Vigneault, Tortorella, and beyond

Cam Charron
June 06 2014 09:00AM

You have no idea how big a part of me is rooting for the New York Rangers in the Stanley Cup Finals, in part just to stick it to the commenters* who told me and the rest of the Canucks Army crew for the last couple of years that Vigneault was a coach that couldn't win in the playoffs. I'd say that the Rangers are currently playing with house money. They're a heavy underdog in the finals, and though they blew a 2-0 lead in the first game of the finals, were still able to take the game to overtime on the road, which is no small feat.

Given Vigneault's reliance on a third-line centre in the Vancouver Canucks organization, it was a pretty good guess that Brian Boyle would see his usage increase with AV in New York. Boyle, though, declined in ice-time from 14:13 to 12:46 this most recent season. Which is kind of interesting, so I thought it might be fun to look at how usage changed for Rangers and Canucks players over the last two years. Sort of moot, since the Canucks no longer employ either coach, but hey, it's June, and the draft is still a ways away.

NEW YORK RANGERS 2014 USAGE CHART

Chart Rangers 2014

NEW YORK RANGERS 2013 USAGE CHART

Chart Rangers 2013

The thing that sticks out to me the most is how much Tortorella spaced out the ice-time compared to Vigneault. While Torts' regular roster included lightly-used Jeff Halpern, Arron Asham and Darroll Powe (if you don't spell your first name correctly, you don't get more than five minutes a game, apparently) the Vigneault Rangers used their checkers like Dominic Moore, Derek Dorsett, Benoit Pouliot, Mats Zuccarello and Derick Brassard a lot more evenly. Remember that the size of the circle indicates time on ice.

Which brings us to the second point: almost every Ranger is "in the blue", or a positive possession player, and many of them are on the right side of the zone start ledger. Only three regular forwards saw a zone start rate of under 50%. That was Boyle, Moore and Dorsett, swimming in much deeper water than they did with Torts a year ago.

So what can we glean from this? Is it that a focus on skill and balance at the top of the lineup is conducive to being a positive puck possession team? It's interesting, but I have a theory below. The Rangers leapt from 9th to 6th in Corsi Close this past season, improving by less than one percent, while the Canucks dipped slightly from 8th to 9th, also less than one percent. It's a small difference, but it looks like Vigneault's players are all starting on the right side of the ice.

VANCOUVER CANUCKS 2014 USAGE CHART

Chart Canucks 2014

VANCOUVER CANUCKS 2013 USAGE CHART

Chart Canucks 2013

The charts don't look entirely different, what with all that deep blue huddled in the top right corner, but there are many more small circles, particularly in the lower left of the graph, for the most recent season. Zac Dalpe and Tom Sestito joined Dale Weise in being very sparingly-used.

Funny, though, that despite there being a little bit more blue on Torts' chart, the Vigneault-era Canucks were better at starting faceoffs in the offensive zone as opposed to the defensive. 2013 Vancouver had six players north of 50%, while only the Sedins and Alex Burrows enjoyed the easy sailing under Torts.

That's something to focus on, really.

ICINGS

Extra Skater published a "team icings" thing a little while back, and I couldn't help but notice some quality possession teams were at the top of the list, like Los Angeles, Tampa Bay, and Boston. There was a bit of overlap with poor Corsi teams as well, such as Washington and Winnipeg, but overall it looked like a good representation of team quality.

Anyway, there was an r-squared of 0.22 between "icings drawn %" and "Corsi %" in the NHL this past year. The Vancouver Canucks had the largest difference between its icings drawn % of 43.5%, and it's Corsi % of 51.4%. Vigneault's Rangers, meanwhile, were north in both numbers.

Is there a way to tell whether a team is holding the puck in the opposition's zone without actually taking shots? Corsi is an approximation of puck possession, but it only counts attempts at the net, and not seconds in the zone. It's possible that some teams could be out-possessing their Corsi, out out-Corsi'ing their possession. Icings might be an indicator, and I sort of wanted to throw that out there.

Doing a bit more digging around, I found that Jason Garrison, a frequent whipping boy here at Canucks Army, was +9 in icings a year ago and -28 this past season. Chris Higgins had an even bigger gap, going from +11 to a team-low -48. Work on things like icings and penalties drawn is still fairly new, but it was interesting to see those numbers since Garrison, by any account, struggled this past season despite being a pretty good hockey player in previous campaigns and his late breakout year in 2012.

Garrison's a bit of a mystery, and it's still a wonder to what extent the performance of individual Canucks was affected by such a radical shift from a progressive to a conservative system. Vigneault's Rangers have been more reliant on the speed and skill of the secondary players than the raw star ability of guys at the top under Torts. It's an easy narrative to tie in, but there's an element of truth to it.

I don't really have an opinion on who the Canucks "should" go after. I think they have a fine coach employed in Glen Gulutzan, and as long as he's committed to not dressing Tom Sestito at all and not treating the third line like a glorified fourth line, he'd probably get much better results than Torts.

That seems, to me, the major stylistic difference between the two, but I don't want this post to have a definite conclusion. The ideas in this post were borne out of curiosity and the thing about playing around with data like Corsi and icings and penalties and what have you is that it allows you to ask better questions, even if you don't have the answers.

So the question I have now is, why, over the last two years, have Vigneault's players all enjoyed much easier ice-time than Tortorella's, despite a modest change in overall possession numbers?

* - how petty

Icings and possession data via ExtraSkater

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Cam Charron is a BC hockey fan that writes about hockey on many different websites including this one.
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#1 Warpstone
June 06 2014, 02:35PM
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It's not just commenters, but rather the entire sports writing cadre at The Province who should be blushing at how AV has found immediate success in New York.

The fans were upset with AV but geniuses* like Gallagher, Botchford and even Chapman (their editor) were leading the charge to get boring old AV out of dodge. Ironically, Torts probably didn't sell as many papers as expected and no doubt the media were desperate to cover a team with more style and interesting play than this year's Canucks.

On a related note: is this playoff season about as damning to Tort's recent legacy as it could get?

1. Canucks fallout of the playoffs brutally. 2. Torts' former dohgouse fave Gaborik finds a home in LA and is a huge piece of solving the scoring puzzle in LA. 3. AV takes Torts' team, reformats it and demonstrates the biggest ceiling in NY for the last few years was likely Torts himself.

Ouch. Has another coach ever found himself reaping so much of what he sowed in one fell swoop like this?

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#2 BuffaloBillsOfHockey
June 06 2014, 04:02PM
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@andyg

I agree. Kass and Kes are examples of high skill players that also happen to possess size and strength. They're good players. Everyone wants more players like them.

But using Top Sixtito as an example isn't weak at all. Quite the contrary. He's a very strong example of what you end up with when your management group targets size exclusively, falsely believing it a necessary trait to win. He's not even good at face punching (his hockeyfights.com record is absolutely laughable), a major reason he was brought on board in the first place.

As an NHL player, you can have all the speed, size, strength, etc. that there is, but without a certain amount of skill, you're not going to have a very productive career.

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#3 Goon
June 06 2014, 02:56PM
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Warpstone, to be fair to Torts, he took the Rangers to the Eastern Conference Finals and coached Gaborik to two 40-goal seasons.

Torts is clearly at least a *competent* coach - the issues in Vancouver seemed to be more related to indifference and a poor fit with the organization than to outright incompetence.

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#4 BuffaloBillsOfHockey
June 06 2014, 12:12PM
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@NM00

Well...I wouldn't say that if the LA Kings were to win the Cup it would be entirely meaningless.

What it would likely mean is the uneducated masses would take this as further proof that size = winning at hockey, while completely ignoring the numbers and the fact that the Kings are simply a really good club that have lots of really good players. Kind of like if I were to get in my car, drive around for about an hour, then park and declare that I didn't crash or violate any traffic laws, therefore I am now the greatest driver ever. And because I happen to be over six feet tall, that being big = being a great driver.

Hey, I didn't say that it would be a good or intelligent meaning, did I?

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#6 Goon
June 06 2014, 10:35AM
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Regarding AV's Canucks getting many more offensive starts than Torts' Canucks, could this be related to AV having his team carry the puck into the offensive zone much more, while Torts relied more on dump-and-chace? It seems to me if you carry the puck into the offensive zone and get a shot on goal, you can force the goalie to cover the puck and you get an offensive zone faceoff. If you dump the puck in, you're less likely to get that shot on goal and generate that offensive zone start.

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#7 BuffaloBillsOfHockey
June 06 2014, 01:47PM
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@andyg

Don't get me wrong; I have nothing against size. Size and strength are important in that they can facilitate the all-important skill factor.

Because as any Canucks fan who watched last season play out in its entirety can tell you, size - skill = Tom Sestito.

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#8 #FireLinden
June 06 2014, 03:46PM
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@Goon

AV will not win the cup, barring an unforeseen universal disaster.

That being said Torts was just a new mechanic brought in to fix an unrepairable Ford. It wasn't his fault the Ford was worse when he came and tanked before it got out of the drive way.

And look at how long it took to get rid of Gillis. And he was just the captain of the rotten crew. Ding ding ding, the crew is still here!

Now observe how long it will be too get rid of this crew and Linden. Can anyone say 60 years and no cup?

The Canucks new mascot should be Captain Obvious. - The Stanley Cup... we don't need it right now.

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#9 Bored
June 07 2014, 02:46AM
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I don't know how Canadians can watch so much of the same boring hockey year in year out. The playoffs this year is like last years, the same type teams playing the same old way, with the same old calls with the same old goals.

The game has gotten to a saturation point. another 50 years of hockey will bring the same results. All the major pro sports in N. America are in the same boat. You can make so many cameras but how many people need a new camera year in and year out?

Basketball, golf, football and the dull as hell 5 hour baseball game. People used to go out and enjoy art, culture, now they sit at the park with their fat asses munching on a weiner made of road kill for five hours while watching fat over paid millionaires scratch their asses on the baseball field. And then there's hockey. He shoots, he scores..yawn. seen that a million times.

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#10 NM00
June 06 2014, 12:38PM
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@BuffaloBillsOfHockey

I meant more in terms of the magical powers (some/many) fans attribute to coaches and the after the fact narrative that will follow AV whether or not his (inferior) roster wins the cup.

Although I'd be mildly amused if AV wins and some/many fans blame the lower mainland axis of mediocrity as the reason he couldn't win a cup in Vancouver...

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#11 andyg
June 06 2014, 07:32PM
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BuffaloBillsOfHockey wrote:

I agree. Kass and Kes are examples of high skill players that also happen to possess size and strength. They're good players. Everyone wants more players like them.

But using Top Sixtito as an example isn't weak at all. Quite the contrary. He's a very strong example of what you end up with when your management group targets size exclusively, falsely believing it a necessary trait to win. He's not even good at face punching (his hockeyfights.com record is absolutely laughable), a major reason he was brought on board in the first place.

As an NHL player, you can have all the speed, size, strength, etc. that there is, but without a certain amount of skill, you're not going to have a very productive career.

I think it is a weak example because he was picked up on the waver wire. No loss there.

We can both come up with lots of examples of players who were dud's.

So lets just say skill first, but a combination of size and skill would be preferred.

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#12 Suncap
June 07 2014, 02:27AM
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@BuffaloBillsOfHockey

It's fine if the baby peed in the bath tub when hes a few years old...but a 44 year old baby? Come on. time to get a new kid cause after 44 years the old man aint gonna stop peeing in his bath tub tomorrow.

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#13 Mantastic
June 06 2014, 09:37AM
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the thing with icing this season is that it has gone up %wise due to the hybrid icing rules. did you take that into affect? as i assume that this seasons differential in icing would be exaggerated.

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#14 NM00
June 06 2014, 11:19AM
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"You have no idea how big a part of me is rooting for the New York Rangers in the Stanley Cup Finals, in part just to stick it to the commenters* who told me and the rest of the Canucks Army crew for the last couple of years that Vigneault was a coach that couldn't win in the playoffs."

It's meaningless whether or not the Rangers win.

Just as it will be meaningless if the Kings win and a bunch of people will inevitably say "I told you AV can't win in the playoffs!"

More important to examine, though, is why delusional fans actually believed that swapping Torts for AV would improve the team with the same aging core (sans Schneider) coming back for another go.

Pat yourself on the back for being smarter than that...

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#15 BuffaloBillsOfHockey
June 06 2014, 12:42PM
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@NM00

Agreed.

Coaching is highly overrated. But it does count for something. Should AV receive some credit if the Rangers were to win the Cup? Personally I'd say so.

Just like if the Kings win the Cup they should be congratulated on winning it in spite of Sutter.

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#16 BuffaloBillsOfHockey
June 06 2014, 07:52PM
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@andyg

Agreed.

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#17 Suncap
June 06 2014, 11:29PM
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@BuffaloBillsOfHockey

It's always over rated when another team wins.

We shouldn't congratulate the Kings on the cup, we should congratulate the ground hog.

Because the ground hog is truly under rated in hockey.

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#18 BuffaloBillsOfHockey
June 07 2014, 01:00AM
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@Suncap

Well, let's not throw the baby out with the bathwater, either. If luck was the majority factor in winning the Stanley Cup, we wouldn't have the Playoffs. Heck, we certainly wouldn't bother with an 82 game regular season either, now, would we? Instead, an entire NHL "season" would consist of spinning the wheel of Stanley and the one team the needle came to rest on would be crowned champions. Ironically, with 44 spins it would also be mathematically likely the Canucks would have a Cup by now...

Anyway, the point is that recent repeat championships in the span of a few years by the Red Wings and Blackhawks as well as recurring themes with all recent Cup winning teams (four serviceable lines, a Selke-caliber two-way center, etc.) strongly indicate definite patterns.

Patterns indicate structure, not chaos (with the one obvious caveat being a pattern of chaos).

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#19 Jamie E
June 07 2014, 09:23AM
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Bored wrote:

I don't know how Canadians can watch so much of the same boring hockey year in year out. The playoffs this year is like last years, the same type teams playing the same old way, with the same old calls with the same old goals.

The game has gotten to a saturation point. another 50 years of hockey will bring the same results. All the major pro sports in N. America are in the same boat. You can make so many cameras but how many people need a new camera year in and year out?

Basketball, golf, football and the dull as hell 5 hour baseball game. People used to go out and enjoy art, culture, now they sit at the park with their fat asses munching on a weiner made of road kill for five hours while watching fat over paid millionaires scratch their asses on the baseball field. And then there's hockey. He shoots, he scores..yawn. seen that a million times.

How very existential of you. Thanks for sharing.

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#20 #FireLinden
June 06 2014, 03:37PM
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@Warpstone

Because Vancouver Canucks, fans, media darling all HATE WINNERS. Always have, always will.

Trevor Vanilla will teach himself a lesson when he fails miserably.

Then after that its back to promoting the thigh master with the Sedins.

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#21 andyg
June 06 2014, 03:49PM
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BuffaloBillsOfHockey wrote:

Don't get me wrong; I have nothing against size. Size and strength are important in that they can facilitate the all-important skill factor.

Because as any Canucks fan who watched last season play out in its entirety can tell you, size - skill = Tom Sestito.

Next time watch Zack and Kess. Those are the type of players that I want.

Using Tom as an example is weak.

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#22 PB
June 07 2014, 11:17AM
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@Bored

It must be even more wrenching to have to seek out blogs written about those same professional sports you see as destroying our culture to comment upon. What a good use of your time and ours.

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#23 PBS
June 07 2014, 02:58PM
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@PB

The dude said hockey was boring. And he has a point. Is there a goal you will see in a hockey game tomorrow that you haven't seen before? Is there a basket ball point you'll see tomorrow that's any different from the one you saw, a million times ago? The player jumps and put the ball into the net...how new. the player passes, he shoots and scores...how new.

Sports doesn't destroy culture so much as it bores it to death. I'm sure it's not the same old thing in Spain to watch a guy spear a bull to death tonight...again. Maybe in a hundred years you will see a new goal in hockey. I'm sure the Canucks would have a cup by then...not.

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#24 BuffaloBillsOfHockey
June 07 2014, 03:04PM
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Not to mention all the highly original trolling that results from it that goes on on this site...not.

*Yawn* I tire of this troll. Fetch me a new one.

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#25 andyg
June 06 2014, 01:31PM
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BuffaloBillsOfHockey wrote:

Well...I wouldn't say that if the LA Kings were to win the Cup it would be entirely meaningless.

What it would likely mean is the uneducated masses would take this as further proof that size = winning at hockey, while completely ignoring the numbers and the fact that the Kings are simply a really good club that have lots of really good players. Kind of like if I were to get in my car, drive around for about an hour, then park and declare that I didn't crash or violate any traffic laws, therefore I am now the greatest driver ever. And because I happen to be over six feet tall, that being big = being a great driver.

Hey, I didn't say that it would be a good or intelligent meaning, did I?

Please don't put hockey and driving into the same thought. In any physical sport size and strength are very important. If there is a player who has size and skill I will take him ever time.

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#26 BP
June 07 2014, 12:55PM
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Oh lighten up PB that was hilarious.

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#27 HPC
June 08 2014, 12:41AM
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@BuffaloBillsOfHockey

"Ironically, with 44 spins it would also be mathematically likely the Canucks would have a Cup by now..."

errr...right. Where do you get your math skills from? If that is the case than why haven't the Canuck won a cup yet?

You see, what you fail to realize is that in sports, in any true competitive sports, from shooting marbles to pro sports is that winning comes from competing, not sitting there and waiting for someone to spin some wheel.

this is competitive sports we are talking about, not a casino game where you sit around and wait for someone to spin you a cup.

Winning? Competing? NO...HATE WINNING! HATE COMPETING! JUST SPIN THE WHEEL PLEASE AND GIVE US THE CU! Oh wait, it's not as easy as spinning a wheel. how to spin the spin of the Canucks spin. you really should work for the US government. They love BS. LOL

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#28 BuffaloBillsOfHockey
June 08 2014, 01:15AM
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@HPC

Dear troll,

Please type me another essay full of "facts" you made up, as wasting your time (though a person who is useless to the rest of humanity's time is impossible to waste) pleases me.

Also, aside from all the aliases you made up and simultaneously post under, the rest of us who post here on Canucks Army are secret shill agents of the US government...and we ARE out to get you.

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#29 PB
June 08 2014, 06:42AM
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@PBS

I don't know what's cuter, all your inane trolling, the fact that you make up aliases to post supporting comments in exactly the same style and diction, or the general conspiracy theories you subscribe to. Or perhaps you just refer to yourself in the third person? "The dude"...

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#30 Neil B
June 08 2014, 10:37PM
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NM00 wrote:

I meant more in terms of the magical powers (some/many) fans attribute to coaches and the after the fact narrative that will follow AV whether or not his (inferior) roster wins the cup.

Although I'd be mildly amused if AV wins and some/many fans blame the lower mainland axis of mediocrity as the reason he couldn't win a cup in Vancouver...

The statistics backing up your underlying argument are imported from baseball, a game of stop-and-go action comprised of a series of discrete one-on-one interactions. Hockey is a fluid game, with comparatively few stopages, and can rarely be broken down into one-on-one interactions.

Now, if hockey were played as a series of one-on-one shootouts, then yes, the assumptions could travel. But based on the different structures and natures of the games in question, the presumption of any assumption to hockey from baseball is problematic. In fact, the two games are so fundamentally different, I would argue that the burden of proof lies on the part of anyone positing a shared assumption.

You pull together hockey-based data showing that coaching does not affect team performance and I'll have your back. Until then, your position is just as unsupported by fact as the people who believe in "magic".

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#31 Neil B
June 09 2014, 09:38PM
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Neil B wrote:

The statistics backing up your underlying argument are imported from baseball, a game of stop-and-go action comprised of a series of discrete one-on-one interactions. Hockey is a fluid game, with comparatively few stopages, and can rarely be broken down into one-on-one interactions.

Now, if hockey were played as a series of one-on-one shootouts, then yes, the assumptions could travel. But based on the different structures and natures of the games in question, the presumption of any assumption to hockey from baseball is problematic. In fact, the two games are so fundamentally different, I would argue that the burden of proof lies on the part of anyone positing a shared assumption.

You pull together hockey-based data showing that coaching does not affect team performance and I'll have your back. Until then, your position is just as unsupported by fact as the people who believe in "magic".

In the interests of full disclosure:

http://fivethirtyeight.com/features/what-predicts-if-an-nhl-coach-will-be-fired-and-whether-it-matters/

as referenced in the latest Journal of Hockey Analytics, on this here blog.

Mr. Tanner knows his stuff, and presents a convincing argument. He looked at the last 20 years, and compared performance of teams that fired their head coaches with the performance of teams with similar winning percentages that did not. He found no real difference between the performances of the two categories.

His results suggest that coaching, or at least coaching changes, have little impact on team performance year-over-year.

NM00, I got your back. It's pixie dust.

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