Top Shelf: Tort's Canucks still a work in progress

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Updated: 11/29/2013 1:15 pm

Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - When John Tortorella makes his return to Madison Square Garden on Saturday afternoon, don't expect the notoriously hard-nosed coach to get nostalgic about the homecoming.

In fact, if it was up to Tortorella everybody would treat Saturday's contest as just another game.

After all, the current Vancouver Canucks and former New York Rangers head coach has always taken an all-business approach to his job. There simply isn't time to get wistful or sentimental about a game that still only represents one of 82 challenges facing his team this season.

Although it may be just another game to Tortorella, Saturday's game against the Rangers is a highly anticipated affair. Ever since the Canucks and Rangers effectively swapped head coaches over the summer, with Alain Vigneault going from the Canucks to the Rangers, these two franchise's have been inextricably linked.

It's an intriguing storyline to be sure. There is something compelling about the fiery Tortorella leaving the hustle and bustle of NYC behind for the laid- back beauty of Vancouver, while a cool customer like Vigneault attempts to be the calm at the center of the storm in Manhattan.

Tortorella and Vigneault wound up trading places after running out of time with their former clubs. Both guys had no small amount of success in their previous jobs, but disappointing outcomes to last year's lockout-shortened campaign marked the end of the road for Tortorella in the Big Apple, and the same for Vigneault in British Columbia.

Vigneault was fired by the Canucks on May 22 after his team lost in the opening round of the playoffs for the second straight spring. A week later, Tortorella was axed by the Rangers after he failed to get New York out of its second-round series against the Boston Bruins.

In both places, the expectations became too high for either guy to live up to. Tortorella led the Tampa Bay Lightning to a Stanley Cup title in 2004, and was expected to do the same in New York. When he couldn't achieve that feat in his four-plus seasons with the Rangers, it was time for him to go.

In Vancouver, Torts is tasked with getting the Canucks franchise its elusive first Stanley Cup title. Vigneault spent the last several seasons knocking on that door, and came so very close to leading the Canucks to the promised land in the spring of 2011, when Vancouver lost a home Game 7 against Boston to remain Cup-less.

So, both coaches entered this season with the expectations considerably raised, and the only thing that could satisfy either team's fan bases would be ownership of a certain silver chalice.

Presently, neither team is looking like a world-beater, but Stanley Cup titles aren't won in November, something that Tortorella knows all too well. If the season ended today, the Canucks wouldn't make the playoffs, but there is time to get the club where it needs to be.

That doesn't mean Torts is happy with his team's mediocre 4-4-4 record this month or the club's 13-9-5 mark this season, but he's a firm believer in not letting his troops get too high or too low. If things were different and Vancouver was at the top of the NHL standings right now, Tortorella still likely wouldn't be satisfied.

To Tortorella, there is always room for improvement and being satisfied with your latest effort is a sure-fire way to wind up being left behind the pack.

In his first two months behind the bench in Vancouver, Tortorella has seen his new club go through peaks and valleys, although in recent weeks the Canucks have seen more valleys than mountain tops. Less experienced head coaches would be frustrated at this point, but Tortorella has the bigger picture in mind. The same wide perspective will keep him from getting caught up in the emotional aspects of his own personal return to New York City.

After all, the fact that he used to coach the Rangers doesn't make Saturday's game more important. To Tortorella, it's still worth two points just like the rest of them. Just like every other game it offers a chance to get better and, like always, that's what Tortorella will be focused on Saturday afternoon.

After a recent loss, Tortorella's summed up his coaching philosophy in a near perfect way when he said, "I'll keep building the team. There's lots of hockey left."

Saturday's showdown will be interesting to hockey fans for many reasons, but to the Canucks head coach it'll just be another opportunity for improvement.

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