Once it became clear that John Tortorella was primed to take over the head coaching gig for the Vancouver Canucks, many assumed that he’d transform the squad into the New York Rangers of the Pacific Northwest.
The fiery coach seemed to embolden such thoughts when he insisted that the Sedin twins will kill penalties and maybe even block shots. Ryan Kesler added more fuel to the fire when he told the media that Tortorella will “expect more from everybody.”
While we’ll only really know once the games begin – or maybe only after a full season – it’s quite possible that the changes won’t be as drastic as people expect.
As ESPN Insider’s Neil Greenberg reviewed (subscription required), Tortorella and former Canucks head coach Alain Vigneault do indeed tend to deploy top forwards differently when it comes to where they begin shifts. Those preferences might mean a shift in advanced stats, yet the alterations in goals and assists may not be that substantial.
Tortorella admitted that he didn’t get the most out of top scorers after the 2013 playoffs, but it’s likely that Vancouver’s offensive identity will remain largely the same next season. (The long-term outlook could be fuzzier, however.)
Tortorella certainly didn’t deny his love of shot-blocking, but it could be crucial to take personnel into account when considering his approach. When he was with the Tampa Bay Lightning from 2000-01 to 2007-08, the Bolts only finished in the top 15 in shot-blocking once (when they ranked 12th with 507 total in 2007-08).
Maybe he required Rangers players to put their bodies on the line because he didn’t believe that he really had the roster to dominate puck possession and win in more finesse-driven ways?
Regardless, it wouldn’t be surprising if Tortorella views Kesler as the new Ryan Callahan: his do-everything, all-around American forward.
Maybe Tortorella doesn’t believe in players specializing quite as much as Vigneault does, but it wouldn’t be shocking if the Sedins’ penalty kill time remains limited.
For all the bluster, Tortorella hasn’t made that big of a habit of employing top scorers on the penalty kill.
In 2013, Rick Nash averaged 31 seconds of PK time while Brad Richards notched six seconds per contest. Henrik Sedin’s nine seconds per game eclipses Richards’ mark, too.
It’s likely that Tortorella will make some changes to the way the Canucks play, yet it’s reasonable to flip that notion and state that Vancouver’s roster might alter his outlook in equal proportions.
Flexibility is an underrated trait found among many of the league’s best thinkers, so don’t be surprised if the Canucks’ new coach ends up being more open-minded to changing his ways than many expect.
He’ll probably continue to conduct hilariously uncomfortable press conferences, though.