Trevor Linden and the Vancouver Canucks are set to begin talks with potential general managers.
“The request process is under way with some verbal commitments from several managers,” said team spokesman Chris Brumwell by e-mail on Thursday afternoon. “Trevor expects to begin discussions with candidates in the very near future.”
Linden was hired two weeks ago as Vancouver’s president of hockey operations, after former president and general manager Mike Gillis was fired. Linden had an immediate swirl of big decisions on his desk to make, a new general manager, and the fate of the coach, John Tortorella.
For Linden, there was an “ideal” order in which the decisions would unfold: hire a GM first and decide about the coach thereafter.
Some fans and critics have wondered, 11 days after the regular season has concluded, why Tortorella has not been fired, after a poor season in which the Canucks posted their worst record in 14 years and scored the fewest goals for a full season in franchise history.
Tortorella is not alone. Other coaches whose futures are in question, such as Randy Carlyle of the Toronto Maple Leafs and Adam Oates of the Washington Capitals, still have their jobs. And even if firing Tortorella seems like an obvious decision to many, it is a big, expensive one, and such decisions can take time, as was the case last year when it was 15 days after the Canucks were swept by the San Jose Sharks before former coach Alain Vigneault was fired.
On the day he was hired, Linden clearly indicated he wanted a GM in the room before deciding about the coach– if he could manage pull it off. He also said he didn’t want to leave the team in a “limbo” for an extended period.
“That would be ideal, to have a group decision, some consensus there as well,” said Linden on Vancouver radio on April 9.
“Obviously, that involves timing,” he added, noting: “It’s kind of like pieces of a puzzle, just trying to put those in place.”
The top candidate is Jim Benning, assistant general manager of the Boston Bruins, going by various things Linden has said so far.
Linden has praised Boston, a team Benning and his scouting acumen was central in building. And the two men are connected. Benning’s final two years in the NHL were in Vancouver, Linden’s first two seasons in the league.
Linden, in an online question-and-answer session with season ticket holders on April 11, referenced a potential GM candidate as “someone I played with but that might have been a long time ago,” as well as saying a favoured candidate “might be someone I want to talk to that goes to the Stanley Cup final – that becomes a part that can make it difficult.”
Difficult but not impossible, as there is nothing stopping Benning from taking a job in Vancouver during a Boston playoff run if the Bruins give permission for talks to happen.
On Thursday, Bruins spokesman Matthew Chmura declined comment on whether the Canucks had sought permission.
It seems unlikely, however, that a rising NHL executive such as Benning would turn down a shot at a GM job – even if it meant missing the joy of a possible Stanley Cup victory.
What is also interesting, but unclear, is what sort of front office Linden is thinking about. In the Q&A with fans, he said he has an idea of what he wants his team – execs not players – to look like. The one specific is he wants change, so even though assistant general managers Laurence Gilman and Lorne Henning are well respected, they are Mike Gillis’s guys, and their continued employment is not certain.
Gilman and Henning would also, at the same time, be candidates for the open GM job.
“My idea is a little bit different than the conventional situation,” said Linden, “the situation that was here and most teams actually.”
The discussion, right now, is wholly open-ended. Linden’s idea, if it is truly different from the rest of the league, could be anything – and one the GM would have to share. Speculating, does a new coach, like the unusual case of Patrick Roy in Colorado, get to be VP of hockey ops, too? Probably not – but Linden has suggested something at least somewhat new.
Since anything is possible, what about a return behind the bench for Tortorella? He did coach a top 10 possession team sunk by a terrible shooting percentage, which by odds and better luck should rebound next year.
Linden has talked about how a coach should play players in situations that suit the players – people took that as swipe at Tortorella – but for the much-ballyhooed one minute a game the Sedins averaged on the penalty kill (a top 10 PK), Tortorella did deploy the Sedins offensively, with the twins ranked in the top 30 among forwards in the NHL in offensive-zone starts. If the coach agrees to not overplay his stars and promises to give the fourth line a normal amount of ice time, perhaps he survives?
Probably not, in all likelihood. So the wait for what everyone expects, a one-and-done season for Tortorella in Vancouver, continues. For now, it looks like it will be some time more, if Linden gets to arrange his puzzle pieces and hire a GM first.