Offensively, Mike Cammalleri is still the team leader of the New Jersey Devils. He's fallen out of the top ten scorers in the league, but a few points and he'll be right back among the most prolific producers in 2015-16. Last week, back when he had thirty points, I took a closer look at every single point he earned this season. I determined, among other conclusions, that the majority of his then eleven goals and then twenty one assists were legitimate. However, while it explains who set up his goals, it doesn't fully answer who has been setting up his offensive plays. Cammalleri is not just the leading point-producer on the Devils, but he's also their leading shot taker. As Cammalleri goes, often does New Jersey's offense. But he's not doing it entirely on his own.
Fortunately, this is the sort of question - among others - that we may start developing answers. Before, I would just rely on who's been assisting on his goals and/or his regular linemates, assuming they're involved. There's now a grassroots tracking group that can provide clearer answers. The Passing Tracking Project is led by Ryan Stimson - who's been on this site many times in the past. He just released the first part of the group's work at Hockey Graphs on Friday. Our very own Brian Franken and Kevin Winstanley have been tracking Devils games. In Ryan's first release, they've done twenty five games from the beginning of the season through to December 8 with only three games missing: 11/28 at Montreal, 12/3 at Carolina, and 12/6 vs Florida. Even with those gaps, that's twenty five games of data on who's creating shooting attempts and where those passes are coming from. That's good place as any to start.
What the trackers counted was which players made the first, second, and third (if applicable) assist to set up the shooting attempt. They also counted where the pass came from, with abbreviations for offensive, defensive, and neutral zone along with left, right, and center lanes. Maybe Cammalleri missed the net. Maybe Cammalleri was blocked. But even those non-shots meant that Cammalleri was in a position where he felt it was the right decision to try and get something on (or in) the goal. I will admit that I'm still digesting the data dump from Ryan and his crew. The master file has the definitions for the various abbreviations in the file. With more time, I'll be able to sort out some real interesting findings about how the Devils have performed this season. For now, I want to know who's setting up Cammalleri and where it's from. I will emphasize that the data I am using here is from all situations and all shooting attempts.
For the sake of this project, an assist is simply a play made that leads to a shooting attempt. The first assist would be the play made that directly led to a shooting attempt. Among the game data tracked by Brian and Kevin, Cammalleri had 96 attempts. 56 of them were shots on goal, 32 were in the common scoring chance zone (definition here), and six ended up being goals. Here's the list of who provided the primary assist for a Cammalleri attempt:
It may not be very surprising to see that Lee Stempniak and Adam Henrique lead the way in setting up attempts, shots, and even scoring chance shots. They are his most common linemates at even strength and they play together even on the power play. What's curious is where the passes were. Nearly all of their passes that set up attempts were within the offensive zone. Very few times did any of them lead Cammalleri onto an attempt from outside of the offensive zone. More curiously is that there wasn't a bias towards a side of the ice. Despite where they line up, the passes have come from left, right, and center. It speaks to how a forward line may be structured but in the run of play, they can rotate and move into spaces where available regardless of the side of the zone.
Following the two linemates is Damon Severson. Nearly all of those first assists have come from extra man situations. Most of those came from the center - where Severson would be in a 1-3-1 - or the right side, which is closer to where Severson is usually situated. None of the other defensemen were as prolific. Even power play regular John Moore only had a few feeds to #13 for shots.
As for the other Devils, Travis Zajac has been more successful than the rest with nine to Cammalleri. Like Henrique, most are on offense with a handful from the neutral zone. Digging a little deeper, most of those came in 5-on-5 play, so any short time where Zajac and Cammalleri were on the ice between shifts or there was a quick adjustment made or even time after a special teams situaiton proven something out. It's something Hynes may be somewhat aware of should Henrique be unable to play or a change is needed elsewhere in the lineup. The rest of the teammates haven't contributed so many to really be significant, though this is only 25 games worth of tracked data.
Not every attempt by Cammalleri had a play made prior to set up the primary play that set it up. 45 of Cammalleri's 96 attempts did not. Here are the remainder and who did it:
Your eyes are not deciving you. Cammalleri has set up quite a few of his own attempts. Whether it was through a give-and-go or developing a play that he finished, #13 has been the best among secondary assists. Most likely, he was making a pass to Henrique or Stempniak, who then passed it back for a shot. All of Cammalleri's secondary assists were on offense and all but two of them have been from the sides. Cammalleri may not be a right winger, but he's not averse to taking or giving out passes from the right side. Amazing to me is that Stempniak and Henrique are very different; Stempniak nearly has twice as many secondary assists as Henrique so far - and none of his nine are from the right side at all. It appears to me that Stempniak created the created attempt from the left side frequently enough that it's not just a coincidence.
Beyond Stempniak and Cammalleri himself, no one really made a whole lot of secondary assists for Camalleri's attempts. Even fewer were shots on net, nevermind shots from the dangerous areas. Knowing this, let's look at tertiary or third assists then.
Here, Henrique and Stempniak become more frequent. Well, relatively frequent. Even fewer attempts by Cammalleri had something by a Devil two plays earlier to set up a shot. 65 of his 96 attempts didn't have a third assist. The remainder is above. Henrique was providing just one more than Stempniak, followed by Cammalleri. This provides further evidence that the line has been primarily responsible for Cammalleri's offense. Three of those third assists came right from faceoffs. So think of it as: faceoff win to pass to pass to attempt by #13. Those faceoff wins along with his other plays all came on offense, with only one pass starting from the defensive zone. Stempniak's third assists were split between the neutral zone and the offensive zone. Cammalleri follows behind as being involved in his own shooting attempts. Somehow, two of them starting in his own end impresses me given that he put a cap on the play. Zajac and Severson follow six other Devils with only one instance each.
All told, there haven't been a lot of these third assists to think that there's something more to it beyond further suggestion that Cammalleri's shots were mostly created by his line with only the occasional outside assistance from the defense or other forwards.
To answer the larger question, Cammalleri's biggest helpers to create shooting attempts, to create offense has been his linemates and, when looking beyond the direct pass to shot, himself. This only further emphasizes something I've noticed throughout this season so far. That is, the 13-14-20 line drives a lot of the team's attack. It not only features Cammalleri, the leading attempter in this data set and in this season. Stempniak and Henrique are up there as well, not just setting up Cammalleri's attempts but also taking sixty of their own. Only Severson and Kyle Palmieri are ahead of those two in terms of straight-up attempts in this data set. Unlike those two, they're not usually feeding Cammalleri at the same time. So when Adam Henrique got hurt or if either of them gets hurt again, I wouldn't be surprised if Cammalleri eventually suffers in a big way.
Interestingly, the vast majority of these assists - first, second, or third - have occurred on offense. I counted approximately 150 of them compared to 17 from the neutral zone and 11 from defense. Even on just first assists, only ten of them were not in the offensive zone. This suggests to me plenty of build up play. That's obvious on the power play, but this is also true at 5-on-5. Cammalleri isn't one to be sprung from the neutral zone and have him take it in himself all that often. He's going to make a pass to help create something a little later or be on the receiving end of an offensive shift. This isn't to say he doesn't score off the rush; just that it's not common. And that's one of the last points I want to make. As far as I could tell, all of Cammalleri's attempts in this data set of 25 games have included at least one helper. Again, a missing Henrique and/or Stempniak (injury, bad night, whatever) can directly undercut Cammalleri's performance as a shooter. Maybe that's been obvious to some of you, but we at least have evidence showing that in 25 of the team's first 28 games.
So what's next? Well, with further time with the data set, we could make many more discoveries with respect to the types of set-ups the Devils players have done. It could speak further to the team's tendencies. Ryan has a great example of just that in this post about the Leafs - the Devils were the opponent in question - at Hockey Graphs last week. The larger point is that with passes being tracked, we can uncover many new things about what we see on the ice, how players function, and how teams perform. And answer questions like who's really setting up Cammalleri beyond counting assists. That's big for analysis.
Let me know what you think of all of this in the comments. Again, thanks to Ryan for leading the project, thanks to Brian and Kevin for tracking the Devils games, and thank you for reading. If you want the data set to play around with it, it's in this post at Hockey Graphs.