Conor Garland is making the most of life under new Canucks coach Rick Tocchet
Photo credit:© Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
By Michael Liu9 months ago
If there was one player that was going to see a bump in play under Rick Tocchet, it was Conor Garland.
It wasn’t as if this was a revolutionary revelation. Garland, up until this point of the season, looked like a shell of the 5v5 monster that he was in 2021-22 (at least according to the advanced stats). The $4.95 million cap hit that he was inked to recently began to look more and more like an albatross by the moment. 24 points in 48 games are definitely not what Garland was paid to produce.
Essentially, there was nowhere to go but up.
Yes, it’s only been three games since Garland was reunited with his old coach from Arizona. But, in these three games, he’s shown some signs of life already. So, what do the stats say about the eye test’s observations?
Driving the net more
One of the things that immediately stood out from the stats was Garland’s uptick in xGF. In the previous 45 games under Bruce Boudreau, the winger was averaging a 47.93 xGF%, stacking up 23.78 xGF during that same span. They aren’t bad numbers, putting Garland 8th and 9th respectively on the team in those categories. However, by the same token, they aren’t the greatest.
Under Tocchet however, the past three games have seen a bit of an uptick. Garland finds himself averaging 65.20 xGF%, good enough for 6th on the team. He also posted 2.39 xGF, which gave him the 4th highest total expected goals in that period too.
Potentially a big reason why this improvement could be seen is in his aggressiveness in getting to the net. In his previous 45 games, Garland only managed to create 10 rebound chances, while in these last three, he’s generated two rebound chances already. He’s also managed to supply five individual high-danger chances under Tocchet, while only managing 22 of the same individual high-danger chances under Boudreau.
Again, while it is a small sample size, the numbers are painting the picture that Garland is getting into the high-danger areas more and shooting from these areas. Looking at the high-danger opportunities alone, the rate at which they have been produced was a lot better than in all the games that came before the coaching change. Obviously, there’s the Chicago game mixed into this equation, but it’s an effort in getting to the dirty areas the winger hasn’t shown enough of to this point in the season.
Tocchet is famed for bringing a strong defensive structure for his teams to buy into, and one of the benefactors thus far has been Conor Garland. While the high-octane offence under Boudreau was fun to watch when it was working, it also left a lot of the deficiencies exposed on the flank. Garland alone was responsible for 21 giveaways in his first 45 games of the campaign. Through three under Tocchet, he hasn’t turned the puck over once.
It goes deeper than the trackable stats, too. Garland put up a 47.22 HDCF% prior to the coaching switch, suggesting that he was on the ice for more high-danger opportunities against than he was providing. That turned on his head, seeing over a 10 percent jump to 57.89 HDCF% under Tocchet. Garland is currently on track to concede just a little more xGA than Elias Pettersson, for the context of improved two-way play.
This being said, there is potentially another explanation for why Garland’s defensive numbers have improved: he isn’t being put into situations that would harm them. Under Boudreau, Garland had about 52.30% of his shifts start in the offensive zone. Under Tocchet, that number jumped to 70%. Additionally, Garland’s offensive faceoff starts rise from 46.59% to 56.52%.
While this should be considered in the context of improved defensive metrics, it’s also important to recognize the coach deploying Garland into situations where he can succeed. It doesn’t make too much sense for Garland to be used in a checking line or matchup role, so why not give him opportunities to do what he does well? This strategy is proving that it helps the Canucks keep pucks out of their own net. Garland still hasn’t been on the ice for a goal against in three games.
So what to make of it?
Obviously, this is a tiny sample size. Three games is about 3.65% of the NHL season. Nothing should be extrapolated just from these results. With that being said, it’s nice to see Garland getting a bit of a bump from Tocchet’s hiring. When he’s on his game, the forward is a really nice piece in the Canucks’ middle six, an element that they have been missing even with their plethora of not-quite-scoring scoring wingers.
He’s been re-energized too. “Toc’s obviously a huge reason that I grew as a player,” Garland told The Province after the Canucks’ first practice under Tocchet. “He worked with me tirelessly, watching video and just filling out my game. I owe a lot to him. I’m excited to play for him again. I played very, very well under him. I’m excited for that opportunity again.”
Regardless of what the future holds for Garland, whether he is moved at the trade deadline or is kept on this Canucks team, improved play from him will only be a good thing. Garland probably isn’t moving the needle enough for this team to ruin their tank, but what his strong play can do is either drive up his trade value or restore his confidence (or both!). In each scenario, Vancouver has a clear path to benefit from it.
And goodness knows that this team could use something going their way for once.
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