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Axing Tortorella was easy part of the Canucks’ turnaround plan

Vancouver Canucks president Trevor Linden listens to a question at a news conference in Vancouver on Thursday, May 1, 2014. Linden announced that head coach John Tortorella and assistant coach Mike Sullivan have been relieved of their duties.

JONATHAN HAYWARD/THE CANADIAN PRESS

When billionaire Francesco Aquilini turned to hockey hero Trevor Linden to take over the flailing Vancouver Canucks, the decision was as much about what Mr. Linden could do for the hockey team on the ice as he could do for the business off it.

In the Canucks' best years, when tickets to Rogers Arena were the hottest thing in town, when 100,000 people jammed a closed West Georgia Street on a warm mid-June afternoon to watch Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final on big screens, the business of selling hockey in the city was easy.

It didn't matter the team really didn't have a suave, savvy face. The best players, the Sedins, were adequate spokesmen but hardly compelling. The boss, Mike Gillis, was a technocrat, not a populist. The owner preferred to go unseen.

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Losing exposes all flaws. As the team on the ice fell apart this past winter, there was no one to speak for the Canucks, to convince people in Vancouver there was better hockey ahead. Mr. Linden's arrival as the new team president three weeks ago was to be the antidote, the retired star bequeathed a tremendous amount of goodwill from fans, and his first move is the one everyone expected: the firing of failed coach John Tortorella.

This was the easy decision. Mr. Tortorella never fit with the team or the city. He never even lived here, buying a house in the woods in Point Roberts, Wash. At the arena, he presided over a wreck.

Mr. Linden marketed the firing of Mr. Tortorella as "a fresh start" in a letter to his primary audience, the team's season-ticket holders. It is all about marketing now.

Soon there will be a new coach, a new general manager and changes to the roster to sell, all to convince dedicated fans and those whose interest in hockey ebbs and flows that the team is worth caring about, worth spending on.

It may be mostly the same old hockey team, but it will have a just-like-new gleam.

At stake is the Canucks' decade-plus run of sellouts at Rogers Arena, the best in hockey, never mind revenue from the expensive luxury boxes, which is set to slide.

And so Mr. Linden promises a lot: Get back in the playoffs next spring, develop the team into a true Stanley Cup contender, as well as make Canucks games exciting to watch again. He envisions a team that hasn't existed in a couple years, one that's entertaining, that sparks "buzz and anticipation in the city on game days."

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At Mr. Tortorella's last news conference in mid-April, the day after the season ended, the coach had a mantra: Forget about 2011. The Cup dream is dead. It's time to retool.

Mr. Tortorella's parting shots are closer to the truth than Mr. Linden's immediate ambitions. The Canucks just scored the fewest goals for a full season in the franchise's four-decade-plus history. It is a bit hard to see how Mr. Linden can drum up a swift resurrection – but it is his promise.

"I feel this team is positioned to make the playoffs next year," said Mr. Linden at a Thursday afternoon news conference. "Obviously we have a lot of work to do this summer."

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About the Author
National correspondent, Vancouver bureau

David Ebner is a national correspondent based in Vancouver. He joined The Globe and Mail in 2000 and worked in Toronto and Calgary before moving to Vancouver in 2008. He has reported on a wide range of stories – business, politics, arts, crime – and has covered sports since 2012. More

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