Tortorella Faces Not-So-Distant Past with Canucks

The last time John Tortorella was coaching in the NHL, prior to joining the Columbus Blue Jackets this season, he closed out a season in which the Canucks won their final game of the season for the first time in eight years.

But this was no Stanley Cup win; the team’s 5-1 home win against the Calgary Flames in game 82 was a mere feel-good-game on what was a disastrous 2013-14 season with Tortorella behind the bench. The Canucks were an exceptional 23-11-7 in the first half of the season, but the wheels fell off for the next 41 games that saw the Canucks go 13-24-4. On the whole, their 36-35-11 season was good for 12th out of 14 Western Conference teams and marked the first time in six seasons that the Canucks missed the playoffs.

Tortorella received no benefit of the doubt afterwards. He was fired when President Trevor Linden and General Manager Jim Benning took over the front office, and had been a free agent in the coaching world until only a few weeks ago, when he was signed by the Blue Jackets.

Both Canucks, Tortorella in Better Places

(Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports)
Tortorella with the Canucks in 2013-14. (Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports)

The all-time most winning American-born coach was brought in by Columbus following the team’s brutal 0-7-0 start to 2015-16, which came on the heels of the team’s 15-1-1 finish to 2014-15.

Heading into Tuesday’s game against the Canucks, Tortorella was 4-4-0 behind the Blue Jackets’ bench. While the team still was tied for last in the Eastern Conference, they dramatically improved with 22 GF and 20 GA in those eight games, compared to 13 GF and 34 GA in their first seven.

While Tortorella is back on his feet in the NHL, the Canucks (who will receive a future second round draft pick from Columbus as compensation, since Tortorella was still on Vancouver’s payroll), have had a noticeable turnaround in personnel since Tortorella’s departure.

Just before he was on his way out, Tortorella made his opinion heard on the state of the Canucks core. His words likely rang true to the incoming Canucks brass:

“This is a group that has been together for a long time. It’s stale. It needs youth. It needs a change. I felt that from Day 1. We’re not in 2011. We have to stop talking about 2011. The team needs to be retooled. It’s a young man’s game.” – John Tortorella, April 14, 2014.

Since the end of the 2014 season, the Canucks team has seen Bo Horvat make the team as a 19 year-old in 2014-15, and Jake Virtanen and Jared McCann do the same in 2015-16. The team has made tough decisions to make room for young, inexperienced players like Sven Baertschi, Ben Hutton and Jacob Markstrom.

From the dismay that many had expected for the Canucks this season, they have lived up to expectations for the most part, with 17 points in 15 games and a plus-six goal differential. The team seems better prepared for the future thanks to youth infusion into the lineup and major personnel changes. Tortorella wasn’t a good fit behind the Canucks bench, but acknowledged the team’s youth movement since his firing.

“They are in good hands. When you are going that route you need to stay patient because there are going to be some bumps… I think they are going about it the right way”, Tortorella said on Monday.

With Columbus, Tortorella coaches the 11th youngest team in the NHL (average age of 27.426 years), with 11 players who are 25 years old or younger. He’s got his work cut out for him, and the Blue Jackets can only improve based on their treacherous start to the 2015-16 season; with Tortorella so far they have.

Tortorella will continue his fresh start as an NHL coach with the Blue Jackets as his team hosts familiar faces. While he clashed with a number of Canucks players in his short tenure, Tortorella still is tied to this Canucks team with some close relationships – including the team’s franchise players.

There projects to be a better chance of waterworks than fireworks at Nationwide Arena on Tuesday night, even for a coach who was fired from his opposing team such a short time ago.