When John Tortorella and Alain Vigneault essentially switched places this past summer, they brought their coaching philosophies with them. And when it comes to ice time, they couldn’t be more diametrically opposed.
Tortorella has historically leaned heavily on his star players, playing the living daylights out of them, while Vigneault has traditionally been a guy who likes to roll four lines. And that couldn’t be more evident in the way the two are using their top forwards this season.
There appears to be real concern that if Tortorella keeps this up, Ryan Kesler and the Sedin twins will be burned out before the playoffs even start. Take Monday night’s 3-2 win over the Washington Capitals for example. It was a close game, another come from behind victory for the Canucks and Tortorella kept throwing Kesler and the Sedins over the boards. Kesler played a total of 23:53, Henrik played 23:15 and Daniel played 23:13. That’s more than any player on either team, including defensemen, played in the game.
To put their ice time into perspective, there were 10 teams in action Monday night for a total of 180 players. Of those 180, only six, all defensemen, logged more ice time than Kesler and the Sedins did. And it worked to perfection. Kesler scored the tying goal assisted by Daniel, who also scored the game-winner, assisted by his twin brother. The three were the best players on the ice, which is why they swept the three stars of the game.
As was mentioned, Tortorella has never been shy about deploying his top players and challenging them to give him more. But is he playing them too much? In a year that is compressed because of the Olympics – a tournament in which all three will play pivotal roles – is Tortorella risking grinding them down and exposing them to injuries? Possibly, considering the fact Tortorella’s style isn’t exactly an easy one to play. It puts a premium on individual sacrifice and shot blocking. And the fact the three are not only playing a lot of minutes, but they’re playing hard minutes, it will be an interesting development to monitor as the season goes on.
As far as the rest of the league is concerned, Kesler, Henrik and Daniel are 1-2-3 in total ice time among forwards and 2-3-4 in average ice time per game, behind only Sidney Crosby. And their minutes are up, way up, compared to last season. Kesler is playing 22:38, which is about five minutes per game more than he averaged last season when injury limited him to just 17 games. Henrik is at 22:28, which is three-plus minutes more than he averaged under Vigneault and Daniel checks in at 22:14, which is 3:13 more than he played per game in 2012-13.
In New York under Vigneault, the opposite is happening. Last season under Tortorella, Derek Stepan played 20:55, but this season is playing two-plus minutes per game less. Before he was injured, captain Ryan Callahan was averaging just 17:31 under Vigneault, compared to 21:30 last season under Tortorella.
So far, one team has a record of 9-4-1 and the other is in 29th place overall, so we know which philosophy is working at the moment. How it plays out in the long term, however, will be something that bears watching.