by PuckStopsHere on 12/12/13 at 01:18 AM ET
One of the more interesting moves over the summer was when the New York Rangers and Vancouver Canucks effectively traded coaches. Both teams got rid of their old coach - Alain Vigneault in Vancouver and John Tortorella with the Rangers. They then hired each other's former coach. It was largely seen as a lateral move in terms of coaching tactics and both coaches tended to select their forwards based upon the zone in which the shift starts. The Rangers and Canucks are the teams that most dominate the lists of top offensive and defensive zone starters in the 2013 season. The main difference was a stylistic one. Tortorella is more intense and drives his players harder. Vigneault is more of a player's coach who gives his star players more room to be creative. The biggest reason for the coaching changes was probably just a chance to reset expectations and give players a bit of a jolt in hopes of improving their fortunes.
There is one clear difference in their tactics that is playing out this season. Tortorella maximizes the playing time of his top forwards on a level that no other coach does. The top three forwards in terms of ice time this season are all Canucks. Ryan Kesler, Henrik Sedin and Daniel Sedin are the top three and they are clearly the Canucks star forwards. Tortorella tries to maximize their playing time. The top Ranger, by comparison, is Brad Richards who is 29th in ice time among forwards. Alain Vigneault clearly does not use the same strategy.
Last season, the strategy was not so clear. The New York Rangers did have the same star players to maximize their ice time. Nevertheless Derek Stepan was 6th in the league and Ryan Callahan was 12th. The Vancouver leader was Henrik Sedin who finished in 29th spot. Vigneault clearly did not use this strategy and Tortorella did not use it on the same level because he didn't have the same level of star players to maximize their ice time.
I am always on the lookout for coaches who have significant systematic differences in their strategy. John Tortorella clearly is an example of this. He plays his top forwards more than any other team does. His top three forwards lead all NHL forwards in ice time. I think this is a good strategy. There are several defencemen who play more ice time than any forwards. 24 defencemen have more playing time than Ryan Kesler. If they can handle it, so can these forwards. I think this strategy maximizes the Vancouver Canucks success. It is one of the "little differences" that is often overlooked that can make a difference in the standings.
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