Hello ILWT readers. I’m not dead.
I do want to apologize for not posting nearly as much as I did last season, but this passing project has taken up a lot of my time. However, with a break in games, I wanted to take a look at how the New Jersey Devils have performed through their first 47 games this season.
We’re going to look at a player’s overall passing rates (passes per 60 minutes of ice time), how often players are involved in scoring chances, and how each player contributes to the team’s on-ice Corsi. All non-passing data was taken from War on Ice and/or Hockey Analysis. Passing and non-passing data is from 5v5 situations only. Passing data represents purely the offensive side of the game, so when I talk about a players’ value and production, we’re only focused on one side of the game here. Let’s get to it.
Starting with the defensemen, the below chart shows the rate at which players generate shot attempts from secondary passes (A2, X-Axis), primary passes (A1, Y-Axis), and their overall shot attempt generation from passes (Bubble size) per 60 minutes.
Obviously, Marek Zidlicky stands out from the group, generating 10.14 shot attempts from both primary and secondary passes per 60 minutes. He leads the group with 7.64 primary shot attempts generated per 60 minutes.
Bryce Salvador, in his limited action this season, led the group in A2 shot attempt generation, which was surprising. Could he have kept this up had he remained healthy? Doubtful, but it probably tells us a lot about his style of play to see such a high A2 SAG/60 rate and a low A1 SAG/60 rate. He’ll defer to others on the ice to set up shot attempts.
Damon Severson was behind only Zidlicky in terms of primary SAG/60, yet was last among defensemen in A2 SAG/60. Why? Well, from what we’ve seen of Severson, he wants the puck on his stick to either dish for a shot from a teammate, or to take the shot himself. His primary involvement as setup man or shooter mirrors Zidlicky, which is a great thing from an offensive standpoint.
Andy Greene, Eric Gelinas, and Adam Larsson are all clustered together with a nice balance between primary and secondary shot generation. Jon Merrill has been slightly more productive overall and certainly done more through his secondary passing than most defensemen. Seth Helgeson does more, offensively, with the puck than Peter Harrold, which was the only thing Harrold was here for. Bye, Harrold.
Moving to the forwards, we get a bit more variety in how players generate offense. Scott Gomez (18.8 shot attempts generated/60) does one thing well: passing the puck. It’s probably why he will be able to have a job in the future as having the vision and ability to pick out teammates is something Father Time can’t really take away as easily as, say, a player’s speed or endurance. Gomez would be solid player in a bottom six role, whose only job would be to set up two wingers who do nothing but love to shoot. Gomez and Michael Ryder would be a good tandem in the bottom six. The problem in Jersey is that they are both top six players. Not a sign of a winning team. Jaromir Jagr is the next most productive passer with 15.87 shot attempts generated per 60 minutes. After Jagr, we see players clustered in two halves of the chart, based on their secondary passing. I feel that secondary passing represents sustained offensive possession and success in transition, so players that have higher rates by this metric tend to be your "better" players at keeping the puck and generating offense.
However, in this cluster of players, there’s certainly enough data to be alarmed. Patrik Elias probably shouldn’t have been an All-Star if Jordin Tootoo generates more offense from his passing every 60 minutes. Elias’ game has really fallen off this year (he says, rearing back his fist to punch a dead horse yet again) and you have to wonder if he’ll rebound next season.
Martin Havlat, Adam Henrique, and Dainius Zubrus were the three highest passers on a per 60 minute rate behind Jagr. John frequently talks about the Devils not hitting their passes and struggling to move the puck in his recaps. Looking at the Devils that lead the team in generating offense from their passes, it’s easy to see why that is a struggle.
I included Damien Brunner in these forward charts so we can constantly be reminded that Pete DeBoer was a bad coach that couldn’t maximize talent in his players. I mean, this is two straight years the Devils have terminated contracts with players (Rostislav Olesz last season) so we could see more of Tim Sestito and Stephen Gionta playing above his pay grade. Getting rid of players is one thing, but replacing them with AHL-level talent or bumping a 4th liner up to a 3rd line role doesn’t make your decision to cut Brunner look any smarter.
Anyways, we'll see Ryder’s preference for shooting show up later in this post, but the opposite side of that is his limited passing. The "BGB" of the old "CBGB" are nestled together on the far left, generating more passes than only Mike Sislo, Sestito, and, in Bernier’s case, Ryder.
Moving to scoring chance efficiency and contributions, I’m only going to include players with enough events to make it worthwhile to chart. The way to read these charts is this: the X-Axis represents the efficiency (proportion of shot attempts generated that result in a shot on goal) of all passes sent into the scoring chance area in front of goal (home plate), the Y-Axis represents the percentage of on-ice scoring chances that the player directly contributes to via either a shot or pass, and the size of the bubble represents their Scoring Chance Contributions/60 minutes of ice time.
What quickly stands out here is that Adam Larsson is an incredibly efficient passer of scoring chances. I tweeted out a while ago that Larsson has been getting much better at shooting/passing for the deflection in the slot area, similar to Zidlicky. He contributes to 10.7% of the scoring chances the Devils have when he’s on the ice, which is just ahead of Severson and Zidlicky. Larsson is looking more and more the player some of us thought he’d be when he was drafted. I’m very excited to see where he takes his game next season.
Leading the pack is Eric Gelinas, who contributes to 3.64 scoring chances every 60 minutes. Nearly 15% of all scoring chances attempted when Gelinas is on the ice go through him in some way. Salvador, Helgeson, and Harrold barely registered on this chart; and Fraser hasn’t played long enough.
As pointed out by CJ with regards to Michael Ryder and his scoring chances, it’s Jagr, Ryder, and then everyone else. Of course, when you factor in a player’s passing contributions in this area of the ice, the gap closes. Brunner, Bernier, and Cammalleri are not far off the pace.
Elias is even more efficient than Larsson, so he still can dish it effectively even if he’s not generating the volume he was last season. Jagr, Bernier, Henrique, and Cammalleri are the next most efficient setup men on the team when it comes to scoring chances.
See how Gomez’s rate metric drops when we look at shooting contributions as well? He has one trick that he does well: passing the puck, which stands out on this team because very few players can do that well.
Brunner was involved in 9.63 scoring chances/60, yet his passing was only more efficient than Gionta. I honestly feel Brunner showed glimpses last season and he is partly to blame for his flaming out in Jersey, but the absence of talent on this roster likely contributed to his demise here more than anything else. Brunner was a complimentary piece and needed a solid player to drive play for him to contribute significantly for the Devils. That just didn’t happen. If fact, you could argue this point when discussing just about any player on this roster, and that's the problem here in New Jersey: this roster is full of complementary players.
Overall Corsi Contribution
Now, let's look at a player’s overall Corsi numbers to see who is truly driving offensive production while on the ice. The way to read this chart is this: The X-Axis represents the total number of shot attempts generated from a player’s passes (primary and secondary), the Y-Axis represents a player’s iCF (individual Corsi For, or shooting attempts), and the bubble size represents the percentage of on-ice Corsi events that player contributes to, or Corsi Contribution percentage (CC%). So, the top right portion of the chart is higher offensive output, the bottom left houses lower volume players. First up, the blue line.
No surprise here as Zidlicky leads the blue line in passing contributions and is among the leaders in shooting contributions. He’s also the second-most involved defenseman in the team’s offense, having a hand in 38.7% of the shot attempts while on the ice. This is behind only Gelinas’ 40.3% Corsi Contribution. Severson was a boss on the ice before his unfortunate injury, contributing to 36.9% of the team’s offense, featuring a nice mix of shot attempts and passing contributions.
Greene is still productive, even if he’s taken on more defensive duties while paired with Severson and/or Larsson this season. The sign of a great player is his ability to excel in different roles, or having a different emphasis on responsibility when paired with players who are the opposite of Mark Fayne. Like many on this site, I still can’t quite figure out what type of player Jon Merrill will be. He seems to have taken a step back this season and is now behind Gelinas, Larsson, and Severson. With Greene returning next season, Merrill looks to be the 5th defenseman. Is he someone you trade in a package deal for help up front?
Salvador and Helgeson had the exact same plot on the chart, hence the single circle named "Helgador." Harrold, again, is barely a serviceable 7th defensemen. In fact, as I was typing that sentence he just exposed himself to another big hit, so he’s useless. If Harrold played in the All-Star Game, he’d find a way to expose himself and get laid out.
Jagr and Ryder are ahead in shooting contributions. I am Jack’s complete lack of surprise.
I don’t know what’s more amazing: Jagr’s continued ability to dominate offensive contributions, or the rest of the team’s inability to catch him. When you have to re-size your chart based on the production of a 43-year old, well, I don’t even know what to say about that. Jagr is involved in 55% of the team’s shot attempts. He does this while contribution to far more Corsi events than any other player. Remarkable.
Tootoo has the next highest CC% at 51.5%, but we see where he is on the chart and is basically king of the 4th line. Woo hoo.
Ryder, in large part because of his shooting prowess, contributes to 49% of the Corsi events while on the ice. Teams need shooters, and Ryder will always fill that void. Gomez’s shooting contributions are ahead of only Sislo and Sestito, as his passing contributions have eclipsed most of the regulars on the team, despite him not playing for the first two months of the season.
Not to further beat the deceased equine, but Elias contributes to only 41.9% of the team’s Corsi events when on the ice. His passing and shooting contributions are right in the middle, ahead of Havlat, but behind Ruutu in both volume and CC%.
How to use this information? Well, from a purely offensive standpoint, it identifies which players generate offense, how they generate it, how integral they are when on the ice, and also how they contribute to the most dangerous opportunities—scoring chances.
From a distribution standpoint, only Merrill generates offense from passes more frequently than any defenseman not named Zidlicky. We see how much offense flows through Gelinas, Zidlicky, and Severson from the blue line, how efficient Larsson is in generating the most dangerous scoring opportunities, and how useless Harrold is on the ice.
For the forwards, Elias remains efficient, but appears to not be able to generate the volume that he did last season. Bernier remains a solid depth contributor that can excel in a 4th line role with other depth skill players. On a contending team, their fourth line is probably Ryder – Gomez – Bernier. Here in Jersey, that’s the first line on some nights. And Brunner, however inconsistent, managed to be involved in scoring chances more frequently than anyone except Ryder and Jagr.
So, there’s a quick look at how the Devils have been doing in terms of passing the puck for the first 47 games. I just recruited someone to help me out with the Hawks games in the second half of the season, so I hope to be able to write a bit more. I’d like to get back into doing some video analysis, so hopefully I’ll have time to do that going forward. If you have any suggestions or requests for things you’d like to see, let me know!