In Firing Him, the Vancouver Canucks Did John Tortorella a Huge Favour

Trevor Linden and his team have a lot of work to do to get back to the Stanley Cup, but at least they're free to do it now...

John Tortorella eyes the scoreboard while coaching the New York Rangers in 2012. Tortorella was fired by the Vancouver Canucks this week



Right away, I felt bad for John Tortorella. I felt bad for him with the season winding down, and especially when it finished – when I, and everyone else in Vancouver, watched the fiery head coach turn every bit contemplative in his assessment of the Canucks and their core. Included in that core is the culture around this team – even the fans and the expectation they’ve laid on this team, which has been as parasitic as it has been positive, like we’re all a bunch of Turtles telling the world how great Vinny Chase is, inflating his ego so he won’t see the fall coming. (Yes, I’m still making Entourage references.)

This firing seems like a necessary disaster to avoid a catastrophe. Castrate the coach who just sunk your ship, who imposed a system on a set of players who either couldn’t play under it or refused to succeed with it. There are a lot of pieces moving in this Canucks clusterfu*k, and it’s become more difficult – with every body tossed overboard – to accurately aim our arrows.

Who deserves the blame? Well, who cares?

Truth is, the Vancouver Canucks did John Tortorella a favour yesterday, and good on them.

It was a slice of euthanasia for a sensitive, emotional coach – a guy who admitted to that he “crawled into a hole a little bit” last summer when he was handed his papers in New York, a man who repeatedly told us what a “privilege” it was to coach in Canada, one the last guys in an increasingly stats-driven, apathetic NHL who you could never say lacked the passion you need to see from your admiral.

And really, that’s what held Vancouver back from that Cup in 2011, and any Cup in the years around it. They were lethargic at the worst moments, passengers at best. Their fate was never in their own hands because they refused to take it by the horns. The Canucks didn’t control their own destiny – Boston did, Chicago did, L.A. did, and San Jose did. Alain Vigneault was a mastermind and the Sedin twins were cerebral, like chess players on skates. But it didn’t matter when it mattered most. Tortorella, in the right situation, would have been the perfect diagnosis. But he inherited an infected body and he wilted away without white blood cells.

Now, he’s free.

And he’s a lot richer. We don’t know whether he’ll collect the full total remaining on his contract – $8 million, which was to be paid out over four years – or whether there’s some sort of buyout clause in his scroll, but we know he’ll be okay.

Whether it’s $8 million or less, it should help to beautify that hole he’s about to crawl into.

And the Canucks cut him loose while his dignity was still (partially) intact. It’d be easy for Tortorella to explain this season to future employers, if he wants back in. There are a host of teams who’ll need him and what he brings, like the Nashville Predators or the Florida Panthers, although it’s hard to see him and Roberto Luongo working together again.

The guy’s only 55, which means he’s got a longtime left in this business, if he wants to. And, if anything, this past year in Vancouver – where he appeared most every night calm and friendly and easy to speak with – has rehabilitated his image, which was left in tatters on Broadway. When he came to Vancouver, you couldn’t turn on a TV without seeing his fights with Larry Brooks, which became an annual Madison Square Garden event. Now? Well, he’ll be the guy who admitted he cries whenever he hears Sarah McLachlan sing ‘In the Arms of an Angle’.

Or he could go into broadcasting, like he did when Tampa snipped him in 2008. They tease him all the time on TSN about how he hates The Quiz and how he ripped on James Duthie more than he analyzed players, but Tortorella’s nothing if not entertaining.

And as for the Canucks?

Well, they turned the page on the worst year in franchise history – all things considered – and they distanced themselves from the supposed reasons why. Each party walks away from this like Vinny Chase walked away from Medellin (I have to find better TV shows).

There’s a lot of work to do, but at least they’re free to do it now.

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