Trevor Linden made a good impression in his first press conference as the Vancouver Canucks’ President of Hockey Operations. He apologized for lying in his interview with Global TV, he was humble in discussing his lack of experience and need to surround himself with intelligent, experienced people, and he looked comfortable handling every single question that came his way.
The same can’t be said for Francesco Aquilini, who didn’t look at all comfortable in front of the cameras, awkwardly reading from a prepared statement before answering the media’s questions.
Apart from thanking Mike Gillis for “his years of service” three times — it was literally the exact same wording, like he had practiced saying it in front of the mirror the entire previous night — he also gave a particularly convoluted answer when asked about John Tortorella that seemed to imply that Tortorella wouldn’t be with the team next season.
“Mike [Gillis] hired Tortorella, and I’m responsible for that, and that’s why we have a change in direction today,” he said, which would seem to throw Tortorella’s future in some serious doubt. Can he be part of the change in direction if he is the reason it’s necessary?
Not that Francesco’s statement is that easy to parse, of course. As Harrison put it over at Puck Daddy, “So if Mike hired him, then why are you responsible for it, and if you’re responsible for it, then why was Gillis fired, and if hiring Tortorella was a fireable offense, why wasn’t Tortorella fired, and what’s the Caramilk secret?”
It doesn’t appear that communicating with the media is a particular strength for Francesco and that reputation isn’t aided by the text message he sent to a Globe and Mail reporter prior to sending a legal letter alleging defamation.
“I read your article,” read the text message, “You are a prick.” (These are the sorts of messages we get from our most unhinged readers. To think one of them owns the Canucks… yikes.)
From that article, it appears that Tortorella was indeed hired by Gillis, albeit after the Aquilinis sat in on all of the coaching interviews and loved Tortorella the most:
The Aquilinis’ statements skirt how the hiring played out. Mr. Gillis last year had invited the Aquilinis into interviews with various coaches. The family, according to a person with direct knowledge of the events, was particularly taken with Mr. Tortorella, who had been fiery in the past. They saw a coach who could revive an underperforming hockey team. The Aquilinis wanted Mr. Tortorella, and Mr. Gillis and the other hockey executives came to the same conclusion.
Aquilini was also asked whether Linden would have a free hand in making decisions and he was quick to say he would. So, if Linden is free to make his own decisions on hockey operations, whether to keep Tortorella or not will be his call or that of whichever General Manager he hires.
But it was speculated prior to this that the Aquilini family was enamoured with Tortorella despite the train wreck of a season, with many fans wondering if a commitment to keeping Tortorella would be required of any new President or GM. Francesco’s statement in Wednesday’s press conference changes things, suggesting that he might not be as big a fan of Tortorella as originally thought. Without pressure from above to keep Tortorella around, it’s a lot easier to make a clean sweep of personnel and bring in all new people.
As for Linden’s views on Tortorella, he was diplomatic. On the Team 1040 after the press conference, he noted that he didn’t know him or his systems. He also said that him getting hired prior to the end of the season allows him to conduct exit interviews, which means the one with Tortorella will likely be extremely important.
It was unusual when Gillis kept Alain Vigneault as the Canucks head coach when he was hired, but it turned out to be the right decision, with the Canucks winning two Presidents’ Trophies and getting to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup under his leadership. Most new GMs like to bring in their own man as head coach.