The thing about the germinating disaster in Vancouver is that it shouldn't even be a big deal. The Canucks will miss the playoffs for the first time since 2008, and that's OK—it's the natural cycle of hockey that a team can't be good forever. The Canucks still have talent, they have money to spend, and if things will get worse before they get better, it's not as if this sort of downswing doesn't happen multiple times across the league every year.
But this is Vancouver, where on Monday night, as the Canucks were officially eliminated from the playoffs, the fans chanted "Fire Gillis." Because a GM who made the finals, won a couple of Presidents Trophies, and iced a competitive roster for five seasons didn't build up enough good will to save his job after a disappointing sixth.
If there is anything uniquely toxic about these Canucks, it's the power struggle going on amid a fraying relationship between Mike Gillis, first-year coach John Tortorella, and the Aquilini family, the team's owners. Tortorella, a good hockey coach whose style can make a bad team worse, had apparently worn out his welcome with Gillis—one of them had to go. Yesterday we learned it would be Gillis, indicating that the Aquilinis had chosen sides.
On Monday, David Ebner of the Globe and Mail published a story indicating that Tortorella might have been the Aquilinis' guy from the beginning.
A half-dozen candidates were interviewed at Rogers Arena and the Aquilinis were smitten with John Tortorella, the fiery man who had one Stanley Cup to his name and had just been fired by the New York Rangers.
They liked his style, passionate and real. The Aquilinis saw a man who could be an instant spark for their underperforming hockey team, one they had sunk so many millions in.
The day after Tortorella's 55th birthday last June, he was officially hired as head coach of the Canucks, a decision that began with the Aquilinis and became a consensus among the hockey bosses, led by Gillis. Tortorella was the answer.
But Tortorella is no more loved in Vancouver right now than Gillis, and the Aquilinis seem to want to distance themselves. Today Ebner writes that after the publication of his story on Monday, he received a text message from team chairman Francesco Aquilini.
"I read your article today. You are a prick," it said. Two hours later, a legal letter from the family's counsel arrived by e-mail. It alleged defamation, sought a retraction and an apology, and threatened further action.
"The facts are that while the Aquilinis supported the decision of the General Manager, the hiring decision was his and not theirs," lawyer Howard Shapray of Vancouver-based Shapray Cramer Fitterman Lamer LLP wrote in the legal letter to The Globe.
So, let's reiterate. Finally having a losing season, and firing the GM because the fans are out for blood? Normal, even healthy. The owners doing everything they can to pretend it was the fired guy's choice to bring in the coach everyone hates, and going after media who report otherwise? That's a disaster.