John Tortorella feels "privileged and honoured" to have the opportunity to be an NHL head coach in Canada and become the 17th bench boss in Vancouver Canucks history.
"It's something I've always thought about," Tortorella, a native of Bedford, Mass.., and Vancouver's first U.S.-born coach, told reporters on Tuesday after signing a five-year contract. "One of my dreams … was hoping some day I could coach in Canada. To be with this team where it's at … I couldn't be more excited."
A kinder, gentler Tortorella took centre stage in Vancouver, vowing to improve his relationship with the media and discussing among other topics, the accountability of players across the board, the mental aspect of the game and the need for a combined offensive and defensive approach to be successful.
The 55-year-old was unemployed for just over three weeks, let go after compiling a 171-115-29 regular-season record with the New York Rangers. The Rangers went 19-25 in post-season play during his tenure, reaching the Eastern Conference final in 2012.
Tortorella succeeds Alain Vigneault, who was fired on May 22 after seven seasons on the job. Vancouver took a 3-2 series lead on Boston in the 2011 Stanley Cup final with Vigneault at the helm, but proceeded to lose 10 of the next 11 post-season games. They were the first team eliminated this spring, swept by San Jose.
Previous to this past season's lockout-shortened schedule, Vancouver had won fewer than 42 games just once in 10 years. The Canucks went 26-15-7 in the 2013 regular campaign.
"It's a pretty unique situation coming to a team that's winning, that has done a lot of great things along the way [like] almost winning a Stanley Cup [in 2011]," he said. "It's the next level the [Canucks] organization is looking for. I know how I'm going to approach it. It's going to be asking the players that are here, hopefully some younger players coming through to our organization, for more out of them.
"There's no question I'm going to push the players as individuals and also to create a team concept. That's a big part of coaching and where the improvement needs to be, as individuals and a group within a concept."
Late in the 1999-2000 season, Tortorella was named interim coach of the Rangers, who went on to miss the playoffs for a third consecutive season. He moved on to coach the Lightning the next season and guided them to the playoffs in his third campaign. In 2004, Tortorella won the Stanley Cup with Tampa Bay and was the Jack Adams Award winner as coach of the year.
Tortorella also spent several seasons as an NHL assistant coach beginning in the 1980s, including turns with Buffalo, Phoenix and the Rangers.
Top U.S.-born coach
He's posted 410 wins in 854 regular-season games behind the bench, more wins than any American-born coach in history.
Tortorella made it clear he would push the Canucks players to create a team concept, saying "that's part of coaching."
The new hire takes over a club that finished 19th in goals scored after being in the top five the three previous full seasons. Alex Burrows led the team in goals in 2013, with just 13. The Canucks ranked in the bottom 10 on the power play and in face-off percentage, and were unable to hold several leads.
Arriving with the reputation as a defensive-minded coach, Tortorella stressed that each of the league's 30 teams need to play defence and that defence shouldn't hurt a club's offensive ability and vice-versa.
"You look at [this year's] playoffs, especially the finals. You look at that Chicago team what they can do offensively. But they played hard defensively, too," Tortorella said. "I don't think there's any coach in this league that does not want more offence out of his club and try to make their team play offensively, but you will not win championships unless you play defence.
"It’s great to say let’s score off the rush and have some great offensive flow. It doesn’t happen that way all the time within the game. You need to be able to score goals playing underneath the hash marks also.
"To be able to do both," Tortorella added, "that’s when you can sustain yourself through a sixty-minute hockey game, an eighty-two-game [regular season] schedule and maybe get where you want to be through fifty-six, fifty-seven days of playoffs."
Like Tortorella, Vigneault had a defensive-minded reputation at the time of his hiring in 2006 and Canucks general manager Mike Gillis reminded the assembled media that the team led the Western Conference in goal-scoring for three straight seasons from 2009 to 2012.
"Coaches coach the players that they’re given, and they find a way to win with the players they have. He’ll discover the way to win with our team," said Gillis of Tortorella.
"I think John will have ample opportunity to understand the players that are here, understand their skill set and work with that skill set to be the most successful team we can be."
Run-ins with media
Tortorella's run-ins with the media and offering public criticism of individual players have been well documented, but he said Tuesday that he's "dedicated" to making the relationship work in Vancouver.
"I know how important this job is and I know how important that part of the job [dealing with media on a daily basis] is here [in Canada]. I know that's being talked about a lot," he said.
Since the Rangers let him go, Tortorella said he has gone through the process of self assessment.
"Have I made mistakes? Absolutely," he said. "I make my own bed in this type of situation with the perception of myself in the media, but I think I'm a pretty good coach, too. I know how important it is with this job, especially in this city and province. I going to work at that and not going to put this organization into a difficult spot."
Tortorella said a big reason for his outbursts in the media is due to his hate for losing games.
"Everybody says be a good loser," he said. "I think if you're a good loser, you're a loser, but I certainly can't put people in situations that I've [put them] in. No players deserve to be put into a [bad] situation by my actions with you. That's what really hit home with me. It will be rectified."
Gillis has talked publicly about putting a winning and entertaining product on the ice. Tortorella's recent teams have often been more successful than entertaining.
The Canucks and Rangers have made coaching decisions in recent days that have amounted to something of a trade, with Vigneault introduced last week as New York's new bench boss.
The two clubs have not met since an October 2011 contest.
Their next meeting figures to be one of the dates to mark on the 2013-14 NHL calendar.