Mike Gillis doesn’t think John Tortorella deserves full responsibility for the disaster that this Vancouver Canucks season has become, yet also did not absolve him of blame.
Gillis wouldn’t comment on “rumour and speculation” when asked if Tortorella would remain the coach through the end of the season. In doing that, the general manager did little to quiet the rumblings.
But perhaps his most telling comment about the Canucks’ “remarkable” free fall involved bringing up Tortorella’s locker-room incident in Calgary as one reason why things have gone wrong.
“They’re not excuses but we’ve had massive injuries this year, we’ve had key guys out of our lineup for extended periods of time,” Gillis said Wednesday at the NHL GMs meeting. “We had an incident in January that was hard to describe. It is what it is. We have to continue to try and find ways to win games.”
Tortorella was suspended for 15 days and six games for trying to enter the Flames’ locker-room after a first-period brawl in a testy Jan. 18 game. The Canucks are 4-12-1 since that night.
Dating to Jan. 1, Vancouver is 6-17-3 and has fallen from one point out of a playoff spot in the Western Conference to six.
Gillis called the drastic downturn this year indescribable.
“The ebb and flow in this season has been as challenging as it’s ever been,” he said. “There’s reasons for it — multiple reasons for it — but currently, right now, we’re not meeting my expectations, we’re not meeting a lot of people’s expectations and that has to change.”
That includes Tortorella, a Stanley Cup-winner 10 years ago who has become embattled after the trade of Roberto Luongo, request from Ryan Kesler to be dealt and then Monday night’s embarrassing loss to the New York Islanders. After building a 3-0 lead, the Canucks gave up seven third-period goals to lose 7-4.
Tortorella afterward called it a “kick in the teeth,” while Gillis on Wednesday said the aftermath has been tough just like the past month and a half has been.
Asked if changes to the coaching staff and/or front office were being considered, Gillis said he did not want to comment because it would lend credibility to that talk and that was not good for anyone. Asked directly if Tortorella would be the coach for the remainder of the season, he repeated a similar sentiment.
“That’s rumour and speculation,” Gillis said. “I’m not commenting on that because then it just lends credibility to what’s out there with bloggers and all kinds of different people. So it’s unfair to comment on any future plans other than what we’ve already said, which is we’re trying to get younger, we’re trying to retool and we’re trying to do some things a little differently the next one, three, five years.”
Gillis added that the Canucks need to “get behind our team and behind our players and behind our coaching staff.”
Later in his six-minute chat with reporters at Boca Beach Club, Gillis refused to answer a question about how Tortorella has handled Daniel and Henrik Sedin and then another about the suggestion that the coach lost the locker-room.
“I’m not going to comment about specific things with John,” he said. “I think it’s unfair to him, it’s unfair to our team and it’s unfair to all of us that are responsible for what’s going on.”
After losing to the Islanders, Tortorella shouldered a lot of the responsibility for the Canucks’ downfall.
“You know, John’s an honest guy and he took responsibility, but it’s all of our responsibility and I don’t want to focus on John,” Gillis said. “We have a hockey team, we have an organization. To focus on one or two people in that organization’s unfair. We have to win as a group, and every guy in that room has to win as a group. To single out anybody is unfair and I’m not going to do that.”
Except for Tortorella’s role in the infamous incident against Calgary.