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).
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.