One of the major issues many had with John Tortorella was his refusal (inability?) to run four lines and three defensive pairings consistently. It’s tough to fault him, as he didn’t necessarily have the required depth to trust his bottom-tier players. After all, when your fourth line has Kris Newbury and your bottom pairing has Stu Bickel or Roman Hamrlik, it’s tough to gain trust in those bottom players.
The Rangers this year are deeper, but there is also a much larger reliance by Alain Vigneault on the fourth line and bottom pairing. It does not appear that this club will have guys on the bench for all but five minutes per game. Looking at the TOI/60 through the first three games of the season, the only players in single digits are J.T. Miller (8.7 TOI/60) and Jesper Fast (9.7 TOI/60). Miller is in the AHL, and Fast is only with the team due to the extended road trip. Suffice it to say: AV is not over relying on his top guys.
Yes, I’m aware that the TOI/60 decimal places are out of ten, but you get the point.
Looking at the TOI leaders among the defenseman, you might see a surprise at the top of the list (all numbers are at even strength):
|Michael Del Zotto||18.5|
Yes you are reading that right, MDZ is the TOI/60 leader through the first three games this season. Since MDZ is the leader, it’s natural that Staal comes in at second on the list. Considering last year the Girardi-McDonagh combination was the top minutes pair by a mile, this definitely qualifies as a surprise. Of course the re-addition of the Staal to the lineup makes the Rangers deeper, so the minutes difference isn’t something to worry about.
Notice how everyone is within four minutes of each other over a full 60 minutes. This is nowhere near what the Rangers were doing last season.
As for the forwards, these are a little more in line with what we would expect through the first three games (all numbers are at even strength):
Richards has been the Rangers best forward through the first three games, so it’s natural that AV would lean on him a bit more than the others. Since he is on a line with Stepan, it’s natural that he would be #2 on this list. Nash would be up here too, but missing two periods skewed his numbers a lot.
It’s worth noting that the only two forwards who don’t average a double-digit TOI/60 are the two kids who either aren’t in the NHL, or won’t be once the club is fully healthy. After that, every forward is within five minutes of each other at even strength.
Naturally the ice time will vary once we start adding in special teams, as some players are relied upon more than others in offensive or defensive situations. For example, the Richards-Stepan-Nash trio will see more overall ice time because they play on the powerplay, ditto the Callahan-Boyle duo for the penalty kill. It is why we measure TOI/60 at even strength, as it eliminates the special teams variable.
The biggest takeaway from this is that we are getting what we wanted: No over reliance on five guys, more even distribution of ice time, and more rest for the top players. This isn’t a fad for AV either, this is something that will continue all season long.