.
“Having said that, I have a clear vision of where we had to go. I had one six years ago. I have one today that we have to execute on in order to compete for the cup in the Western Conference and that’s what I intend to do. But I think it would be fair to say that we will all be under scrutiny and evaluation come the end of this season, which is deserved.”
The name of the game is evaluation, and it’s possible that Gillis will be done in by his, when the time comes. But one suspects it will have a happier ending than John Tortorella’s.
Gillis didn’t blame Tortorella for the troubles of this season directly. Instead, the issues, he said, were due to a loss of identity within the organization, and that the team has gotten away from the style of play they want to employ. Tempo was the word he used, and he’s right.
“When you have an entire team’s level of performance drop off, there has to be reasons for it. Whether those reasons are attributable to one thing and one thing only unlikely. I think it’s a combination of things that have contributed to us not performing at a level that’s expected and I think those things need to be addressed systematically and completely and turned around so we can build the style of play and the style of team we want to have here.”
But as the Canucks attempt to right this ship, and Gillis sure sounded like a man who felt he’d be at the helm, anyone unwilling to get onboard will be thrown overboard. (I have made a mess of this maritime metaphor.)
“John’s an accomplished coach. Six years ago everyone thought Alain Vigneault couldn’t change from a defensive style coach to an offensive style coach. If given the resources and if the players are committed to it, I think any coach can coach a team that he has. Having said that, our problems are far-reaching and they will be addressed. If people don’t want to get onside with how I view this team and how it’s supposed to play, then they won’t be here.”
That’s an ominous final statement, and it doesn’t bode well for Tortorella. What seems easier? Hiring a coach more in keeping with the style of play the team wants to get back to, or telling one of hockey’s most stubborn men to change his system? Tortorella’s been fighting Gillis on going to practice, staying at practice, and having practice. Unless he bends, knowing that a second dismissal in under a year could be the end of his NHL coaching career, one assumes Tortorella won’t be much more flexible on what they practice.
If I were a betting man, I’d say Tortorella’s is the head that rolls after this season, even as Gillis — and everyone else in a position of leadership on the Canucks — blames themselves.
Today was apparently Spartacus Day in Vancouver, with every brave soul stepping forward.
“It’s my responsibility to get us back on top and that’s what I intend to do,” Gillis said.
Meanwhile, Henrik Sedin took responsibility as well. “There’s reasons why we are where we are, and it’s not on the coach or anyone around us.”
Good on him, I guess. With the season unofficially over, all the leaders are pointing the finger directly at themselves, because that’s what leaders do, and that in mind, I’d like to differ with Henrik. It’s is indeed the fault of two men, one of whom is named Daniel, but it’s not the Sedins.
It’s us, here at Pass it to Bulis. We expected too much. Our satire was too biting. We blogged too hard. We got away from what made us successful: photoshops of players fighting with bears. Our maritime metaphors have been unclear at best. And the team has suffered as a result. If anyone deserves to pay for this disappointing season, we do.