VANCOUVER -- When the Vancouver Canucks dispersed for the summer soon after a second straight early exit from the Stanley Cup Playoffs, there was a lot of talk of change. Four months later, most of the same players are back.
With the exception of turning back the clock two years and reinserting Roberto Luongo as the No. 1 goaltender, the reset promised by general manager Mike Gillis is largely limited to bringing in coach John Tortorella and two new assistants.
The question now is whether that is enough. Can a coach make that big a difference to an aging team two years removed from coming within one game of winning the Stanley Cup?
The Canucks are banking on the answer being "Yes," even if it sounded during the start of training camp Wednesday like Tortorella's plan is to simply ask for more out of the same players, including additional bite from a group better known for its barking.
"We need more out of everybody, and the players know that and I think they are willing to do that," Tortorella said.
The first step will be a training camp that promises to be faster paced and more intense than the ones run by predecessor Alain Vigneault, who was fired after winning one playoff game over the past two seasons but landed in Tortorella's similarly vacated position with the New York Rangers. Canucks players prepared all summer for "Camp Torts."
"Obviously his philosophy is to have a rigorous training camp and pushing us as hard as he can, and the philosophy is you practice really hard and make the game easy," veteran defenseman Kevin Bieksa said. "We're well aware of what's ahead as far as the testing and practicing and skating and all that stuff, and this group welcomes that."
The Canucks have long preached a high level of fitness, catching newcomers off guard and calling out -- sometimes even sitting out -- players who couldn't keep up.
"But that doesn't mean a coach can't come in and push us even harder," Bieksa said. "He is going to push us harder and give us the honest truth and maybe at times we do need that more. We do need to know when we're not giving it our all, when there's more in the tank, when we're not executing, or not quite focused. And hopefully we can build that in the room."
Allowing that room to police itself was something Vigneault did, but after coming within one win of the franchise's first Cup against the Boston Bruins in 2011, the Canucks have won one game in the past two playoffs, losing to the eventual Cup champion Los Angeles Kings in five games in 2012 before being swept by the San Jose Sharks last spring.
So out went Vigneault and in came Tortorella, along with the promise to get more bite and grit from a roster built on speed and skill.
"What I am talking about is creating a culture and an identity," Tortorella said. "I believe it can be done within here, and again, it's not about going out there and brawling. It's about little things, protecting a puck, eating a puck on the wall when you can't get it out instead of turning it over. Those are all little details we'll go over and I think that's how you develop it. Blocking shots, I know that just lights a fire -- you just play defense because you block shots -- but blocking shots develops a culture, and when you have a Sedin blocking a shot, watch what the bench does. It's 10-feet tall. All those little things help develop who you are as a team."
Despite a reputation for pushing players hard -- and for all the talk of a kinder, gentler Tortorella in the media, he's never promised the same for players -- the coach will use training camp to get a better feel for his players and how to motivate them.
"Right now I don't," he said when asked how he knows who, or how hard, to push. "That's where the day-to-day situation goes. It's not always a negative. It's not always looking to kick a guy. That's not what this is about. It's watching, observing, and that's why I can't wait to get going. I want to get to know them. I want them to know me."
It shouldn't take long for Tortorella to figure out he has a motivated group, perhaps one with a chip on its collective shoulder after hearing their window to win is closing.
"Last year was straight up embarrassing," Bieksa said.
Forward Ryan Kesler said, "We're going to prove a lot of people wrong, all those doubters out there. Make them eat their words."
Whatever others think, players are counting on knowing where they stand with Tortorella and his reputation for blunt assessment.
"There's going to be communication," Bieksa said, pointing down the table at teammates Tom Sestito, Chris Tanev and Kesler. "Tom is going to know what to expect night in and night out, and if he doesn't do it I'm sure he's going to hear about it. [Kesler] is going to know. Tanev is going to know this is how he has to play. There's going to be direct communication. There's not going to be any worrying about hurt feelings."
Asked if that meant they were missing that before, Bieksa hesitated only slightly.
"At times maybe there was some sort of confusion, I don't know," he said. "Alain was a great coach. I'm not saying it was his fault. Maybe it was the room's fault, but at times, yeah, there was a little bit of a lack of communication."
That almost certainly won't be a problem with Tortorella in charge. The question is whether that will be enough of a change.
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