John Tortorella wanted the Canucks to buy out Alex Burrows [Report]

It was just a matter of time. After Trevor Linden finally fired John Tortorella at the end of April, eventually some juicy behind-the-scenes stories about his brief tenure with the Canucks would come out.

Sure enough, Gary Mason of the Globe and Mail went on the Team 1040 and shared a series of interesting and surprising revelations. He also tweeted out a few of the most notable things he’s heard since Tortorella’s departure.

The biggest revelation of them all: Tortorella continually put pressure on Mike Gillis and ownership to buy out Alex Burrows’ contract. For those looking to paint Tortorella with a Mike Keenan-shaped brush, there’s your “forced a beloved player out of Vancouver” moment, in case contributing to the trade of Roberto Luongo didn’t cover it.

 

There’s no doubt that Burrows had the worst season of his career since his sophomore year back in 2006-07 and it is, perhaps, troubling that it came in the first year of his four-year, $18-million contract. On the other hand, Burrows had some of the worst luck I have ever seen from a Canuck, with a string of brutal injuries, a near-historical goalless streak, and an obscenely low on-ice shooting percentage, the lowest of his career by far.

What’s worse, Burrows suffered his first injury doing exactly what his new coach wanted him to do: blocking a shot. In the first game of the season, while killing a 5-on-3, Burrows sacrificed his body and came up with a bruised ankle that kept him out of the lineup for three weeks. You’d think that kind of sacrifice would get you on a coach’s good side, but apparently not.

Or perhaps this was part of Tortorella’s long revenge. From way back in 2011, here’s an irate Tortorella talking about what he’d do to Burrows after the agitator caught Marc Staal in the cojones with his stick:

That’s a dangerous play on Marc Staal, and it’s beyond me how two guys – one guy in the corner, and one out at the neutral zone, can’t see it. And we end up down, which usually happens if you retaliate. But if I’m Marc Staal, I’d retaliate too. I’d try to break his ankle, on something like that. It’s ridiculous. [Emphasis mine]

Mission (mostly) accomplished!

This just seems like another example of Tortorella being completely tone deaf, going with his decision to start Eddie Lack in the Heritage Classic, alienating Roberto Luongo.

According to his interview on the Team 1040, Mason doesn’t think Burrows was aware of Tortorella’s efforts to get rid of him, which is good, because if Burrows had to suffer from hurt feelings on top of all his other injuries, I’m not sure he would have survived.

 

This one is truly baffling to me. The Canucks finally have their own farm team, giving them an unprecedented amount of say in how the team is coached, and the head coach of the Canucks didn’t once speak to the head coach of the Comets.

Was there no desire to be on the same page so that call-ups from the AHL were familiar with the Canucks’ systems and what was expected of them? Did he not care about how well the young prospects were performing and how best to use them?

You can make an argument that assistant coaches can do that communication just as well, but this seems like something with which a head coach should be concerned. Mason made it clear on the Team 1040 that both Alain Vigneault and Marc Crawford regularly talked to the coach of the Canucks’ farm team.

 

To be fair to Tortorella, Booth has a lot of experience staying hidden, still, and quiet for long periods of time. And no, that’s not a joke about his on-ice play.

(Alternate joke: To be fair to Tortorella, Booth was wearing a camouflage Canucks hat.)

It’s an odd story, where it sounds like Tortorella was looking for a reason to light into a player, whether to fire up a struggling team or make an example of a player to enforce timeliness. Mason reports that the two of them got into a full-on shouting match, with the rest of the Canucks confused as to why Tortorella targeted Booth.

The Canuck players also wanted to practice a lot more than Tortorella wanted to, which is understandable given they were losing a lot of games, had one of the league’s worst power plays, and couldn’t score any goals. Generally, when you’re not good at something, you want to practice to get better.

Of course, Tortorella didn’t even attend game day skates, so you can tell his interest in practicing was very, very high.

Another thing mentioned: Tortorella wasn’t ever interested in viewing tape of upcoming opponents. That said, the Canucks do have a video coach for that very purpose. But still, you’d think a coach would want to occasionally see how a team forechecks or what breakouts they tend to use in order to properly prepare the team to counter their tactics.

Finally, according to what I’ve read from people who listened to the whole interview, a portion was cut from the beginning where Mason claimed that Tortorella was putting pressure on management to move Dale Weise right from the very beginning of the season. Good thing he got his wish.

 

The question then, is how much of this was Gillis aware of when he hired Tortorella? How much of this were the Aquilinis aware of? Did Tortorella’s distaste for practicing, communicating with the AHL affiliate, and reviewing video come up in the interview process? Did they know about how much he dislikes heart-and-soul players with a penchant for scoring big goals?

As Mason says, no coach is perfect and there’s usually plenty of stories that come out when one gets fired, particularly one with as big a personality as Tortorella’s. But these stories set the bar extremely low for the next head coach of the Canucks. Just don’t try to force the team to buy out Burrows, hold the occasional practice, and talk to the head coach of your farm team once in a while. That’s all.

Here’s the full audio of the Team 1040 interview:

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17 comments

  1. Brian
    May 16, 2014

    This is interesting because for whatever other faults he had, it appeared that at least, he *cared* as much as any coach in the league.

    Now, even that seems to be in question.

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  2. DanD
    May 16, 2014

    I managed to catch most of this interview yesterday, and it was definitely fascinating. It’s hard to know how much of this is solid fact and how much is hearsay, but it’s not a huge stretch to believe that Tortorella had some weird ideas and habits. I certainly hope they tighten up their interview process for the next coach.

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    • Daniel Wagner
      May 16, 2014

      Mason definitely has sources. He’s been writing about the Canucks for ages and he also has sources connected to the Aquilinis. I’m pretty confident that Mason wouldn’t be saying these things if he wasn’t confident in their truth.

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      • jrc
        May 16, 2014

        I wonder whether he had but one very important source, and this was the long-promised revelation from Henrik Sedin about what really happened this season.

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      • Webby
        May 22, 2014

        you’re confident? You clearly don’t know the criteria the media has for this type of stuff.

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        • Daniel Wagner
          May 22, 2014

          Yeah, I’m confident. It’s almost like “the media” isn’t a single monolithic entity and that different media members have different levels of trustworthiness and that Gary Mason has an excellent track record in this regard.

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  3. Mel
    May 16, 2014

    Normal fans have no access to this depth of information, but we had hints. It did strike me as wrong when Tortorella said he was not even watching the Olympic hockey games. It was almost like he was tired of hockey and wanted a break from it. Which he will presumably get now.

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  4. akidd
    May 16, 2014

    good at job interviews though. and good at press conferences. makes me feel like the whole city was bamboozled by a slick conman who blew into town on a stream of bs, made no effort and walked away with a pile of cash. and we didn’t even get a monorail out of the deal.

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    • pavo
      May 16, 2014

      Yep!

      Tortorella reminds me of that stereotypical lazy ***er at work who knows he can safely ignore all attempts by his manager to get him to competently perform the job he was hired for – because he is good buddies with the big boss.

      Absolutely convinced now that Mike Gillis had very little to do with this hire. The two appear to have been at complete odds about the head coach’s role all season.

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    • Paul from Yaletown
      May 16, 2014

      “Is there any chance the track could bend?”
      “Not on your life, my Hindu friend.”

      “Were you sent here by the devil?”
      “No, good sir, I’m on the level.”

      “Monorail…monorail…monorail”

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    • Alan
      May 22, 2014

      Burrows needs braces

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  5. nick
    May 16, 2014

    I thought it was weird that Torts’ coaching history included a stint in North Haverbrook.

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    • Lemming
      May 18, 2014

      Not to mention his Assistant Coaching job in Ogdenville.

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      • Daniel Wagner
        May 18, 2014

        You have to admit, he really put them on the map.

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  6. Naturalmystic
    May 17, 2014

    How can anyone be surprised that Tortorella wasn’t interested watching video? The guy is a gut instinct coach. He doesn’t need to watch tape his gut tells him what to do. He doesn’t care about advanced stats because his gut knows better.

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  7. Phileo99
    May 17, 2014

    This just adds to the argument that the Canucks decision to fire AV was a bad one.
    Instead of going in a “new direction”, it looks more like a U-turn.

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  8. Snepsts
    May 19, 2014

    Breaks my heart. Many of the hints and suspicions throughout the season bear out in this tell-all and more. Torts was a terrible coach here just watching the games, and I hope he never gets another NHL head-coach job again, mainly because he sucks so bad at it. IMO he should have been fired after his spazz against the Calgary coach. Excuse me for the hyperbole, I have always thought that no matter what the bush league tactics his arch enemy undertook, the playground-esque locker room assault was more than grounds enough to let anyone go.

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