30 Thoughts: Canucks brass must resist panic | Hockey | CBC Sports

Hockey Night in Canada30 Thoughts: Canucks brass must resist panic

Posted: Wednesday, March 12, 2014 | 10:37 AM

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In happier times: Vancouver Canucks owner Francesco Aquilini, left, head coach John Tortorella, centre, and GM Mike Gillis. (Rich Lam/Getty Images) In happier times: Vancouver Canucks owner Francesco Aquilini, left, head coach John Tortorella, centre, and GM Mike Gillis. (Rich Lam/Getty Images)

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Canucks ownership is nervous as the team's free fall continues, especially after a humiliating meltdown against the Islanders. But what's worse is firing someone just for the show of it. Bad, panic decisions lead to worse, panic decisions
There's a certain way we're used to seeing John Tortorella. When things go badly, he's defiant. The walls may be closing in, but he's going to punch through them, dammit. We've all seen it, we all know it.

That's why it was so stunning to see him following Monday night's epic Vancouver meltdown. After the Canucks allowed seven goals in the final 20 minutes to blow a 3-0 lead against the Islanders, the reactions spanned the emotional spectrum.

Ryan Kesler was stunned, Kevin Bieksa angry, Eddie Lack crushed. Tortorella looked... beaten.

I've never seen that before.

Tortorella recovered from the "kick in the teeth," as he called it, to regroup and prepare his team for Wednesday's game in Winnipeg. But it remains an unsettling time in Vancouver.

Paul Maurice has talked before about how he knew, in the 2001-02 season, that if the Hurricanes didn't break a four-game losing streak on December 12 against Florida, he was gone. Carolina won 3-2, saving Maurice's job, and eventually went to the Stanley Cup final.

Being past the trade deadline, players don't have to worry as much. But there is uncertainty across the rest of the organization.

Prior to the trade deadline, owner Francesco Aquilini met at least twice with GM Mike Gillis to discuss the latter's plans. According to several sources, those plans were approved -- although the Roberto Luongo trade later dropped into their lap.

It remains unconfirmed, but it is also believed the Aquilini family had some kind of pow-wow last week to discuss the Canucks' current spiral. If they had lost last Saturday against Calgary, there was a belief (which I shared) that someone's head was going to roll.

Obviously, that didn't happen. And, since nothing occurred Tuesday -- and the look on Tortorella's face made it seem like he thought it was possible -- you have to wonder if the Aquilinis will let the rest of the season play out.

And that's the right move, even if the fan base hates it. Here's why:

Last summer, ownership wasn't interested in writing a $30-million cheque for a compliance buyout of Luongo's contract. I don't have a problem with this -- that's a gigantic amount to spend no matter how wealthy you are. But how much is it going to cost to get rid of everyone now?

Tortorella ($8 million) and Gillis (at least the same) each have four years remaining on their contracts. The Luongo deal saved the organization approximately $28 million in cash, but are you immediately going to start eating half of it?

If I was advising the Aquilinis, I'd be asking them the following questions: If you supported Gillis's deadline plan, is it really a good idea to fire him a week later? Isn't it worth seeing who your most competitive people and players are during this stretch to help make the best long-term assessments about your organization?

And the biggest, most important ones: How bad are we, really? Are we playing the right way to maximize our talent? Did the Sedins, almost point-a-game players last season, simply fall off a cliff? If, for example, they changed coaches right now, is there someone who can make an appreciable difference?

Ownership is nervous. I get that. The Heritage Classic was a financial disappointment, and Canucks fans have a history of staying away when things go bad. Ticket renewals were delayed and there is concern revenue will drop if no human sacrifice is offered.

What's worse is firing someone just for the show of it. Bad, panic decisions lead to worse, panic decisions. Then your ticket renewals are more than a one-season problem.

30 Thoughts

1. Canuck rumour I: That the Aquilini family forced Tortorella on Gillis. Verdict: Skeptical. The choice came down to Tortorella or John Stevens, whose name you are going to hear a lot for any openings this summer. I believe there was an agreement to go with the more experienced candidate.

2. Canuck rumour II: That ownership blocked Gillis from trading Ryan Kesler at the deadline. Verdict: Don't believe it. As mentioned above, Aquilini was well aware of the GM's plans. It would not be the least bit surprising if an interested team or two told Vancouver it could be involved at the draft, but not now, for cap reasons. Also, when Kesler said no to Columbus, the Rangers and Philadelphia, the Canucks may have pulled back because they didn't like the situation.

3. It is believed the six teams to which Kesler would accept a deal at the deadline were Anaheim, Chicago, Colorado, Detroit, Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay. Only two -- the Ducks and Penguins -- were really in it, though.

4. Canuck rumour III: That ownership is courting Trevor Linden. Verdict: God only knows. We interviewed Linden for our piece on the 1994 Canucks, and off-handedly asked him about being a GM. He didn't seem that interested.

5. During the Alain Vigneault era, reporters would constantly ask why the Sedins didn't get more minutes. From 2007-08 to 2012-13, Daniel ranged from 19:01-19:49 per game. Henrik was above 20:00 for the first three of those seasons, then 19:16, 19:05 and 19:21 the last three. Vigneault (and the organization) would say their research indicated those were the twins' optimal times. Daniel is now at 21:14, Henrik at 21:01. Would they be more effective at their previous workloads?

6. The Islanders have until June 1 to let Buffalo know of their intentions regarding the first-round draft pick the Sabres acquired in October's Thomas Vanek trade. That way, both teams will know exactly where the selection falls in the lottery. If New York does not send this year's choice to Western New York, Buffalo gets 2015's.

7. Teams are loathe to give away those 2015 picks because of Connor McDavid. But you're going to start hearing about that draft being a two-stud race, with Massachusetts-born Jack Eichel gaining steam.

8. Sebastien Collberg, the prospect traded from Montreal to the Islanders in last week's Thomas Vanek deal, was the 33rd choice in the 2012 NHL draft. According to a couple of scouts, New York, which had the next pick, was going to take him at number 34. That may explain why the Islanders chose this trade over offers from Minnesota and Toronto.

9. Jets fans are getting nervous because Paul Maurice has yet to begin contract talks with the organization. He told Scott Oake and Kelly Hrudey on After Hours that this is intentional, as he will need to discuss the situation with his family after the season. The team is comfortable with this arrangement and, as I understand it, Maurice is signed to your typical NHL contract, which lasts until June 30. That gives everyone plenty of time to work this out -- if both sides choose to do so.

10. Question to Lou Lamoriello: "Have you started discussing a contract extension for Jaromir Jagr?" Answer (with a smile): "Why do you ask? You know I don't discuss contracts." I'm going to miss these conversations some day.

11. We did a feature with Martin St. Louis in 2004, on his day with the Stanley Cup. He talked at length about how great it felt to score the winning goal in Game 6 of that series, an overtime score that prevented Calgary from lifting the Cup on home ice. Why? Because the Flames gave up on him in 2000. It was at that moment I realized the size of the chip on his shoulder, a motivation that's made him who he is. He never forgets.

12. I have some of that in me too, so with 20/20 hindsight I can see how the situation in Tampa devolved. Even though Steve Yzerman was trying to do the right thing by everyone, in St. Louis's mind, being added to the Olympic team later does not suppress your original feelings. He thinks, "I'm not appreciated here, why bother? I'll just go closer to home and play where I'm going to enjoy myself." If you don't have someone you trust who has the power to say, "Are you really thinking here? Do you understand what this is going to mean?" your thoughts are like a runaway locomotive. They can't be stopped.

13. At some point, the Lightning decided that if they got what they wanted from New York, they were making the trade. But why not take a playoff run now and wait until the summer? Here's my guess: Nikita Kucherov is 20. Ondrej Palat, 22. Radko Gudas, Tyler Johnson and Richard Panik, 23. Alex Killorn and Steven Stamkos 24. This is your franchise player and a young core learning its way. You can't have an unhappy St. Louis around as they learn what it takes to win. St. Louis is a good fit for the Rangers. They are thrilled to get him and probably will extend him. When his career is over, though, how will Tampa choose to honour him?

14. One former teammate on Steve Yzerman: "I've seen him angry before... but never that angry."

15. There was a theory going around that the Rangers, knowing the St. Louis deal was a possibility, basically made a decision between Ryan Callahan and Dan Girardi, knowing they couldn't keep both (with no-trade clauses). If the two were locked in, it may not have been possible to make the St. Louis trade for cap reasons. After looking into it, this doesn't seem accurate. Callahan and the team just couldn't seem to find common ground until too late.

16. A post-Olympic note on Kristers Gudlevskis, the Latvian netminder and Lightning prospect who almost pulled off a miraculous upset of Canada. He only became a goalie because, when he signed up to play, the registration fee was halved for anyone willing to play the position.

17. One teammate on Claude Giroux during last week's two wins over Washington: "He just would not let us lose to those guys."

18. The amazing thing about Giroux's early-season struggles is that he wasn't even getting chances, never mind scoring goals. Head coach Craig Berube said he is constantly on both Giroux and Jakub Voracek to shoot the puck. The captain can really fire it, while Voracek's shot is not so much a laser as it is deceiving. He does a great job of pulling it back to hide what he's going to do.

19. One of the concerns about the Flyers (Berube had a bit of a smile when asked about it) is they tend to fall off in games when they don't practice much. Right before the Olympic break, they had an impressive California swing with minimal days off. But they made sure to find practice time. They believe it really makes a difference in their group.

20. On the flight home from Sochi, the Hockey Night in Canada crew travelled with Team Finland. Kimmo Timonen was sitting not far from us. At one point, we asked if he would reconsider his decision to retire following this season because he's at such a high level. He laughed it off. Now comes word he's re-considering. Good. He can still play and he's a smart, smart quote.

21. The other guy we tried to talk out of it? Teemu Selanne. Not sure that's going to work.

22. Heard a couple times now that Edmonton took a long look at Buffalo's Tyler Myers. That's getting shot down. Think the name came up, but it was decided pretty quickly there wasn't a match.

23. Also, Toronto's Dave Nonis took a hatchet to rumours of Nikolai Kulemin trade talk with Florida.

24. He won't discuss it, but Wild GM Chuck Fletcher is getting an extension. Fletcher gets the most attention for signing Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, but Minnesota's drafting and development looks good too. Ultimately, that determines an organization's success in a cap world.

25. Blues GM Doug Armstrong said he will leave it up to both Ryan Miller and Steve Ott to see if they want to discuss possible extensions before the summer. "Some players prefer not to talk about it during the season, some don't mind," he said. St. Louis extended Alex Steen in December, so Armstrong is comfortable either way.

26. Funniest quote about the trade deadline: "Want to make Bob Murray laugh? Ask him if John Gibson is available."

27. Got to give Brian Burke credit for the retained salary idea. How many of the deadline deals would have happened without it? Think it was 10 trades that involved some retention. Among them: Edmonton kept money on Ales Hemsky and Nick Schultz,  Philadelphia on Andrej Meszaros, and Carolina on Tuomo Ruutu.

28. Bryan Murray had some calls about Jared Cowen, who's had a rough season. He didn't bite. "I believe this guy is going to be a really good player for a long time," Murray said. "He's lost his confidence. We're going to send him home in the summer and start fresh next year with a new outlook. That's all it is."

29. A few of you were asking if the NHL's desire to have more pucks that go in off the skate count as "good goals" would happen this year. The answer is no. It would take effect next season.

30. It's been a tough week for hockey. Condolences and prayers for the Trafford and Stajan families. Prayers, too, for the Bozons, in hope that Tim makes a full recovery. Thankfully, the outstanding Dallas Stars medical and training staff didn't allow another tragedy when Rich Peverley collapsed during Monday's game. The NHL and its teams deserve a lot of credit for the work they've done in this area.

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