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.
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.
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.
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