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Tortorella: 'Stale' Canucks must add element of youth

by Kevin Woodley

VANCOUVER -- Vancouver Canucks coach John Tortorella said he didn't plan to lobby for his job when he met with new president Trevor Linden this week, but he certainly didn't pull any punches when speaking to the media Monday about the present state of the Canucks.

Tortorella accepted some of the blame for missing the Stanley Cup Playoffs in his first season as Canucks coach, but also made it clear that an aging core needs to change and stop living off a trip to the Stanley Cup Final in 2011.

"I felt from Day 1 that it's stale," Tortorella said. "That's not their fault. This is a group that has been together for a long time. It's stale. It needs youth. It needs a change. I felt that from Day 1. We're not in 2011. We have to stop talking about 2011. The team needs to be retooled. It's a young man's game."

Vancouver was one win from the Stanley Cup three years ago, but since losing Game 7 of the Cup Final to the Boston Bruins in 2011 they've won one playoff game. This season they missed the postseason for the first time in six seasons, fired president and general manager Mike Gillis last week and replaced him with Linden, a former captain and fan favorite.

In addition to hiring a new general manager, Linden's early tasks include deciding on the fate of Tortorella, who has four years left on his contract.

Players insisted Monday they aren't far off from being the team that came so close to a Cup three years ago, but Tortorella wasn't sure.

"I'm not going to sit up here and pretend," he said. "The team is trending. It's getting older. It does need to be revitalized. That's not an excuse for me. I could get gassed out of here today. It's the truth of what is going on. To get back to being competitive for a long time, you may have to slide sideways and find your way as far as a little bit of a rebuild."

After being fired by the New York Rangers last summer, Tortorella was hired to replace Alain Vigneault after the San Jose Sharks swept the Canucks out of the first round of the 2013 playoffs. Instead, they finished 25th in the League standings; 28th in scoring at 2.33 goals per game; and 14th defensively with a 2.63 goals-against average.

"We're all flabbergasted right now we are sitting up here talking about the year we just had," veteran center Ryan Kesler said. "Going into this year I would never think we would be sitting here in this situation. With the new coach and with all of us having to prove something, the fact we are sitting up here is tough. It's going to give us a priority to regroup and come back strong next year."

The question is how many players will be back next year.

Kesler again denied reports that he had requested a trade and said he wants to stay, but Tortorella indicated big changes are required.

"I think some of the core needs to change, yes," Tortorella said.

Many wonder if Tortorella's system, with more zone defense and collapsing around the net in their own end was the best fit for the group he inherited.

Top-line twins Daniel Sedin and Henrik Sedin had their lowest full-season point totals in a decade. Injuries played a role as Henrik missed 12 games after not missing any in 10 years, Daniel missed nine games and regular linemate Alexandre Burrows missed 32 with three different injuries. A power play that slumped to 26th in the League at 15.2 percent didn't help either.

"People talk about we are playing too much defense," Daniel Sedin said. "Honestly, we played as aggressive as we ever have been. That has nothing to do with why our production is down. It's up to us to play like the way we can."

Tortorella's biggest regret was backing off the aggressive forecheck that made them so successful during a 10-1-2 streak in December. Vancouver won 23 of its first 41 games, but finished with 13 wins in the second half, undone by a 5-16-3 stretch from Jan. 1 to March 6. Tortorella cited a rash of injuries in that span for altering the approach and focusing more on defense. He said Monday he would do it again under the circumstances, but conceded he didn't switch back fast enough.

"My biggest regret personally was I was coaching the team properly the first half. We were playing a game we should play. I was on top of it," he said. "I didn't get back in the room and continue to teach details after. I didn't stay on top of it."

After a lot of talk about taking back a locker room turned over to the players by Vigneault, Tortorella regretted letting control slip.

"I gave the room to the players too much," Tortorella said. "I miscalculated in being stricter. I trust the team, but there's got to be an edge too. That's my job to bring it out."

Tortorella also was criticized for overplaying his top forwards, something he's been accused of with other teams. Before backing off their minutes late in the season, Kesler and the Sedins were in the top-five among all NHL forwards in ice time.

Tortorella blamed a lack of depth.

"Sometimes I looked down the bench and guys just weren't ready," he said.

As for how to fix it, Tortorella conceded it wouldn't be easy.

"You can't say you want young kids and then you want depth," he said. "It's going to take some time for the young kids to develop. You need to be prepared for that. You can't say we are old, we are going to get younger and we are going to win the Stanley Cup when we get younger. You need to go through the process."

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