Tom Sestito, John Tortorella

Is Tortorella’s system to blame for Canucks’ woes?


No longer just a great song you hear at Joe Louis Arena, “Don’t Stop Believing” has apparently become the mantra of the Vancouver Canucks.

To wit, here’s coach John Tortorella after Sunday’s 4-2 loss to Ottawa in the Heritage Classic: “The only thing you can do from (general manager) Mike Gillis right on down to our team, we need to keep believing as an organization and take each and every day.”

And here’s winger Alex Burrows, still without a goal this season: “We’ve got to rely on our system, and keep believing that we’re doing a lot of good things. You’ve got to keep believing that your structure and your system is strong.”

It’s funny, because that’s the exact same message I heard from countless members of Team Canada in Sochi. When the goals weren’t going in, they said the only thing they could fall back on was the system, and they had to believe that it would eventually pay off.

You know how that ended. Mike Babcock’s puck-possession system was ultimately celebrated, along with the gold medal.

But — and this is the thing when it comes to the Canucks — what if the system is, you know, completely and utterly wrong?

We only ask, because, not long ago, Vancouver was one of most dynamic offensive teams in the NHL. Today, with largely the same core players, its offense ranks 27th, averaging a paltry 2.33 goals per game.

And back when the Canucks were piling up the points in the standings, Burrows and the Sedin twins formed one of the best, most entertaining lines in hockey. Today, that line is a shadow of itself, no disrespect to the shadow.

I asked Burrows if Tortorella’s system made it harder to do the things his line used to do so well.

“It’s a little different, that’s for sure,” Burrows said. “But we’ve got to make more plays.”

I asked him how the system was different.

“Well, I’m not going to comment, go down into it,” he said. “But we have to be better.”

I didn’t expect to hear a detailed breakdown of the system, or for Burrows to bash his coach’s game plan. Besides, the players do “have to be better,” regardless of the system.

But let’s face it, Tortorella was fired as coach of the Rangers for a reason. Actually, it was a few reasons, but the “style of play” he dictated was a big one, according to the guy who fired him.

“If you look at these playoff games (like the Stanley Cup Finals matchup) you’re gonna see tonight, the style that they play, I mean there’s not a hell of a lot of dump-ins,” Glen Sather said in June. “I mean, (if) you have to dump the puck in, you have to dump it. But there’s a lot of puck control and hanging onto the puck and moving the puck out, and there’s not stopping behind the net to gain control. There’s a lot of things that are done differently than what we were doing. So you have to look at the style of play. That had a lot to do with (the decision to fire Tortorella), too.”

And when the Canucks’ last coach, Alain Vigneault, was hired by the Rangers, it wasn’t a commitment to shot-blocking and collapsing in front of the goalie that Sather was trumpeting.

Tortorella said before the Heritage Classic that he was hoping the quasi-outdoor experience might help jump-start his “big guys” (translation: Sedins and Burrows) offensively.

“I think some of our guys need to offensively allow themselves to play some shinny hockey,” he said. “Just let them play. Maybe this will help us. I don’t know.”

Of course, he also said his “biggest concern” was “staying with our structure.” Which doesn’t exactly translate to, “Just let them play.”

But hey, don’t stop believing.

Related: Apparently Glen Sather and Mike Gillis don’t see the game evolving the same way

After reportedly trying to trade him, Rangers put McIlrath on waivers

NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 25:  Dylan McIlrath #6 of the New York Rangers takes the puck as Matt Moulson #26 of the Buffalo Sabres defends at Madison Square Garden on January 25, 2016 in New York City.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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The New York Rangers are rolling the dice that Dylan McIlrath won’t get claimed. They’ve put the 24-year-old defenseman on waivers, not long after reportedly trying to trade him.

McIlrath was the 10th overall draft pick in 2010, a selection that many felt was a reach by the Rangers. Six years later, he’s yet to establish himself as a regular in head coach Alain Vigneault’s lineup.

The big blue-liner has appeared in just one game this season, and he only logged 9:14 in it. Vigneault seems to have chosen offseason trade acquisition Nick Holden over McIlrath.

Despite the Rangers’ inability to trade him, it would not be a huge surprise if McIlrath gets claimed. His possession stats were solid last season, and defensemen with size and toughness are still coveted in today’s faster NHL.

McIlrath’s cap hit is $800,000. He can become a restricted free agent this summer.

Blues put Paajarvi on waivers

Magnus Paajarvi
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The return of Jori Lehtera was a welcome development in St. Louis — well, welcome for everybody but Magnus Paajarvi.

With the Blues needing to clear a roster spot for Lehtera, Paajarvi was placed on waivers on Thursday, per Sportsnet.

The decision comes after Paajarvi appeared in three games for St. Louis this season, scoring once while averaging just over nine minutes per game.

He has not dressed since an OT loss in Vancouver back on Oct. 18, though, as the team has recently opted to play Dmitrij Jaskin up front.

(Ty Rattie, who’s also been out of the lineup since the Vancouver game, is apparently sticking around St. Louis for the time being.)

Paajarvi has been down the waiver road before, getting exposed by the Blues on a few occasions. Even though he’s still relatively young (25 years old), on a cap-friendly contract ($700,000) and has nearly 300 games of NHL experience, it’s hard to envision a scenario where he gets claimed — especially since teams have had the opportunity to snag him before, and passed.

Not long after news of the Paajarvi waiving broke, the Blues announced Lehtera was officially activated from IR. He’ll be available for selection tonight when St. Louis hosts the streaking Red Wings, who’ve won five straight.

A group wants to build an arena in Scottsdale, but the Coyotes don’t seem interested

GLENDALE, AZ - OCTOBER 09:  Fans line up outside of Gila River Arena before the NHL game between the Arizona Coyotes and the Winnipeg Jets on October 9, 2014 in Glendale, Arizona.  The Jets defeated the Coyotes 6-2.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

The Arizona Coyotes still don’t have a place to play next season, and based on a report, they don’t seem very interested in working with a group that wants to build a new arena in Scottsdale.

From Arizona Sports:

Multiple sources said the developer group working with the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community had a meeting scheduled with the Coyotes the day after the team’s Faceoff Luncheon and the day before the season opener on Oct. 15 to discuss the possibility of the Coyotes playing there, but the Coyotes cancelled the meeting at the last minute for unspecified reasons. No make-up date has been scheduled.

When reached Wednesday evening, Coyotes president and CEO Anthony LeBlanc had this to say: “Throughout this process we have had a number of groups solicit our involvement. This particular group and site are not one with which the Coyotes are working.”

Why the Coyotes don’t have interest in this particular project isn’t clear. It may be they’re 100 percent focused on another site, or it may be the deal just isn’t right for them.

But they’ll need to figure something out soon. Their lease at Gila River Arena expires after this season, and while they could probably extend that for a few years while a new arena gets built, they’ve been adamant that they’ll be leaving Glendale as soon as possible.

Certainly, this week’s news out of Seattle won’t quell the speculation that the Coyotes could be on the move, even if ownership has insisted over and over that the team has a bright future in the desert.

Sens: Lazar will ‘benefit’ from AHL stint, no timetable for return to Ottawa

OTTAWA, ON - FEBRUARY 11: Curtis Lazar #27 of the Ottawa Senators skates against the Colorado Avalanche during an NHL game at Canadian Tire Centre on February 11, 2016 in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo by Jana Chytilova/Freestyle Photography/Getty Images)
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This probably isn’t the way Curtis Lazar saw things going.

Lazar, who Ottawa took 17th overall in 2013, is currently plying his trade for the Sens’ AHL affiliate in Binghamton, after missing extensive time during training camp and the preseason with mono.

He was sent down on Oct. 11, and he might as well get comfortable.

Despite the fact he’s played nearly 150 career games at the NHL level, there’s no plan to bring Lazar back anytime soon.

“We’re not going to make any immediate decisions on Curtis,” Sens GM Pierre Dorion said, per the Citizen. “the best thing for Curtis is to go down there and play, and play as well as he can play.

“He can play in all situations, and I think it’s the right thing to do. Let him get confidence and when the time comes we’ll call him back up, but there’s no timetable to call up Curtis.”

Dorion acknowledged the club had previously toyed with the idea of sending Lazar down to the minors.  The 21-year-old was drafted to be an “impact” player for the Sens but, through his rookie and sophomore campaigns, played in more of a complimentary role, scoring just six goals per season while averaging 12:54 and 13:52 TOI per game.

So far, the plan of growing Lazar’s presence and role in Bingo seems to be working. He has two goals through four games, and scored the game-winner against Utica earlier this week.