It is one of the more remarkable trades in the history of hockey, even if it was not, technically speaking, a trade.
Last spring, after playoff failings, John Tortorella was jettisoned from the New York Rangers and landed as head coach of the Vancouver Canucks, and Alain Vigneault was fired from the Vancouver Canucks and found work as head coach of the New York Rangers.
The swap – as the rosters of the hockey teams remained basically the same – presented this season as a rare live experiment in coaching styles.
There have not been revelations. The only striking conclusion is the trade of bench bosses does not seem to have done much at all, which suggests all the ballyhooed hirings and firings are overstated in their importance.
One key fact: Tortorella and Vigneault are not study in opposites. The coaches have always been much more similar than not, both men defensive-minded with a philosophy of letting offensive creativity flow. Tortorella obviously was known for his shot-blocking ethos. Vigneault had a reputation for employing advanced statistics. All-in, the two veteran coaches are close cousins rather than strangers.
And so as the teams ready to play each other in New York on Saturday afternoon, with more than a quarter of the 2013-14 National Hockey League season completed, a compare-and-contrast of the two coaches and two teams shows the swap of head coaches has produced (mostly) the same results. Plus ça change ….
(The numbers are as of mid-Thursday, the Canucks had played 26 games and the Rangers 25)
This is the one category where there is a relatively notable change. Under Tortorella, the Canucks have jumped to 10th in the league from 27th with Vigneault. The Rangers have slipped to 16th from 6th – which shows ingrained lessons are not immediately forgotten.Blockedshots per game
The only metric that really counts. The Rangers have risen after a rough start, while the Canucks have done the opposite, fading of late. The Canucks are 17th in wins in regulation or overtime, very close to their rank last year, 15th; the Rangers 11th, one notch down from 10th last year.
The Canucks still suffer from a lame offence, this season scoring just a single goal in more than a third of their games, losing all 10 of those. On a goal-per-game basis, the Canucks are a precise mirror of last year and ranked 19th in the league. The Rangers meanwhile are down to 27th from 15th.Goalsper game
In 2010-11, the year the team nearly won the Stanley Cup, the Canucks had an explosive power play, the best in the league. Last season, neither the Canucks (22nd) nor the Rangers (23rd) had a good power play. This year the Canucks are even worse, 28th, and the Rangers somewhat improved at 14th.Powerplay
The Canucks have been a strong penalty-kill team for several years and this season have vaulted to No. 1 in the league, up from 8th last year. The Rangers have also climbed, to 4th from 15th.Penaltykill
A good gauge of a team’s style of play, and success, both the Canucks and Rangers are producing quite similar results under different coaches. In terms of rank, the Canucks are 6th this year, up from 12th last year, and the Rangers are in the same spot, 9th. The statistic is measured as a percentage of shots on goal and missed shots by both teams, when the score is within one goal in the first and second periods, or tied in the third or OT, at even-strength (known as “Fenwick close”).Puckpossession
He shoots, he scores
Another look at puck possession, this time measuring all shots (on goal, missed, and blocked – “Corsi”) as a differential, greater or fewer than the opposition – measured over 60 minutes, all situations. The Canucks and Rangers have both improved this season, with the Canucks rising to 5th from 10th, and the Rangers climbing to 7th from 12th.Shots,for & against
In Vigneault’s last years in Vancouver, much was made of his extreme deployment of players, using the Sedins much more in the offensive zone than the defensive end. Tortorella, with less fanfare, did the same in New York, though less aggressively. Both coaches continue to employ zone deployment this year – measured as a percentage of offensive-zone faceoffs against all offensive- and defensive-zone faceoffs.Zonestarts
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