The Canucks’ penalty kill under Rick Tocchet is a statistical enigma, but it’s also one of the most effective of all-time
Photo credit:© David Banks-USA TODAY Sports
7 months ago
One way or another, the Vancouver Canucks’ penalty kill in 2022/23 can best be described as “historic.”
For the first 46 games of the season under coach Bruce Boudreau, the Canucks’ PK was historically bad. And we don’t use that word frivolously. Boudreau’s Canucks were shorthanded 132 times and let in 41 power play goals against, for a PK success rate of 65.9%.
The Canucks scored just two shorthanded goals of their own in that same time period.
Had that rate continued throughout the entirety of the regular season, it would have stood as the worst penalty kill of all-time, and by a considerable margin. Currently, that record is held by the 1979/80 Los Angeles Kings and their 68.2%.
Fortunately, that rate did not continue throughout the entirety of the regular season. Boudreau was removed from his post and replaced with Rick Tocchet, who has somehow managed to turn the team’s penalty killing all the way around.
See, if one looks at that all-time worst PK leaderboard, they’ll see that the 2022/23 Canucks, now 27 games into the Tocchet Era, are still rocking the sixth-worst penalty kill ever at 70.8%.
Now, much of that is a result of Tocchet’s crew working their way out of the historic hole they established under Boudreau.
But it’s not just on Boudreau. Since Tocchet took over, the Canucks have put up a 78.6% rate, which isn’t the worst all-time or the worst in the league anymore, but still ranks just 20th overall during that stint.
Of course, 20th overall is a considerable improvement on 32nd overall, but it’s still not very good. So, why are people talking so much about Tocchet’s success on the PK? Why did some fool blogger publish a headline calling said PK one of the “most effective…of all-time?”
For that answer, we need to dig a little deeper than just raw PK percentages.
The traditional PK stat isn’t the greatest. For one, it doesn’t take into consideration any measurements of time, so killing a penalty for three seconds before being scored on and killing a penalty for 1:59 before being scored on are recorded as the exact same result.
The traditional PK percentage also does not take into consideration any shorthanded goals that a team might score, and that’s where Tocchet’s Canucks have really made their name.
Since Tocchet took over, the Canucks have scored a preposterous 12 shorthanded goals in a grand total of 84 times shorthanded. That’s an approximately 14.3% success rate, which is actually a higher percentage than four different teams have posted on the power play during that same timeframe.
That bears highlighting and repeating. Since January 22nd, the Canucks have been more dangerous shorthanded (14.3%) than the Chicago Blackhawks (9.4%), the San Jose Sharks (10.9%), the Winnipeg Jets (12.1%), and the Boston Bruins (13.7%) have been with the man advantage.
That’s with those teams up a player, and the Canucks down one. That’s a two-player swing. That’s a statistic that is nothing short of remarkable.
During those same 84 times shorthanded across those same 27 games, the Canucks have been scored on just 18 times. That leaves them at a PK differential of just minus-6 under Tocchet. Now, that stat is not the best in the league. It’s the second-best, with the Carolina Hurricanes having been scored on six times and having scored four shorthanded goals of their own in the same stint.
But that doesn’t mean that the Canucks’ PK isn’t operating at historic highs under Tocchet. It just means that they’re doing it at the exact same time as the Hurricanes.
For situations like this, the NHL has devised a new method of measuring PK success, creatively titled “Net PK%.” It’s not rocket science, it just incorporates shorthanded goals into the mix as an indicator of penalty killing success.
After all, scoring shorthanded constitutes far more of a ‘win’ than just killing a penalty does. Even scoring a shorthanded goal and then giving up a power play goal in the same penalty equates to a ‘draw.’ This simple change to statistical recording yields a much clearer picture of whose PK is actually making a difference.
In Net PK%, the Canucks under Tocchet are up to a mind-bogglingly high 92.9%. Again, that’s not the best in the league. That’s the Hurricanes and their even-more-mind-boggling 97.0%.
The highest single season Net PK% of all-time is the 95.4% posted by the 2011/12 New Jersey Devils. The second-highest is the 93.1% posted by the 1997/98 Washington Capitals.
Both the Canucks and the Hurricanes’ post-January 22nd Net PKs would thus fit neatly into the top-five all-time. Of course, their percentages only represent partial seasons, and won’t actually hit the all-time leaderboard. But it’s much more relevant information for the Canucks than the Hurricanes, who did not experience a mid-season coaching change.
They won’t get official credit for it, but the Tocchet Canucks are truly one of the most effective penalty killing teams in NHL history. Criticize the sample size all you want, but 27 games is a significant chunk of hockey through which to post such significant and consistent success in such a specific component of play.
How has Tocchet done it? That’s an article for another day, but the short answers are structure, letting his best players take the lead, and opening up PK opportunities to a wider variety of skaters. And hey, the return of Thatcher Demko and arrival of Filip Hronek certainly hasn’t hurt.
Suffice it to say, however, that if there’s a singular reason for the Canucks going 16-9-2 under Tocchet, it’s this. To turn a historically-bad penalty kill around into a historically-good penalty kill in a matter of weeks is a truly impressive coaching feat, and the only thing preventing Tocchet from getting full credit for it is the archaic manner in which PK stats are typically measured.
Regardless of that, the credit is deserved, and given in full here.
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