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Vigneault’s Unique Strategy

It takes a good coach to be able to find a new strategy that nobody else has ever used that is a successful strategy that helps your team win.  Alain Vigneault, the coach of the Vancouver Canucks, has developed one such strategy over the last couple of years.  While many coaches match lines with the opposition, Vigneault does not do that.  Vigneault matches lines to the position of the puck on the ice.  Whenever a shift starts in the offensive zone, Vigneault will get his top offensive forward line on the ice as much as possible.  This is the line of Daniel and Henrik Sedin and Alexandre Burrows.  Whenever a shift starts in the defensive zone, Vigneault will get his top defensive forward line on the ice as much as possible.  This is the line of Manny Malhotra, Maxim Lapierre and Dale Wiese.  In fact if you look at the NHL players sorted by zone start percentage, you find that these are the top three and bottom three players in the league.

Vigneault first tried this strategy, albeit on a lesser level, in the 2009/10 season.  Henrik Sedin led the NHL in scoring given his extra offensive zone starts.  Not seeing how his offensive success was in part due to his usage, the NHL voters gave Sedin the Hart Trophy.  This had worked, so Vigneault increased the Sedins offensive usage.  He used Manny Malhotra in an extremely defensive role.  He was intelligent enough not to use Ryan Kesler in an extremely defensive role because Kesler has offensive ability that you do not want to sacrifice.  This worked extremely well.  Vancouver won the Presidents Trophy by a significant margin.

This season, the zone specific usage has been increased to an even bigger level.  This maximizes the Sedins offensive ability.  As long as the Canucks have a strong defensive line, it does not sacrifice defense in the process.  No other coach does this on the level that Alain Vigneault does.

Alain Vigneault is a strong innovative coach.  His innovations are working.  In order to understand a Vancouver Canucks game, you must understand his strategy.  This is a sign of a good coach.  There are a few other very good coaches in the NHL as well.  This innovation is notable and while it puts him in the coach of the year race, it does not give him the lead.  The Canucks are lucky to have as strong coaching as they do.

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Faux Rumors's avatar

Never have been a big fan of coaches trying to “match lines” especially difficult when one is on the road so this strategy makes more sense and appears to be working.  Also helps if you have the personnel to impliment it

Posted by Faux Rumors from Globally- Here, there, Everywhere on 02/10/12 at 03:17 PM ET

Nathan's avatar

I’m sorry, I don’t think this is innovative or unique in any way. Lots of coaches have employed strategies like this before Vigneault. I think the issue is more of data collection than anything.

We have the data about zone starts that certainly indicates in the years Vigneault has been an NHL coach he is the biggest employer of the strategy. But historically, just off the top of my head, I can think of Scotty Bowman using this strategy at times when Kris Draper was at his peak defensively, or when Steve Yzerman was perennially at the top of the league in face off percentage. And I would gather fans of many other teams could probably find the same anecdotes.

I know full well that anecdotes don’t define a true correlation, but the point here is that relative the history of the league, the tracking of zone starts is such a small sample size that I think you are giving Vigneault way too much credit given that we can see historical anecdotes of other coaches clearly using the same ideas.

Posted by Nathan from the scoresheet! on 02/10/12 at 03:25 PM ET

wolverine's avatar

Calling this “unique” is certainly a stretch.  Al Arbour did it with the Islanders over 30 years ago.  A face-off in the opponents end, there goes Bossy, Trottier, and Gilles.  Some coaches take defensive faceoffs to an extreme and make sure they have 2 centers on the ice for a draw in their own end, just in case one gets tossed.  Nothing new here, move along.

Posted by wolverine on 02/10/12 at 05:50 PM ET

PuckStopsHere's avatar

It is certainly unique in the NHL today.  Using this strategy on this level is likely unique in NHL history (we don’t have data to clearly show this). 

Teams have long had a given centre they want for defensive faceoffs at key points in the game.  The idea that Henrik Sedin (or any other player) gets 78% of his non-neutral zone starts in the offensive zone or that Manny Malhotra only has 12% of his zone starts in the defensive zone is unique.  No ther team has done it on this level.

Posted by PuckStopsHere on 02/10/12 at 05:56 PM ET

wolverine's avatar

The idea that Henrik Sedin (or any other player) gets 78% of his non-neutral zone starts in the offensive zone or that Manny Malhotra only has 12% of his zone starts in the defensive zone is unique.
Posted by PuckStopsHere on 02/10/12 at 03:56 PM ET

I think you meant to say Malhotra only has 12% of his zone starts in the OFFENSIVE zone.  I watch coaches put out their # line a lot in the offensive zone, and if they have just been double shifted, they will change on the fly as the puck comes back into their own end.  They are more like baseball managers now and are playing the odds.  Why not give your goal scorers the puck in the offensive zone.  I think you are right about Vigneault, I just think a lot of other coaches use this strategy as well.

Posted by wolverine on 02/10/12 at 06:22 PM ET

wolverine's avatar

Meant “their # 1 line” from above.

Posted by wolverine on 02/10/12 at 06:23 PM ET


Not a new concept. Paul MacLean and staff in Ottawa do same thing with Zenon Konopka in the defensive zone, Spezza in the offensive zone.

Posted by jim from Ottawa on 02/11/12 at 02:11 AM ET

PuckStopsHere's avatar


Ottawa does not do it on a level similar to the Canucks.  No team ever has.

Posted by PuckStopsHere on 02/11/12 at 02:18 AM ET


I agree that the sample is small, but we can be sure no coach since 07-08 has done it to the extent Vigneault does. Quenneville has a little, but Bolland is still above 30% and Toews under 70%.

I think these things become more aggressive done in the playoffs.

Posted by Ralph on 02/11/12 at 06:54 PM ET

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imageThe Puck Stops Here was founded during the 2004/05 lockout as a place to rant about hockey. The original site contains over 1000 posts, some of which were also published on FoxSports.com.

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