The fiery John Tortorella must make it a point to prove the game hasn't passed him by. (Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images)
By Allan Muir
This is how the Trevor Linden era officially begins in Vancouver: With the firing of head coach John Tortorella and assistant coach Mike Sullivan.
"Today we are making an important change in the direction of our team," Linden said in announcing a change that surprised absolutely no one.
How could it? Linden was brought in to clean house after a disastrous season that saw the Canucks become a team that was feared by no one. Just three years after competing in the Stanley Cup Final, they were well and truly irrelevant.
The architect of this meltdown, GM Mike Gillis, was let go before Linden came on board last month. And since no worthwhile replacement candidate would agree to be saddled with a failed coach like Tortorella, it was only a matter of time before he was sent packing as well.
Now the search for Gillis' replacement can begin in earnest.
"We have a lot of important work to accomplish this off-season as we build our management and coaching staffs, improve our roster and connect with our fans," Linden said today. "Our General Manager search is well underway and we will begin assessing head coaching candidates immediately."
Interesting that he's not leaving that to the eventual GM hire, but maybe that's just his way of setting some parameters for the search to ensure that everyone is on board with his vision of Vancouver Canucks hockey.
Linden hasn't offered up a lot of insight into what that will be just yet, although he has professed an admiration for four-line hockey and a desire to play an entertaining style.
That might mean Todd McLellan would be the frontrunner--assuming, of course, he takes the fall for San Jose's disastrous playoff exit. The Calder and Stanley Cup winner has shown a knack for integrating youngsters and maximizing their impact, and for squeezing the last drops out of aging superstars. With the Sedin Twins locked in for the next four seasons, it's hard to imagine anyone better suited for the gig.
Former Tampa Bay coach Guy Boucher might be an option. Although he's reportedly under contract with SC Bern of the Swiss league for next season, his aggressive style might be a good fit. Barry Trotz deserves a long look, too. The former Predators coach proved to be a master at cooking with Hamburger Helper and these Canucks are working with a bit more filler than they'd like to admit.
And then there's John Stevens. The former head coach in Philly is now a highly respected assistant in Los Angeles where he's largely responsible for molding the Kings into the league's top defensive club. That's not the only trick up his sleeve, but for a team that could dress Eddie Lack and Jakob Markstrom as a tandem in net next season, a commitment to strong play without the puck will be critical.
As for Torts, it's unlikely he's burned his last bridge. As much as he seemed stuck in his ways on the ice--he alienated star center Ryan Kesler by alternating his role and turned the Sedins into shot blockers(!)--he proved he could adapt off it. This wasn't the brash, confrontational Tortorella who delighted in antagonizing the media (and some of his players) in New York.
Vancouver Torts went with the flow. He was thoughtful. Gracious, even. Except for a moment or two with Calgary counterpart Bob Hartley.
Whether that was personal growth or proof of a remarkably chameleonic personality, Torts changed. Now he has to show he can adapt to his next gig.
Maybe there will be a team out there looking for a larger-than-life personality to change their fortunes. But it's more likely he'll have to prove there's more to him, and that the game hasn't passed him by, before he gets another call.
That might require him to leave the NHL to find the right opportunity, but that flexibility could be the key to extending his coaching career.
And while his name isn't in the headline, Sullivan's dismissal is sure to attract attention. He's likely to land on his feet this summer, possibly as the new head coach in Nashville.