Photo credit:© Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports
How do the Canucks’ improvements under Rick Tocchet compare to the improvements after Bruce Boudreau’s hire?
By Noah Strang11 months ago
The Vancouver Canucks have replaced their head coach in each of the past two seasons. The Canucks have failed to live up to expectations and that has resulted in the organization shaking things up. During the 2021-22 NHL season it was Bruce Boudreau stepping in for Travis Green and this season Boudreau was replaced himself, paving the way for Rick Tocchet to take over.
Since Tocchet has been hired, the Canucks have been winning more games. They’ve been picking up points and moving up the standings, much to the chagrin of many fans hoping for the team to maximize its chances at drafting phenom Connor Bedard.
The Canucks experienced a sharp turnaround under Boudreau last season but were unable to continue that momentum into his first full year behind the bench, eventually resulting in his replacement. Are the changes that the Canucks have been seeing under Tocchet more sustainable? Only time will tell but a deeper look at the numbers can give us some hints.
The 2021-22 Canucks turnaround under Boudreau
Stats from the previous 18 games before the Boudreau hire compared to the 18 games after the hire at 5-on-5. (NaturalStatTrick)
Bruce Boudreau was widely credited with turning the Canucks’ 2021-22 season around. He did do a marvelous job, leading the team to the brink of a playoff position and missing out by a just few points after taking over a dreadful situation.
If we take a closer look at the 18 games before and after the Boudreau hire, the underlying numbers don’t look too different. While it’s impossible to discredit Boudreau’s role in the team’s season-long turnaround, there aren’t a ton of immediate differences that jump out at 5-on-5 in the 18 games after he took over.
The Canucks’ record improved from 5-12-1 over the previous 18 games to 11-4-3 in the 18 games after Boudreau was hired despite many of the team’s stats at 5-on-5 staying relatively flat across the two samples.
Where there was a difference was in the Canucks’ special teams. Boudreau managed to harness the team’s powerplay, improving the unit from 15% in the 18 games prior to his hire to 24.5% in the 18 games after. Even more important than the improvement with the man advantage was the penalty kill going from 60.9% to 76.2%.
While 76.2% isn’t amazing, it’s at least passable and helped the Canucks stay in more games. Former head coach Travis Green was really struggling with both special teams units and Boudreau was able to work some magic. He changed the penalty kill deployment, taking minutes from Oliver Ekman-Larsson and J.T. Miller and giving them to Bo Horvat and Elias Pettersson.
Much of Boudreau’s immediate impact came in fixing the special teams, a curious finding when compared to the impact that Tocchet has had this year.
2022-23 Canucks turnaround under Tocchett
Stats from the previous 18 games before the Tocchet hire compared to the 18 after at 5-on-5. (NaturalStatTrick)
When we take a look at how the Canucks have improved under Tocchet, there hasn’t been the same sharp increase in points percentage. The team is clicking at just over a 0.500 record since the coaching change, although there has been a more drastic change in the team’s 5-on-5 stats compared to when Boudreau took over.
The team has been controlling the play at a slightly better rate as both the CF% and xGF% have increased at 5-on-5, improving to a point where the Canucks are just barely controlling a majority of the play. Tocchet has been emphasizing a much more defensively responsible game compared to Boudreau’s free-wheeling style.
However, the Canucks have also had quite an easy schedule since Tocchet took over. They’ve played the Ducks, Blackhawks, Blue Jackets, Blues, Flyers, and Red Wings twice over that period. This has been a relatively easy portion of their schedule and can explain some of the improvements in these numbers.
Once again, the biggest change that we see under Tocchet is in the Canucks’ penalty kill. When looking at the two 18 game samples, the Canucks penalty kill went from 61.7% to 73.7%. Not only have they managed to improve by 12%, since Tocchet has been hired the Canucks have a net penalty kill percentage of 87.7%, a metric that takes into account short-handed goals scored. The Canucks have scored a whopping eight short-handed goals in the 18 games since Tocchet was hired, the best mark in the league over that time.
An area where the Canucks have continued to struggle under Tocchet is in net. The 5-on-5 save percentage is still below 90%, a number that the Canucks have struggled to break all season long. Thatcher Demko has finally returned to the ice after missing significant time with a hip injury. His return should solidify the Canucks in this area and help them win more games, for better or for worse.
It remains to be seen how much of the Canucks’ improvement on the penalty kill under Tocchet is sustainable and how much is due to a hot streak of short-handed goals. The return of Thatcher Demko, often the team’s best penalty killer in the past, will surely help in that department.
The immediate 5-on-5 changes have been slightly more pronounced under Tocchet than they were under Boudreau, however, it’s difficult to overhaul systems mid-season and the real test for the new coaching staff will come next year. Will they be able to last a complete season or will they suffer the same fate as the beloved Boudreau?
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