Top Shelf: Coach swap pays off in NYC, not in Vancouver

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Updated: 4/08/2014 3:09 pm

Philadelphia, PA ( - It's been clear for a while now the New York Rangers were on the winning end of last summer's head coaching switch with the Vancouver Canucks.

Over the last 24 hours, that notion has become close to gospel.

The Canucks were eliminated from playoff contention on Monday and the club wasted no time in shaking things up, relieving president and general manager Mike Gillis of his duties on Tuesday.

One has to wonder if head coach John Tortorella soon will be following Gillis out the door.

The news couldn't have come as a shock to Gillis. The GM apparently had already seen the writing on the wall when asked recently about Tortorella's fate for next season. The embattled executive responded, "I'm not sure if I'll be back next season."

With the guy who hired him gone, is it now a forgone conclusion Tortorella will be handed his walking papers?

Honestly, it didn't look good for the head coach before the GM was fired, and it's even bleaker now. New GMs often like to hire their own guys anyway, and it's not like Tortorella did much to prove he was a good fit for Vancouver this season.

A fair assessment of Tortorella's season with the Canucks could lead Gillis' replacement to simply cut their losses and move on to the next coach.

After all, the new GM will have no shortage of reasons to let Tortorella go, and missing the playoffs is just the tip of the iceberg. An embarrassing episode in January when he tried to start a physical altercation with Calgary Flames head coach Bob Hartley in between periods certainly did not help Tortorella's cause, nor did the fact that the Canucks have won only 10 of 29 games following that meltdown.

There also have been many critics of Tortorella's system, and how it simply doesn't fit with the players who are currently in Vancouver. Gillis himself seemed to join those detractors when he was interviewed last week on Team 1040 radio.

"I want us to play up-beat, puck possession, move the puck quickly, force teams into mistakes, high-transition game," Gillis said. "I think we have the personnel to do it. If we don't have the personnel to do it, they'll be changed."

As it turns out, letting go of the man in charge of personnel decisions was the first change to be made.

Gillis, of course, fired head coach Alain Vigneault on May 22, 2013 and a month later replaced him with Tortorella, who had been bench boss for the Rangers. Vigneault has landed on his feet in New York, where he'll get a chance this spring to take the playoff-bound Rangers further than Tortorella ever could.

Gillis had served in his post since the spring of 2008 and along with Vigneault helped the Canucks reach the Stanley Cup Finals at the end of the 2010-11 season, when they came within one win of beating Boston for the title.

However, Vancouver was knocked out of the playoffs in the first round in two straight seasons following the Cup run. It seems Vigneault was the sacrificial lamb offered up last spring, and it was Gillis' turn to take the fall when the Canucks failed to even make the postseason in 2013-14.

Fittingly, the playoff fates of both Tortorella's Canucks and Vigneault's Rangers were determined on the same night. New York earned a spot in the postseason dance Monday thanks to a loss by the New Jersey Devils, while Vancouver was eliminated from playoff contention a few hours later after getting shut out by Anaheim.

The coach-swapping story line always was a juicy one not only because both guys had a decent amount of success at their prior posts, but also because Tortorella and Vigneault couldn't be any different personality-wise. Vigneault is known as a cool customer with an easy-going vibe and a penchant for joking around at press conferences.

Tortorella, on the other hand, seems more likely to throw a haymaker at a reporter than try to make him laugh.

Both guys experienced ups and downs while getting used to their new teams and cities, but while the Rangers grew in confidence over the course of the season, the Canucks simply fell apart.

The man known as "A.V." picked up where his predecessor left off in Manhattan and brought the Rangers to the playoffs for a fourth straight year. Torts, meanwhile, saw his Canucks miss the postseason for the first time since the spring of 2008, when another Vancouver GM, David Nonis, was the man on the chopping block.

Even if Gillis was allowed to stay, it is possible Tortorella's days in Vancouver were numbered. With the GM already gone, the coach probably should prepare for life after the Canucks.

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