Last season was nothing short of a disaster for Vancouver. With John Tortorella at the helm, the Canucks finished 12th in the Western Conference -- quite a drop from 2012-13 when they won a Pacific Division championship. This hellish campaign cost the oft-criticized coach his job, as he was fired just one year into his five-year contract.
Lots of Canucks saw their production suffer under Tortorella, particularly Daniel and Henrik Sedin.
Fans were quick to blame Tortorella for the Sedins' precipitous decline. He had them killing penalties, something they hadn't done in a long time. He gave them relatively tough deployment, as they started far less shifts in the offensive zone. He boosted their overall ice time, as well, and encouraged them to dump and chase more frequently.
Now that the brothers have regained their form -- each is averaging a point per game thus far -- newly-hired bench boss Willie Desjardins is being praised for the improvements. Daniel and Henrik are dominant once again, the 'Nucks are winning and the locals are thrilled. All is well.
Given the contrasting results, one may think Desjardins has made sweeping changes from the Tortorella regime. Interestingly, that hasn't happened.
For starters, the Sedins are still killing penalties. Through 19 games Daniel has been allotted 0:55 of short-handed ice time per contest -- down just one second from 2013-14. Henrik is averaging 1:05 on the PK, up from 0:59.
The Sedins are also starting less shifts in the offensive zone than they did with Tortortella -- not the other way around, as one may expect. Compared to Alain Vigneault's tenure, which ended after 2012-13, the differences are stark:
|2012-13 Zone Start %||2013-14 Zone Start %||2014-15 Zone Start %|
So what has changed? Overall ice time, for one. As the graph below illustrates, Tortorella used Daniel and Henrik far more than in previous years -- an unwise choice, in hindsight. This has since been corrected.
A return to puck possession
Perhaps Desjardins' biggest impact comes from his emphasis on puck possession. Tortorella stressed the dump and chase in Vancouver -- as he has for a long time -- which clashed with Daniel and Henrik's skill sets.
As we've learned through analytics research, controlled zone entries tend to lead to more scoring chances than dumping and chasing. Tortorella didn't force anyone to give up the puck, but it was encouraged, and this strategy is reflected in the numbers.
According to Corey Sznajder's All Three Zones data from the 2013-14 season, Daniel and Henrik crossed their opponents' blue line with control just 55 and 58 percent of the time during 5-on-5, respectively. Not terrible rates, but not anywhere near what they're capable of, either.
"We all knew about [Tortorella] and how he wanted us to play the game," Henrik told The Province. "Even though he never told us -- he wanted us to play our game -- we wanted to buy in to what he said, and maybe that wasn't our game.
"We dumped the puck more last year than this year, but that’s all about how we want to play our game."
Regardless of the man in charge, there was reason to believe the Sedins would rebound this fall. Despite low point totals in 2013-14 -- at least by their standards -- their underlying numbers remained solid, as the Canucks earned the majority of the shot-share with them on the ice.
When forwards drive possession but struggle to find the score sheet, variance is often at the root of the issue. Last season, particularly in the second half, this was certainly the case.
|Career S%||S% (Jan 2014 - April 2014)|
Undoubtedly, puck luck had a huge effect on the Sedins' output. Daniel's S% was 11.76 from the start of 2013-14 through Dec. 31, 2013 -- right in line with his career mark. Had he maintained that through April, he would have finished with 26 goals.
He finished with 16.
So yes, Desjardins is handling the Sedins better than his predecessor. But he isn't reinventing the wheel, either.
Instead, he's fixing what's necessary, and nothing more.