With Alain Vigneault on board, the Rangers are likely going to be changing their styles of play. But with that style change comes understanding what that change will bring. This is something we’ve covered a few times here, but it’s worth digging deeper into the puck possession metrics to see how exactly the Rangers will be differing in styles of play, and how effective AV’s more conservative style is at driving puck possession.
Make no mistake, there are very few coaches as aggressive as John Tortorella. The Rangers sat at the top of the league in GF% (goals for percentage, GF/[GF+GA]), CF%, and SF% this past season, which was likely the most efficient on-ice performance of any Torts-coached Ranger team. They may not have been pretty, they may have been maddeningly inconsistent, but they were efficient in puck possession as a team. Vigneault’s Canucks, however, were not in the top-10 in these categories this past season.
But it is unfair to really rate Vigneault –or Tortorella for that matter– with just one lockout-shortened season of stats. So let’s look at the last three years for these coaches:
From the table, you can see a direct trend upward for Tortorella as his players began buying into the system. For Vigneault, you can see a direct trend downward. On the surface it looks bad, but there are probably more factors at play here. For the Canucks, it’s tough to drive possession when half your defense is injured at any given time. Also, they lacked quality depth players that could drive puck possession (see: Hagelin, Carl).
However there’s more to puck possession than just measuring CF% and SF%. There’s also face off location; the ability to force teams to take face offs in their defensive zone. This illustrates the ability to get the puck out of the defensive zone and begin the attack. This is a secondary aspect of puck possession that is often overlooked.
This is where things get interesting. AV’s Canucks hovered around 32% for the three year average, while Torts’ Rangers had a whopping 5% jump in the lockout-shortened 2013 season, up from 30%. Those first two years Torts relied on a low-zone collapse, it wasn’t until he started mixing in a strong-side overload in 2013 that the Rangers started being more effective in the defensive zone. Vancouver, who routinely played the strong side overload in the defensive zone, was much more consistent.
So what does all this tell us?
It means that Alain Vigneault will not bring sweeping changes to the Rangers in regards to puck possession. He may get more out of this club on the powerplay. He may get them to block less shots. He may get them to play a less-exhausting 1-2-2 forecheck. But one thing he will not do is turn the Rangers into a dominant puck possession force. What you saw last year during the last month of the season was the Rangers at their best, and barring any significant roster turnover, that is what their best will be, Torts or Vigneault.
What does Vigneault bring then? He brings a different voice in the locker room. He may bring them a better powerplay (he will certainly get them to move more). He will bring a more conservative approach to the forecheck. Maybe a new voice is what this team needs to be more consistent. That we won’t know until a few months into the 2013-2014 season. But if you’re expecting a completely dominant team because of a coaching change, you’re in for some major disappointment.