by PuckStopsHere on 09/02/13 at 12:33 PM ET
One of the interesting things to watch this season will be the Vancouver Canucks and New York Rangers since they exchanged coaches. In 2013 Alain Vigneault coached the Vancouver Canucks and John Tortorella coached the New York Rangers. In 2013/14, Vigneault will coach the Rangers and Tortorella will coach the Canucks. In principle it is a great way to evaluate these coaches relative to one another. In practice things will not be so simple because there will be other changes in personnel, injuries etc. that muddy the comparison, but it will still be interesting.
We can look at these moves from the point of view of zone starts. I recently published the top 20 players by excess offensive zone starts in 2013 and it is clear that two teams are more heavily represented on the list and they are the Canucks and Rangers. From the Canucks, Daniel and Henrik Sedin are first and second on the list and their usual linemate Alexandre Burrows is seventh. From the Rangers, traded Marian Gaborik is second, Brad Richards is sixth, Rick Nash is 12th and Michael Del Zotto is 17th. We can see that both teams employ the strategy of giving their top offensive players as many excess offensive zone starts as possible. It was probably a more common thing in Vancouver because the Sedins had a better season than Gaborik, Richards et al did with the Rangers.
We can see that both teams' coaches put in a lot of effort to make sure that their best offensive players had as much of an offensive role as possible. This is a strategy that both franchises like and one they did not want to change. That is why exchanging coaches makes sense.
This does not mean that there is not difference between Tortorella and Vigneault. Their main difference is psychological. Tortorella is more intense and is more "in your face" as he makes demands on his players. Vigneault is more nurturing in that he gives the appearance that the players are in more control over things. That is what is exchanged between these teams.
I don't think one approach is better or worse than the other. There are many ways to be successful as an NHL coach. One thing we do know is that after a coaching change most teams see a short term improvement in the standings. This doesn't mean that the new coach is better than the old coach. It means that there is uncertainty where players stand under the new coach and they have a shortterm motivation to secure their role on the team by impressing him. Sometimes this short term gain can be lost in the longer term if the new coach is not as strong tactically as the old coach and that is a risk with making willnilly coaching replacements. In this case we have two coaches who are quite similar tactically - at least they were in 2013 - so that is a risk that is less likely to exist for Vancouver and the Rangers.
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