Opinion

Canucks: Long Live John Tortorella, Suspension Or Not

"I think John said it best. You have to look out for the welfare of your players." – Phoenix Coyotes head coach Dave Tippett

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Long live John Tortorella.

Long live the last pillar holding up the crumbling Canucks, the coach who had to go to war (I mean, literally) to show his team that someone – anyone – cared.

We need people like John Tortorella, especially out here. Vancouver's hockey market is like an Atlantic City boardwalk in the Twenties… we're always scared of losing because we're scared of being forgotten, ignored, or left out of the middle. There's always this sense that the good times are coming to an end, like Black Friday is just around the corner, and like one year without the playoffs will send an earthquake through our pretty-healthy hockey culture, and suddenly we'll be all Messier'd again.

Cue John Tortorella, that famous coach from Tampa, New York, and YouTube. The guy who hates everyone. Except dogs. Canadians are permanently desperate for American recognition, or proud of it when they get it, at least. We can tell you every celebrity we gave birth to, from Christopher Plummber to Ryan Gosling. But we distance ourselves from Justin Bieber. I mean, you guys can keep some of them.

And so when Tortorella came, I'll admit I was a little flattered. He wants to be with US?! We snickered at him from afar, I'm sure, and there were a lot of people letting their last bit of rant out in the days before he showed up. But once he was here, we'd have to love him. We had to pretend we didn't want him to explode, but we actually wanted him to. (What was the point of hiring Tortorella if you weren't getting Tortorella, after all?)

I've loved every kind thing he's said about our Canucks, from his passionate defence of both Daniel and Henrik Sedin and his love for their un-respected toughness (it was like watching John Wayne drink Green Tea) to his appreciation for Chris Tanev. Within a week of his for-good arrival at YVR, he was using nicknames like 'Kes' and 'Kass' and 'Luey'.

But most of all, I loved him last Saturday. Too many teams have taken advantage of the Canucks, even this season. And Tortorella had had enough of it. He wasn't about to put Daniel or Henrik against Calgary's one-two-goon starting lineup. The Flames had tried to put Ogie Ogelthorpe across from Paul Newman, and Tortorella didn't want anything stupid to happen.

At least, nothing he didn't have a say in.

"It's easy for people to say put the Sedins out there and it's deflated," Tortorella said after the game. "I can't put our players at risk that way. With the lineup that (Flames coach Bob Hartley) had, I am not going to put those type of players at risk, and that's what ensues.

"I'm not proud of it. I have apologized to every one of the players involved in it. I don't feel great about it at all."

There's a good chance Calgary's players would have stayed clear of the Twins. Not every heavyweight is John Scott stupid, after all. But it wasn't just about fighting. Henrik was hurt and the Flames certainly wanted to set a physical tone, and that tone isn't necessarily the sort of variable you want your stars to possibly pay for.

"Everyone would assume what (Hartley) was doing was get things going physically and I don't mean by just hitting guys," said Paul Bissonnette, talking to TSN.

Injuries happen on any kind of play, from dirty hits from behind to innocent brushes with the blade of a skate.

Like Tippett said at the top, your job as a coach is to do whatever you can – legally – to make sure that sort of stuff doesn't happen.

This year, we saw Shawn Thornton maul and assault Pittsburgh's Brooks Orpik... after Orpik sort of assaulted Loui Eriksson. And it was only in 2012 when Daniel Sedin was viciously and needlessly cheap-shotted by Duncan Keith, in a game that shouldn't have carried that sort of consequence. And that hit came just after Brad Marchand decided to turtle and clip Sami Salo, a Fin as quiet as a library.

Perhaps Tortorella reacted swiftly and stiffly, and it's far too easy to bring up the coach's history as some sort of excuse to crucify him. Talking heads will do that, just like armchair quarterbacks know how to throw and backseat drivers never cut someone off. But Tortorella's Canucks – and definitely, they are Tortorella's Canucks now – needed to know someone was on their side. Too often, and especially in Vancouver, it's hard to tell.

If Tortorella is indeed suspended for his intermission actions, he won't need to frame the debate much. The Canucks desperately need to win but, even more, they need to come together.

His players – the only ones whose opinions matter, for a coach in this sort of situation – already know he's got their back.

Take it from Alex Burrows, a guy who's had the worst year of his career. Two serious injuries, not a goal in 18 games, and he was making his return on Saturday, face-mask and all.

"When that kind of stuff happens, he's gonna be there for us. He's got our back, and I think that's all you want in a coach."

Well then. That's all that matters.

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