How Deep Down the Depth Chart does John Tortorella Go?

Blake Murphy
August 12 2013 11:03AM


Image via Sporting News

New Vancouver Canucks coach John Tortorella has a reputation for coaching a physical style, specifically one that involves a lot of shot blocking. During the team's summer summit a few weeks ago, he let his thoughts on the matter be known: 

"We talk about shot blocking a lot. I think it's part of good defense, and trying to get the puck back. We saw it happen in New York - I think the whole team takes on the mindset of trying to be a harder team to play against. That's the proper way to play."

One would think if that were the case, Tortorella’s teams would often go deeper on the depth chart than an average team. After all, shot blocking can take a physical toll, as can playing a more physical brand of hockey. A large number of players used could also indicate a coach with a short leash and little patience for mistakes.

Read on for more about Tortorella's usage of depth players.

Well, as it turns out, our assumption is correct: Tortorella’s teams have tended to need more bodies than an average team. Since 2005-06, NHL teams have generally used about 29 players per season (including goalies), or roughly six extra players beyond the opening day roster. Tortorella’s teams, however, have gone about four players deeper than that in the same period.

That might raise an alarm for some considering the Canucks have just 20 roster players at present. They do, however, have $4.3M in cap space remaining to fill their final three spots (one of which almost certainly belongs to RFA Chris Tanev), plus a decent crop of prospects ready to fill in, as Canucks Army has been highlighting this week.

This is nothing new for the Canucks, though. Over that same time frame, one of the few teams who have used more players than Tortorella's teams have been the Vancouver Canucks, themselves.

The Canucks have relied on depth quite a bit more than the average NHL club, using a shade fewer than 35 players per season, six more than the average (or 20% more).

Season Tortorella Canucks NHL Average
2005-2006 30 37 29
2006-2007 28 34 28.6
2007-2008 35 36 28.4
2008-2009 Didn't Coach 32 29.5
2009-2010 35 32 29.3
2010-2011 35 39 29.7
2011-2012 32 35 29.8
2012-2013 35 33 28
Average 32.9 34.8 29

So while the concern that Tortorella goes deep in the system is a fair one, it’s not at all something that’s new or will appear different to the Canuck faithful. Alain Vigneault, and perhaps the organization as a whole, believed in leveraging depth before and that seems likely to continue.

And even though the Canucks don’t have one of the top minor league systems in hockey, they have some young talent that appear ready to help. In addition, while their depth on the blueline isn’t strong, they do have a fair number of forwards ready to contribute in the bottom six.

It seems, then, that after the Tanev signing the best use of the remaining cap space would be on an additional depth defenseman. Last season, Tortorella used 10 defensemen with the Rangers (with the Canucks utilizing 10 as well). In the last full season, the Canucks used 10 while the Rangers used 12. 10-12, then, seems like the proper number of defensemen to expect to be needed in 2013-14.

Beyond the top seven currently on the roster (or RFA), it’s difficult to pick the next three to five the team would call upon. That’s a concern, sure, but one that it’s not too late to alleviate.

Forward depth is of less concern, even if in some seasons Tortorella’s Rangers and the Canucks have gone as deep as 23. That’s basically double the current crop of forwards signed, which seems crazy but is apparently a fairly regular thing. Last year, the Canucks used 21 in a shortened season. Going down the organizational depth chart, it’s a lot easier to make a case for a handful of forwards to get the call than it is defensemen. There’s also a potential 13th forward still to be added, though that might also be an internal battle.

Between the pipes, three goalies seems a safe bet. So if nobody is brought in to back up Roberto Luongo, Eddie Lack and Joacim Eriksson (and perhaps Joe Cannata) all need to be at the ready.

After exploring the recent trends shown by John Tortorella and the Vancouver Canucks, it doesn’t appear the organization is in for much of a change in terms of depth usage. The new coach and old guard rely on an above-average amount of roster players throughout the year, and it’s something that won’t be new to Canuck fans.

It is likely, however, that it will be just as frustrating as it would be for any team in any season if you see a third line AHLer at the start of the season suiting up for the big club on the regular.

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Blake is a news editor at The Score and also writes basketball for Raptors Republic and baseball at Fangraphs/Rotographs. As such, he doesn't write at TLN nearly as much as he should. Give him a follow @BlakeMurphyODC.
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#1 J21
August 12 2013, 11:29AM
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The Canucks "being used to it", far from cause for calm, makes it much graver. If Torts wears through that much human capital playing in one of the easiest travel schedules in hockey, it stands to reason that -- all else being equal -- it could be exponentially worse if he does the same with a team that already routinely gets down to its 27th defense pairing.

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#2 NM00
August 12 2013, 12:17PM
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@J21

I have to agree with this.

A team that historically uses a lot of players (possibly because of travel) adds a coach that historically uses a lot of players (possibly because of his preferred style of play/shot blocking).

That's a recipe for burning through the depth chart simply to get through the regular season.

And how many useful depth players will there be on the farm?

Assuming a 13th forward and 7th defenseman is found via free agency/training camp battle.

There would be Jensen as a 14th forward and Corrado as an 8th defenseman if neither makes the team.

Then what?

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#3 Sean
August 12 2013, 03:25PM
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Actually, Vigneault's system is very taxing on players, particularly defensemen. If you watch how he orchestrates his breakouts the defense are never supported well and always have to 'take a hit to make a play'. hopefully we'll see better forward support to the D and less D injuries, which might balance out with more injuries to forwards, but C'est la vie.

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#4 Wesley
August 12 2013, 04:44PM
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@J21

"Tough" travel schedules are a myth and I've done research on it. (http://hockeymetrics.net/home-ice-advantage-continued-effect-of-biased-refs-and-travel-miles/)

@Blake

It's a interesting idea but your method is flawed. Teams have different reasons than just injuries to bring up players. Prime example would be Jensen from this year. A better method might be to find the correlation between recorder bias adjusted blocked shots and number of injuries across the league. Even better would be to not include injuries that have been disclosed as non-blocked shot related. eg. concussions

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#5 Mantastic
August 12 2013, 05:04PM
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@Wesley

you can get a concussion from blocking a shot with your face.

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#6 Wesley
August 12 2013, 05:30PM
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Mantastic wrote:

you can get a concussion from blocking a shot with your face.

Obviously thats not what I meant. I meant to rule out injuries not caused by a blocked shot.

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#7 JFR
August 12 2013, 07:25PM
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Injuries are a part of the game, and the Canucks have had their share the last couple of years. While I do have a concerns about the idea of shot blocking as a defensive weapon, both Kessler and D Sedin broke a foot just having a shot ricochet off their skate. Neither was really blocking a shot. It's a testy practice because some goalies don't like the deflections it can cause. I like the idea of the team being tougher to play against, but you can't fit a square peg in a round hole. Hopefully Kassian can come to camp ready to go which will make the Sedin line a lot tougher to play against, will be an interesting year for sure.

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#8 antro
August 13 2013, 08:51AM
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Yeah, I have to agree with Wesley here. I'm having a hard time buying that there's something special about Vigneault's or Tortorella's systems that cause higher rates of injuries. That would take a lot of careful analysis to prove, and probably a larger sample. I'm more inclined to go with Rob Vollman's listing of injuries as "luck". I wonder also if there isn't a correlation between a greater number of older players and higher man-games lost.

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#9 Nazzy Moruzzi
August 15 2013, 04:06AM
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@NM00

I also agree and I think there is some solid evidence to support this theory. Check out blocked shot totals and hit totals for Tortorella's teams and Canuck teams since the 04/05 lockout for some evidence that supports your view or read my new blog post. http://vancouvercanblogger.blogspot.ca/2013/08/how-many-players-is-torts-gonna-use.html Torts likes his teams to play a physical style and the Canucks have shown to be prone to injury even when playing a less physical style. I hope we don't see an uptick in injuries but I think we will.

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