Thursday, May 5th, 2016

Booth and Alberts


Daniel Wagner doesn’t really criticise John Tortorella for deciding to bench David Booth against the Islanders, but he does make it clear that the explanation for the move “Booth hasn’t been doing enough to play” is bunk. Daniel puts the best explanation possible on Tortorella’s decision:

Ultimately, it’s Tortorella’s call. If this is about sending a message to a player who Tortorella expects to produce points, then it makes perfect sense. After all, Booth has just 1 goal and 2 assists in 10 games this season and is capable of more production, as he’s proven in the past. For a team that’s middle of the pack in goalscoring and needs production throughout the lineup, the Canucks need more out of Booth.

I don’t think this does make perfect sense. Not at all. I don’t have a problem benching a Booth quality player if I was replacing him with a guy who, if he plays well, is a better option than Booth playing lousy. But Tortorella benched him for Andrew Alberts. He benched him and did not replace him. He benched him and the effect was to play a skater down. He chose to play a skater down when the team was nearing the end of a grueling road trip. When Jannik Hansen got hurt, the team was two skaters down.

Presumably, Tortorella planned to spot Alberts as a seventh defenseman. While I don’t think that was a very good plan, it was a worse idea to throw that plan out the window when Alberts had a brutal first shift. Andrew is a marginal player because he is capable of having very brutal shifts, but the Canucks are going to need him to provide some good shifts this season. Sticking Alberts in the same doghouse as Booth after one shift doesn’t help anyone. If a player is dressed, the coach should find him a few shifts, at least.

Result? Tortorella was forced to throw the minutes at his other forwards, most particularly Sedin, Sedin and Kesler. When asked about the possibility of wearing out his best forwards over the long run, the coach bristled:

“You know what, I don’t even look that far, I am trying to win tonight’s game,” he said. “You guys have that formula that they have to have certain amount of minutes here and you don’t want to get them too tired. I don’t believe in it. I believe in trying to win the next game. So we’ll see where we go with it.”

This attitude is fair enough. Over the years Vancouver coaches have generally been more concerned about rationing minutes given the grueling west coast schedule, but Tortorella could be right. We’ll see. But this explanation flies in the face of the Booth decision. The coach deliberately iced an inferior lineup for “tonight’s” game in the hope he would motivate Booth and get better results in future games. He parked Alberts to send the same message with the same hope.

The coaching mistakes did carry over into the game in New Jersey. Tortorella was forced to make do with eleven forwards against the Devils, and he lost Weise and Booth to injuries in the first period. Nobody should have been surprised that the Canucks were literally staggering around in the third period last night. Fortunately for the good guys, Luongo stole the game.

The injuries and the ridiculous schedule are not Tortorella’s fault, but he made an emotional decisions about Booth and Alberts that made a difficult challenge worse. It didn’t cost the team any points – or at least it hasn’t so far – but it was still a mistake.

I don’t think the Canucks had a very good chance to beat the Blues today no matter how Tortorella dished out the ice time this week. It is a long flight from Newark to St. Louis and the team that was staggering at the end of the game last night isn’t getting any rest before they go up against a good team that is rested and at home. After the last couple of games, I think their chances tonight fall between very slim and none.

Eddie Lack gets a chance to steal a game tonight. Go Eddie.

Update: Andy Lack was excellent, the team delivered up a gutsy effort and the Canucks defied the odds. I’ll bet Ken Hitchcock is still seething.

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5 Responses to “Booth and Alberts”
  1. Dave says:

    I will say this much. As much as Torts is leaning on some guys, and as well as Kevin Bieksa has been playing this season, Torts already seems to have figured out not to play Bieksa more than around 23 minutes per game — something it took a very long time for AV to get. Do I really think Torts doesn’t care about wearing out his players over a long season? Much more likely that he wants to experiment at the beginning, to see what his guys can do. For KB3 there’s plenty of evidence already about what his limits are. For the Sedins, much less so, I think. (If they actually have the stamina to play well for 25 minutes per night on a short-term basis, that’s pretty useful to know in case you’re down 3-1 in a playoff series!)

    By the same token, I doubt he actually thought that playing Alberts over Booth improved their odds of winning that game against the Islanders (though it also didn’t lower the odds much, since one middling player doesn’t make such a difference for one game). Why not find out early in the season whether Booth is the sort of player responds to that kind of treatment?

    • Dave says:

      (Of course there’s an entirely separate question, which is whether you believe that benching a player can ever have a causal effect on their subsequent play. I’m skeptical until someone proves otherwise, but probably a coach *would* tend to believe in the effectiveness of anything dramatic that he has the power to do.)

    • Tom says:

      I’m skeptical about the separate question too. It doesn’t matter how poorly a star plays, I never sit him. (Although Torts did sit Lecavalier at times in Tampa). The fourth liners can be in and out and don’t really matter. It is only middling players who face the possibility of a disciplinary scratch. As I said I don’t have a problem with it as long as I can imagine that the guy I am sticking in there will contribute more than the guy I am taking out. I’ll even agree that it might be worthwhile just to see how Booth responds.

      But he replaced Booth with nobody. If he wants to do that, he should dress Booth and park him at the end of the bench.

      I think you give Tortorella too much credit with the Bieksa thing. Tanev and Garrison are both playing so well, there is no point or need for Bieksa to play more.

  2. Cookie La Rue says:

    Haha Tom, it seems Torts is disproving your concerns. I like his attitude and what he’s doing so far. Let’s see if it keeps up.

    Btw keep up your nice work too 😉

    • Tom says:

      The fact that the Canucks won doesn’t change my opinion about the decision to bench Booth and play Alberts. That was a choice that couldn’t work out.

      I’m an agnostic about the ice time though. Keenan didn’t worry about Pavel’s minutes and pouring the ice time at him worked out really well. Whether the Sedins and Kesler will respond the same way? We’ll see.

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