VANCOUVER -- Trevor Linden insists he didn't come into his new job as Vancouver Canucks president of hockey operations with his mind made up about John Tortorella, but it didn't take long for him to figure out he had to fire his coach.
Linden's first big move in his new role was to dismiss Tortorella and assistant coach Mike Sullivan on Thursday after their first season.
"I tried to talk myself out of this," Linden said. "This is not something I came in looking to do. It was just the right thing to do. When a new (general) manager comes in I want to have full flexibility and create a new vision together."
Linden, a former star player in Vancouver, was hired shortly after Mike Gillis was fired as general manager after the Canucks were eliminated from Stanley Cup Playoff contention in the final week of the season. Linden said Thursday he plans to start interviewing candidates to replace Gillis next week, but he saw no need to wait until that was done before deciding on Tortorella's future.
"I kept coming back to a lot of things I didn't like that I saw trending," Linden said.
Linden cited team and individual disappointments after the Canucks missed the playoffs for the first time since 2007-08, his last season as a player. Several key players saw their ice time go up and their productivity go down under Tortorella, who was hired to replace Alain Vigneault and reignite a core that won one game in the past two playoffs after coming within one win of the Stanley Cup in 2011.
Vancouver signed Tortorella to a five-year, $10 million contract after being swept by the San Jose Sharks last spring and firing Vigneault. Tortorella had been fired by the New York Rangers after they were eliminated in the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs; he wound up being replaced by Vigneault in New York, where the Rangers have advanced to the Eastern Conference Second Round against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
The Canucks struggled to score in a grinding system some suggested was ill-suited to their skilled personnel; they finished 29th in the NHL in goals and 27th on the power play. More damning for Tortorella and his collapsing defensive style: They also surrendered more goals, finishing tied for 14th in non-shootout goals against. The Canucks were 11th during the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season and fourth in 2011-12, the prior 82-game season.
"Our team is set up to play a certain way. I look at the strengths and a defense with the ability to have the puck and move the puck and I think style of play did have an impact on that," Linden said. "At the end of the day I kept coming back to collectively how much this group underperformed, and individually as well."
Amid injuries and inconsistency, the Canucks finished eight points out of the second wild-card spot in the Western Conference with a 36-35-11 record. But worse than failing to make the playoffs, they often failed to entertain.
Linden promised more entertainment in a letter to season-ticket holders that accompanied the firings. He reiterated that promise at his press conference.
"This is about creating a style of hockey that's exciting to watch," he said.
The next step includes hiring a coach and general manager.
Linden would not discuss specific candidates rumored to be in the running but did say he hadn't experienced much "pushback on timing" because the NHL teams that employ them were involved in the playoffs.
"I've got a very focused list, I don't have a large candidate list," he said. "I say realistically the timing would most likely be by the end of the month. It would be great to have a manager in place sooner but it's got to be the right person."
Linden said, in an ideal world, the new general manager would be a big part of selecting the new coach. But with other teams also looking for a coach, there's a chance waiting too long could cost the Canucks a top candidate.
"The timing of it is somewhat tricky," Linden said. "I made this decision on what's best for team, not necessarily GM timing. Starting with a clean slate will be important to most managers that are looking at this opportunity."
Linden said Tortorella's 15-day suspension for confronting the Calgary Flames outside their locker room after a brawl in a Jan. 18 game in Vancouver did not play a role in the decision. But Linden also didn't totally agree with Tortorella's assessment after the season that the core was too old and stale.
"I feel this team is positioned to make the playoffs next year," Linden said.