Mike Gillis dodges question on retaining Tortorella: ‘I’m not sure if I’ll be back next season’

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?

Listen to the whole interview here.

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.


  1. Blueliner
    April 3, 2014

    YES. I agree that you guys have deviated from your ways of photo-shopping players wrestling bears. How I have missed them…

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  2. DanD
    April 3, 2014

    Listen, I’ve been on board with you guys all season, but it’s honesty time now:

    Your maritime metaphors are what really sunk you this season.


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  3. Scott
    April 3, 2014

    No, you’re wrong Harrison. The fault lies with us, the people who sometimes read and comment on your articles. We have grown too accustomed to your level-headed and thoughtful approach to following the team, and our emotional, over-the-top reactionary nature has suffered as a result. The Canucks NEED their fans’ unpredictable, utterly-senseless responses to everything they do to power their success. That is clear now.
    The fault lies with us.

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  4. Noodle
    April 3, 2014

    I found this part to be particularly interesting (copied from another article that quoted the interview):
    “I want us to play up-beat, puck possession, move the puck quickly, force teams into mistakes, high-transition game,” said Gillis. “I think we have the personnel to it. If we don’t have the personnel, they’ll be changed. That’s my vision. That’s how I believe you’re going to win in the Western Conference”

    I miss that style. It seems like we’ve gotten away from that vision after we lost in 2011…needing to be “tougher” and “bigger” seemed to push that aside. Is Tortorella capable of coaching this up-tempo style?

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    • Pavo
      April 3, 2014

      I doubt it. He’s a stubborn old git.

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      Rating: +6 (from 6 votes)
  5. madwag
    April 3, 2014

    I say the fault is with The Flock
    Writing in rhyme has got to stop
    They need a case of writer’s block
    To put Vancouver back on top

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    Rating: +13 (from 13 votes)
    • Kenji
      April 3, 2014

      If you suggest that getting worse
      Has much to do with posts in verse
      Then correction I suppose
      May rest with blank quotidian prose

      But not quite yet our style revision
      Consider of our draft position!

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  6. Qris
    April 3, 2014

    If Torts gets fired, that will honestly bum me out more than this season did.

    Remember Santorelli? It’s sort of easy to forget him, since he’s gone and not going to be back, at least not this season, and re-signing him is a risk as he’d be coming off a season-ending injury. Still, I remember a time when the Canucks were riding high on the performances of Santorelli and Stanton and a load of dudes we didn’t expect.

    Then, lots of stuff happened. Blaming it all on injury wouldn’t be fair. I think all this silliness about moral victories and team toughness was a distraction, and could also, parenthetically, be a huge contributor to the injuries. I think the Canucks’ inability to score on the power play caught up with them. I think a Canucks team that, as a whole, kept outshooting but not outscoring, got in their own heads a little. And yeah, I don’t think Tortorella did the job he’s capable of doing.

    That said, given what’s happened to the forward corps this season, do you expect Torts to go with a run and gun style? Maybe hope Zac Dalpe finds a way to make it work? It’s one thing to say, “this is the style that I think wins NHL games,” and it’s another thing to say, “this is the style that I think THIS TEAM can employ to win NHL games.” I don’t think the squad of healthy players that Tortorella has had during the season’s bad stretch could really play the kind of style that the Canucks played when they were on top.

    I’d be interested to see what Tortorella could do with a healthy roster, though, with new young players breaking into the system. I look at the roster and I say, “Unless Gillis pulls off an absolute FLEECING of another team at the Draft, the Canucks are at best a Wild Card team, and Florida’s running out of good players to steal.” But then I remember what I thought of the Richardson, Santorelli and Stanton signings, and I think, “Maybe Torts can find something.” Vigneault couldn’t make anything happen with Byron Richie or Tommi Santala or Brad Isbister or any of those guys. The guys he DID find potential for were guys like Kyle Wellwood or Aaron Rome — guys he wanted to rely on defensively… I just feel like Torts can do more.

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  7. Naturalmystic
    April 3, 2014

    The fans want Gillis and Tortorella gone. No way Aquilini coughs up over 15 million dollars to dump his coach and gm. They are both coming back next season. Gillis is a terrible actor.

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  8. Mark Ragnar
    April 3, 2014

    To be honest, until ownership changes I’m not really optimistic about GM OR coaching changes.

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  9. Hey Therr
    April 3, 2014

    Gillis and Gilman should switch GM roles for the upcoming season. With Torts, its his first year here with a new system. After being on the top for five years, we should have expected this as fans. Don’t start hashtagging Fire Gillis or Fire Torts. There’s been a lot of injuries, and both Torts and Gillis are better than a lot of people give them credit for.

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  10. iain
    April 4, 2014

    me, i have no clue for what the future holds. every time i think, ‘the Canucks will do this’, something utterly left-field happens, and i’m left with my mouth in a big O, thinking ‘wtf?!?’

    so, my guess is Gillis goes behind the bench and Torts gets the GM gig.

    can’t turn out worse than this year, can it?

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  11. Jim Brown
    April 4, 2014

    So, they essentially got swept out of the playoffs in the first round two years in a row using the “old” style, yet that’s his solution to the problems facing this team. You have to be kidding me. You’re not in the Northwest division anymore Dorthy.

    As usual Gillis blames everyone and everything but himself for this team’s failures. What a joke. If you think this season was bad you haven’t seen anything yet. It’s sad how gullible and spineless the media is in this town. Talk is cheap.

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