VANCOUVER, British Columbia — The NHL’s Vancouver Canucks fired John Tortorella on Thursday, one year into the fiery coach’s long-term deal.
Tortorella, who signed a five-year contract last summer after being dismissed by the New York Rangers, went 36-35-11 and failed to reach the playoffs behind the Vancouver bench. Assistant coach Mike Sullivan also was fired.
The Canucks’ 25th-place finish in the 30-team NHL, their worst in 14 years, came just three seasons after former coach Alain Vigneault led the team to Game 7 of the 2011 Stanley Cup finals. Vigneault replaced Tortorella as coach of the Rangers and advanced to the second round of the playoffs on Wednesday with a Game 7 win over Philadelphia.
Tortorella’s dismissal came just weeks after general manager Mike Gillis was fired. The Canucks then named former team captain Trevor Linden as president of hockey operations.
“We are making an important change in the direction of our team,” Linden said in a statement. “On behalf of the entire organization, we extend our thanks to John, Mike and their families for their commitment to the Canucks and wish them the very best.
Firing Tortorella was the first significant move for Linden in his new job, though it didn’t come as much of a surprise. Linden is in the process of hiring a new general manager, and he has said that person should be in charge of hiring Vancouver’s new coach.
“We have a lot of important work to accomplish this offseason as we build our management and coaching staffs, improve our roster and connect with our fans,” Linden said. “Our general manager search is well underway and we will begin assessing head-coaching candidates immediately.”
The Canucks’ season had some positive moments early when they won seven straight, but things turned sour after a mid-January home game against the Calgary Flames. A furious Tortorella stormed toward the Calgary dressing room, looking for a fight with Flames coach Bob Hartley.
The NHL suspended Tortorella for 15 days, and the Canucks went 2-4 without him. Vancouver was then 10-13-2 following his return.
The Canucks got little from their stars this season, including captain Henrik Sedin, who managed just 11 goals and 40 points. His twin brother, Daniel, had just 16 goals and 47 points in his worst offensive full season since 2002. Ryan Kesler was the only Canucks player to break the 20-goal mark, netting 25.
Gillis said after goalie Roberto Luongo was traded to the Florida Panthers in March that the move was made as part of a retooling effort, not a total rebuild. Yet even his statements weren’t glowing.
“This season has been a real struggle for this hockey team for a lot of different reasons,” Gillis said at the time, adding he hoped the trade would be a wake-up call to his team. “I think the players now know that we’re not satisfied with what’s happened this season and we’re not happy about what’s happened this season.
“We haven’t met the expectations that we’ve had as a group — all of us.”
The move had little effect as Vancouver stayed ahead of only Calgary and Edmonton in the Pacific Division.
Injuries played a factor. Both Sedins, Alex Burrows and defenseman Chris Tanev all missed a significant number of games, and the Canucks scored just 196 goals — tied for second fewest in the NHL.
At his season-ending news conference last month, Tortorella took some of the blame but also placed a lot of it on the players. He said the Canucks are getting old, the core group has become complacent, and the team needs to get younger.
“I felt from Day 1 that it’s stale,” he said. “That’s not their fault. This is a group that has been together for a long time.
“It needs youth. It needs a change. The team needs to be retooled. It’s a young man’s game. It’s certainly not a criticism of (the veterans). We need to surround them with some enthusiasm.”
Tortorella said it was time to forget the 2011 Stanley Cup finals run, and his biggest regret was leaving too much to the players.
“I needed to be pounding away at the details,” he said. “I think that hurt us in situational play. I think that hurt us in trying to understand how you change momentum. That’s not the team, that’s me.”
Before joining the Rangers, Tortorella was the coach of the Tampa Bay Lightning for seven seasons, leading the club to the 2004 Stanley Cup title. In 946 career games as an NHL coach over 14 seasons, Tortorella is 446-375-37-78.