The circus begins in Vancouver, with the chaotic and somewhat farcical Friday afternoon airport arrival of the presumed new head coach of the Canucks, the fiery and sometimes divisive John Tortorella.
Amid security, and a phalanx of cameras, Tortorella was shuffled outside a side door after clearing customs and getting his luggage, as Canucks staff worked to help him dodge the several dozen reporters waiting.
Watch: Alain Vigneault on his new job
Tortorella, who turns 55 on Monday and was surprisingly fired by the New York Rangers in late May, had little to say, declining to answer the one or two questions lobbed at him before he entered a hulking black Cadillac Escalade sport utility vehicle, including what he might be able to do differently in Vancouver than the recently disposed Alain Vigneault.
Next season, at the least, will be a live experiment in coaching styles, as Vigneault on Friday was officially announced as Tortorella’s replacement in New York. Call it coach swapping, NHL style.
Vigneault and Tortorella are somewhat similar coaches, firstly defensive minded, focused on details, and using methods such as unconventional zone deployment, playing offensive threats more heavily on offensive ice and defensive-minded forwards in the defensive end.
Temperament is the obvious difference (and, it should be noted, one Stanley Cup ring, Tortorella’s, Tampa Bay Lightning, 2004).
During Vigneault’s seven-year tenure – with six division titles, and one Cup loss – he was not regarded as a hard-charging coach. Tortorella, of course, is the opposite, feisty and aggressive.
To many observers, Tortorella seems a poor fit with the style and character president/general manager Mike Gillis has instilled in Vancouver the past five years.
Some believe it is a bad echo of the short-lived, and failed, Mike Keenan era of the late 1990s, saying it is a big gamble for the Canucks to bet Tortorella is the man to stoke success where Vigneault could not. Veteran defenceman Kevin Bieksa, as the season ended, said the team doesn’t need a coach to “crack the whip.”
One intriguing report, however, Friday suggested the Sedin twins, the heart of the team, were in favour of the hiring of Tortorella, whose public image as a scrapper with reporters belies the fact many players appreciate his style and hockey smarts.
And Tortorella has experience with Canucks players such as Ryan Kesler, from the 2010 Winter Olympics.
Team owner, billionaire Francesco Aquilini, was involved in the decision, having watched the many millions he’s invested, in payroll and extras such as all available luxuries, produce little in return the past two years: just five home playoff games – all of them losses.
“We need a change in voice,” Gillis said Friday afternoon, on all-sports radio Team 1040, the Canucks broadcaster, after Tortorella had arrived.
Gillis dodged questions about whether the hiring was a fully done deal, saying the Canucks were finishing the process of hiring their next head coach, a process nearly completed, stating: “John’s certainly in the mix, and very strong.”
Earlier Friday, the first media frenzy was sparked by reporter Gary Lawless in Winnipeg, who on Twitter cited an unnamed league source who said the hiring was close to complete.
Beyond the new energy Tortorella brings to Vancouver, it’s unclear how he will solve some of the core problems, such as the often-uneven power play that has been something of an anchor since early 2012.
The Rangers, the past two seasons, have had a subpar power play, and in the playoffs this year, had the second-worst power play of any team.
In Tortorella’s 12-year career as a NHL head coach, he has led a team past the second round of the playoffs twice, winning the Stanley Cup in Tampa in 2004, and losing in the conference final with New York in 2011-12.
He has 410 wins in 854 regular season games, compared with Vigneault’s 422 in 806. Vigneault, in his 11 NHL head coaching seasons, has made it past the second round only once, for the Cancucks’ Cup loss to the Boston Bruins in 2011.