We are now more than a quarter of the way through the 2013-14 season, and I think it’s an appropriate time to do a bit of myth busting with regards to John Tortorella. Fans, media and players all seem generally impressed by what Tortorella has done thus far, which is a far cry from the nervousness that existed when it was first rumoured that Torts would be heading to the west coast.
Remember what was being said in June? Here’s what Ed Willes was saying:
Francesco Aquilini, the man presumably behind this decision, is labouring under the misapprehension that the team needs a butt-kicker, a motivator to shake it out of its lethargy. That would be fine if this was 1964. But you don’t reach players with the drill-sergeant approach anymore. Today’s player has to be self-motivated and maniacally driven or he never reaches the NHL.
Ed Willes is often wrong, and he’s wrong on a couple of levels here. For one, motivation exists at every level of hockey. Obviously players are self-motivated to a point, but there’s always more to give. Secondly, the notion that John Tortorella is nothing but a drill sergeant who yells and screams without any substance doesn’t appear accurate. He’s won a Stanley Cup and he has the Canucks playing his system.
Some pundits like to pretend they know what a ‘system’ is, but don’t. They refer to “offensive” vs. “defensive” systems. Many in the media referred to Tortorella’s “shot blocking” system, with a negative connotation. What they really should have been talking about was Tortorella’s aggressive forecheck, shoot-from-anywhere and collapse in front of their goalie… system.
The Canucks have blocked a lot of shots, as expected (they have blocked the fourth most shots in the league), but it has been effective. Jordan Schroeder and Alex Burrows have suffered injuries due to blocked shots, but it has been far from an epidemic. This hasn’t prevented the Canucks from playing in the offensive zone, as they sixth in the league in shots per game.
Tortorella has definitely been entertaining and he doesn’t like any nonsense. We now know he doesn’t like cell phones going off at inopportune moments and doesn’t like dumb questions, but he hasn’t exactly been in vintage hothead form. There isn’t a Vancouver “Brooksie” yet, but that may change. So far so good with the media.
All we seemed to hear back in June was how Tortorella couldn’t get along with his star players. Marian Gaborik welcomed a trade to Columbus and Brad Richards was a healthy scratch. People wondered how the Sedins would react to Tortorella and it turns out they’re thriving. They welcomed the extra ice time, including time on the penalty kill. They look like superstars once again and they look like they enjoy playing for the new coach.
When the Edmonton Oilers hired Dallas Eakins as their new head coach, many believed that they beat the Canucks to the punch, swooping in and signing the top candidate. Mike Gillis was supposedly too slow and indecisive and would have to ‘settle’ for someone else. After a 4-14-2 start for the Oilers and a rift between the head coach and Nail Yakupov, not many are bemoaning the ‘loss’ of Dallas Eakins anymore.
A lot was said about John Tortorella because of a few sound bites and sour relationships with the New York media, but I think most observers have come to the conclusion that he’s a pretty good coach. Everything isn’t rosie with the Canucks right now, but it looks like Torts was the right man for the job.