1. TORTORELLA CHARGES FLAMES DRESSING ROOM
Every NHL team has its best-and-worst-case scenarios laid out before each season begins, but there’s no way the Vancouver Canucks could have envisioned the nightmare that was to unfold. The franchise stumbled and bumbled on and off the ice and fell from third in the Western Conference in 2012-13 to 12th in 2013-14. And it’s hard to say which mistake was worst.
If you go back to the summer of 2013, the trading of goalie Cory Schneider certainly qualifies as a contender. After years of grooming Schneider to be Vancouver’s starting goalie for the next decade or more, then-GM Mike Gillis shocked the hockey world when he shipped the 28-year-old to New Jersey for the ninth-overall pick in last year’s draft. Schneider and veteran Roberto Luongo, who had nearly been dealt at the 2012-13 trade deadline, were dumbfounded by the move. But that was only the beginning of the madness.
In a home game against the Flames in mid-January, the Canucks – now led by coach John Tortorella, who’d promised a kinder, gentler approach when the team hired him months earlier – found themselves embroiled in a huge controversy when an irate Tortorella attempted to charge into Calgary’s dressing room to confront Flames counterpart Bob Hartley. Tortorella was angered by Hartley’s decision to start the game with enforcers Brian McGrattan and Kevin Westgarth, but Tortorella’s cartoonish tough-guy antics, all of which were captured on camera, were a black eye for the franchise and resulted in Tortorella receiving a 15-day suspension. Prior to their coach’s outburst, the Canucks were 24-16-9 and in a playoff spot. The rest of the season, they went 12-19-2.
That wasn’t the last egregious mistake Tortorella would make. When he benched Luongo for backup goalie Eddie Lack in the Canucks’ high-profile game March 2 at Vancouver’s B.C. Place stadium, Tortorella alienated Luongo for what turned out to be the last time. The good-natured goalie had kept his composure for months during trade rumors. But in the same way Rangers center Brad Richards was incensed when Tortorella made him a healthy scratch for a Rangers playoff game last spring, Luongo was at the end of his rope with the organization. Two days later, in another unexpected move, Gillis dealt Luongo back to the Florida Panthers for center Shawn Matthias and goalie Jacob Markstrom.
Astonishingly, a team that had two stars in net at the conclusion of the ’12-13 campaign had gotten rid of both before the end of the following season. That was a massive indictment of Gillis’ mishandling of his goaltending situation and one of the reasons it came to light by this year’s trade deadline that star center Ryan Kesler wanted out of Vancouver. The 29-year-old’s no-trade clause gave him control of any potential destination in a deal, and nothing was consummated prior to the deadline. But a deal with the Ducks was done this summer.
But it wasn’t Gillis behind the trade, however. After engaging in a late-season, thinly veiled, “It’s-me-or-Tortorella” conversation during a radio interview, Gillis was fired by team owner Francesco Aquilini April 8 – with Tortorella gone less than a month later. With the Canucks’ fan base furious over their team’s dreadful season, Aquilini moved quickly to hire beloved former Vancouver captain Trevor Linden as president of hockey operations and tasked him with finding Gillis’ replacement, which eventually ended up being Jim Benning (followed by Willie Desjardins as coach). – Adam Proteau
2. ST-LOUIS ASKS OUT OF TAMPA BAY AFTER OLYMPIC SNUB
St-Louis was a victim of the Team Canada numbers game, as stars like Claude Giroux didn’t even make the team, but suffice to say the 38-year-old saw it differently. Coming off a campaign in which he won the Art Ross Trophy, St-Louis seemed a lock to don a Team Canada sweater at the Sochi games. However, Team Canada’s brain trust went in a different direction, and GM Steve Yzerman, who happened to be St-Louis’ GM in Tampa Bay, delivered the bad news.
The evening following the announcement of his exclusion, the winger potted two goals, one a game-winner, in a 4-2 win over the Winnipeg Jets. When Steven Stamkos was deemed unable to play in the Olympics, St-Louis was announced as his replacement, but the snub had severed the relationship between the then-Lightning captain and his GM. Just days after the Olympics ended, St-Louis’ trade demand became public. And come the deadline, St-Louis was shipped to the New York Rangers. – Jared Clinton
3. BRUINS’ THORNTON SUCKER PUNCHES ORPIK
One minute, Shawn Thornton is speaking about how many people could deem him almost “too honorable.” The next, he’s standing over Brooks Orpik after delivering a slewfoot and vicious sucker punch to the head of the Penguins’ defenseman. Thornton won’t be called honorable again any time soon.
In a Dec. 7 contest between the Penguins and Bruins, two of the Eastern Conference’s finest, Orpik delivered a massive blow to Boston forward Loui Eriksson. After challenging Orpik to a fight, which the defenseman declined, Thornton sought retribution in his own way, and what followed was eerily reminiscent of Todd Bertuzzi’s 2004 attack on Steve Moore. Following the blindside, Orpik was stretchered off the ice, and Thornton was handed one of the stiffest suspensions in NHL history at 15 games. – JC
4. HERTL’S GOAL CAPS SHARKS ROUT OF RANGERS
Among the main tenets of hockey’s unwritten rules: you don’t further embarrass an already embarrassed opponent, and that was why Hertl’s sensational, Marek Malik-style tally was one of the early-season’s biggest talking points.
Already with three goals and his Sharks leading 7-2, Hertl received an outlet pass and streaked into the Rangers zone. Barrelling down on New York backup Martin Biron, the rookie forward tucked the puck between his skates, and with a deft flick of the wrists he deposited it into the top corner. The adverse reaction to Hertl’s perceived flamboyancy could have set a land speed record. Some called Hertl a show-off, disrespectful, and said he would be a target when the two teams next met. Less than two weeks later, Biron retired, with some citing “the goal” as the reason. Hertl missed significant time with a knee injury, but finished the year with 15 goals in 37 games. – JC
5. BURKE COMMENTS IGNITE FIRESTORM OVER OLYMPIC “SNUB”
With the advent of all-access sports coverage, it was only a matter of time before something uttered in a closed-door meeting sparked controversy. It finally came in the form of Ryan’s inability to spell certain words in the English language, if Brian Burke is to be believed.
Burke, David Poile and the Team USA brass were discussing the prospect of taking the Senators right winger to the Sochi Olympics. During the meeting it came to light that Burke didn’t believe the 27-year-old possessed some of the almighty intangibles.
“He is not intense,” Burke said, according to espn.com. “That word is not in his vocabulary. It’s never going to be in his vocabulary. He can’t spell intense.”
Ryan, days after the comments went to air, told media the comments were “gutless,” but later backpedalled, saying Burke, the man who drafted him in 2005, was entitled to his opinion. In the end, the Americans failed to medal without Ryan anyway. – JC