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Vancouver GM discusses Tortorella, team's struggles

by Shawn P. Roarke

BOCA RATON, Fla. -- Vancouver Canucks general manager Mike Gillis emerged from the three-day meetings of the NHL's GMs at the Boca Beach Club with the understanding that his team faces a rocky road in the future, but also a fuller understanding of the hardships already endured.

While Gillis was here for the meetings, the Canucks allowed the New York Islanders to score seven third-period goals in a demoralizing 7-4 loss Monday at Rogers Arena.

It was, perhaps, the nadir of what has been a trying season for the usually competitive Canucks.

"It's been tough, but it's been a tough month-and-a-half for us," Gillis said. "When you're not performing up to a standard that you think is acceptable, it's never easy."

The loss to the Islanders, Vancouver's eighth in its past 10 games (2-7-1), turned up the heat on embattled first-year coach John Tortorella. There was rampant speculation Tortorella could be fired before the Canucks took the ice Tuesday for an afternoon practice.

Wednesday, Gillis refrained from addressing those reports.

"There's a lot of rumor and speculation out there and for me to comment on it would lend some degree of credibility to it, which is not something that's good for anybody," he said when asked about changes. "I think right now we have to get behind our team and behind our players, and behind our coaching staff and try and win some hockey games."

Gillis also did not offer any kind of vote of confidence for Tortorella when asked if the coach was safe for the remainder of the season.

"I'm not commenting on that because then it just lends credibility to what's out there with bloggers and all kinds of different people," Gillis said. "So it's unfair to comment on any future plans other than what we've already said, which is we're trying to get younger, we're trying to retool and we're trying to do some things a little differently the next one, three, five years."

The Canucks, who play the Winnipeg Jets on Wednesday at MTS Centre (7:30 p.m. ET, TSN), are 29-28-10 for 68 points. They are six points behind the Dallas Stars for the final Stanley Cup Playoff wild-card spot in the Western Conference with 15 games remaining.

It’s hard to imagine the depths to which the Canucks have fallen since going 10-1-2 during a rampaging run through December.

"To go from December where you win every game in the month to what's occurred since then is remarkable," Gillis said. "But there are some reasons, and they're not excuses, but we've had massive injuries this year, we've had key guys out of our lineup for extended periods of time. We had an incident in January that was hard to describe. It is what it is."

The January incident Gillis referred to was when Tortorella tried to get into the Calgary Flames dressing room during the first intermission of a game Jan. 18, after a first-period line brawl resulted in eight game misconduct penalties.

Tortorella was suspended 15 days without pay by the League. He missed six games during his suspension.

The Canucks are 4-12-1 in the 17 games since then.

As the season enters its final few weeks, Gillis said the Canucks will attempt to put all of their  struggles in the rear-view mirror and focus entirely on making a late-season run to find a way into the playoffs. They last missed the postseason in 2008.

"We have a slight opportunity to try and right that ship, and we're going to try and do it by rallying behind them and rallying behind our coaching staff," Gillis said. "That's all we can do."

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