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Trouble with Torts is personality, not ability

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NOW that John Tortorella has been fired as coach of the Vancouver Canucks, he can either count the money he will receive over the next four seasons left on his contract or count the changes he should make to stay in the NHL fraternity.

When you are fired twice in less than 12 months from two highly respected franchises, it might be time to ponder if you need to polish your act or even overhaul it.

Tortorella knows how to transform a team into a contender. He has a quality hockey mind. We all know that because we saw him take the Tampa Bay Lightning to the Stanley Cup championship in 2004 and then we witnessed the New York Rangers transform into a beastly contender under Tortorella. The 2010-11 Rangers team was the NHL's most consistent, impressive team. With some luck, they might have even gone farther in the post-season. You need luck as well as ability to win a Stanley Cup.

But somewhere along the line, Tortorella lost sight of the fact that even in a results-oriented business, your methods have to be respected by the players and stand up to public scrutiny.

Tortorella didn't get fired because he is a demanding, hard-edged coach who pushes his players harder than they want to be pushed. There are several NHL coaches with that style who still have jobs today. Tortorella is unemployed today because he goes over the line with his tactics, and the Canucks can't be sure he is going to stop.

Given his actions in the game against Calgary in January when he charged down the hallway, presumably to go after Flames coach Bob Hartley, the Canucks have to wonder how Tortorella views the world.

Unquestionably, the Canucks were an above-average team that went backward under Tortorella. The team's top players didn't play well under him. But sometimes teams need to take a step backward to go forward.

Tortorella might have survived the step backward if he had been a model citizen this season. He had an improved relationship with the media in Vancouver, but he still was high-maintenance.

That has cost him before. He seemed to be in line for U.S. Olympic coach. He had international experience, coached at the world championships and served as an assistant coach at the 2010 Olympics. He should have been first in line in 2014. But he didn't get the job, maybe because there was concern about what he might say or do on the big stage. Remember, this is a coach who decided to publicly criticize officials when his Rangers played in the Winter Classic. He was fined for that.

That's probably the true reason why he's out of a job today. The only reason to fire a coach one year into a five-year deal is if you believe he is more trouble than he's worth and you're worried about what he might do next. Tortorella had a short shelf life in New York, and Canucks president of hockey operations Trevor Linden had to be concerned about what might happen next season. After the season, Tortorella said the team was "stale." How do the Vancouver players feel about him?

-- USA Today

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 4, 2014 B4

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