Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Tortorella's Failed Coaching Strategy

John Tortorella has been the coach of the Tampa Bay Lightning since midway through the 2000/01 season. In 2003/04 he led the Lightning to the Stanley Cup and won the Adams Trophy as coach of the year. Since then, his results in Tampa Bay have been getting consistently worse. He is a very intense coach who is known to, on occasion, publically fight with players (such as John Grahame and Vaclav Prospal) who have been soon afterwards moved to other teams.

In recent seasons, Tortorella has played the regular season with a shortened bench. He relies strongly on a handful of players and gives poor icetime to the rest of his roster. This season, the NHL leader in ice time per game is Dan Boyle, Tampa's best defenceman. Boyle only has played 20 games due to injury, but when he has played he has played a lot (27:39 per game). Other Tampa defencemen Paul Ranger and Filip Kuba rank 11th and 14th respectively in ice time per game. No other team has two players in the top 15 in ice time per game (let alone three - which Tampa has). Tortorella does not have a very good defence, nevertheless the best players on his defence play incredible amounts of time.

Among his forwards, Martin St Louis leads all forwards in ice time per game (he is 18th overall in the league), Brad Richards (now with Dallas) is second among forwards (23rd overall in the league) and Vincent LeCavalier is third among forwards (37th in the league). Clearly no coach gives as much of his ice time to as few players as Tortorella does.

This strategy has not been successful. Tampa Bay is currently last in the East Conference. Of course there are other mitigating circumstances (most notably a lack of quality goaltending - it is hoped that Mike Smith, newly acquired from Dallas in the Brad Richards trade will help solve this problem), but I think it is clear that Tortorella's insistence to overplay his best players is a contributing factor.

The best two of Tampa's players (LeCavalier and St Louis) have been able to handle the excessive icetime without breaking down, but Brad Richards was not so fortunate. Richards does not have a particularly good per minute scoring rate (his high icetime partly masks this). He had 51 points in his 62 games with Tampa and is currently tied for the league's worst +/- rating with Radek Bonk of the Nashville Predators at -25. The defence certainly is not playing well despite having several players with excessive amounts of icetime.

John Tortorella has not always overplayed his top players. In his most successful season 2003/04 (where he was coach of the year and won the Stanley Cup) his ice time per game leader was Dan Boyle. Boyle's 22:45 per game placed him 49th in the league. The practise of overplaying Tampa's best defenders is a new one and one that Tortorella has started after his most successful seasons. Among his forwards, 2004 MVP Martin St Louis led Tampa in icetime per game, but placed 18th among forwards in the NHL and Brad Richards was 21st among forwards (for the record - Vincent LeCavalier was 88th behind teammates Cory Stillman and Fredrik Modin).

The idea of playing with a shortened bench for the entire regular season is an interesting one. It is one John Tortorella has tried in Tampa Bay and failed with. He was a successful coach in the past, but not under this system. If Tortorella will not change this strategy he needs to be fired for Tampa Bay to progress. His public fights with some players are another reason to call for Tortorella's firing. I think Tampa will hire a new coach this summer and will improve merely by better allocating icetime. The new coach will keep all the players in the game and not overplay his stars, thus risking their burnout.

Comments:
1) In addition to his failed 'coaching strategy' his 'coaching philosophy' has also worn thin/fallen on increasingly deaf ears.
2) That is his insistence on being such an A-hole all the time! Coaches like that (Keenan) achieve short term success then need to move to new meat before wearing out a new welcome
 
Not to mention he aggravated Team USA players in Turin, in particular Mike Modano, who was trying to have his last hurrah in international competition and instead was benched for the final moments of their ultimate game. (Not defending Modano's petulant reaction in the media.)

Surely USA Hockey isn't considering Torts for Vancouver 2010 or any other major international tournament... Peter Laviolette seems the better choice by far.
 
Or Ron Wilson
 
Laviolette was the coach in Turin not Tortorella!

Tortorella's deal that time was he pissed off Fredrick Modin by not allowing him to stay and celebrate the gold medal with his fellow Swedes. The rest all missed their first post-olympic nhl game, as they took a side trip to party in sweden.

but yes, USA Hockey is looking at him for 2010.
 
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