John Tortorella acted as though he had barely heard about the stewing controversy around the Vancouver Canucks, after general manager Mike Gillis on Thursday said the team is playing the wrong style of hockey.
"I guess it was on radio?" said Tortorella after practice on Friday, his first parry of a series of questions.
"I'm not going to have any comment on that," he said. "That's a discussion Mike and I will have internally."
Tortorella did have one quiet riposte to his boss, saying he had chosen to give much more ice time to his best players in part because of a lack of roster depth.
On Thursday, Gillis spoke candidly on Canucks broadcaster Team 1040 radio and the comments reverberated around the National Hockey League. Gillis said his own future, as well as Tortorella's, was in question, and went on to regret the style of play the team has adopted, defensive-minded rather than a focus on speed and offence.
"Our problems are far-reaching," said Gillis, "and they will be addressed."
Gillis used his weekly radio podium to state his position as a tailspin of a season comes towards its end. Vancouver is on track for its worst season in 14 years and its first playoff miss in six. A decade-plus streak of sellouts at Rogers Arena is also in jeopardy.
Decisions will be made by the team owners, the billionaire Aquilini family, and they could be expensive, since both Gillis and Tortorella have four years and millions left on their contracts. The Aquilinis were closely involved in hiring Tortorella and were taken by his hard-driving, tell-the-truth style.
Tortorella, who in the past has been cantankerous with reporters, displayed the zen typical of the coach since the Canucks spiralled out of contention. He described his relationship with Gillis as "fantastic" and said most outsiders don't understand the team's system of play. Tortorella also said that when the team was at its best, the style of play was one supported by Gillis - strong defence, a forceful forecheck.
Tortorella took blame for allowing the Canucks to become less aggressive in their play as injuries piled up. He pointed to a low point, an "embarrassing" loss in Dallas, a 6-1 gut punch in early March. After that game, coaches stayed up until 1:30 a.m. sorting through what was going wrong. They decided to give the veteran players more voice in the locker room, in the style of hands-off former coach Alain Vigneault, with Tortorella backing off somewhat.
At the end, what has sunk Vancouver is an absence of goals, with the team among the least potent in the league.
Team captain Henrik Sedin said he felt there have been three versions of the Canucks, one through the start of the season through December, another in the worst of winter, and a third more recently.
"It's been a season," said Sedin on Friday, "where you can talk about three different seasons."