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Driver or Passenger?: Identifying Offensive Production among the New Jersey Devils

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This post delves into exactly how much offense each player contributes to while on the ice. It also looks at how players performed under Pete DeBoer and the current coaching staff. Read on for the details.

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

When we look at a player’s CF%, or SAT%, we get an idea of what happens when they are on the ice. We also have a Corsi Rel or SAT Rel to tell us how many more or fewer shot attempts the team attempts with that player on and off the ice. What we do not get an idea of is exactly how a player goes about generating offense or how much they contribute to the team’s total offensive output.

What I’ve done in this article is to try and analyze how much offensive production we can assign to each player. What is this player’s impact versus another? Basically, who is truly driving production compared to those that are mere passengers. To do this, I sought out to answer two questions: 1) How much does a player contribute to attempts for while that player is on the ice? How often does that player contribute to said attempts? That’s what we want to know about a player’s offensive production, right? How often and how much.

So, how to arrive at these answers: individual shot attempts, primary passes leading to shot attempts, and secondary passes that lead to shot attempts. Add up all of those and you’ll get how often a player contributes by dividing by their ice time. Adding up all of those and dividing by the total number of attempts the team has while that player is on the ice will give you their Attempt Share (Percentage of on-ice attempts a player contributes to). Again, how often and how much.

It is important to keep in mind that any player evaluation here is looking at offensive production only. You can check out a preview of more comprehensive on-ice metrics here. But, when I talk about a player’s value in this article, it is from an offensive standpoint. Please keep that mind.

A note about the axis: while it is best practice to start your x and y-axis at 0, I’ve altered them in order to make the information as clear as possible. I’m limited by the space SB Nation offers for display and don’t want you to think I’m attempting to manipulate the data. I trust the readers here are intelligent enough to read a graph and not be "tricked" by how I’ve labeled the axis. That being said, if you’d like to complain, by all means, fire away in the comments.

Zone start and SAT (Corsi) data came from War on Ice. Time on ice data came from Hockey Analysis. All data is at 5v5 situations. All data represents the first fifty-nine games of the Devils season.

Defensemen

Def_CC

Starting with the defensemen, we see a few different groupings right off the bat. Eric Gelinas, Damon Severson, and Marek Zidlicky are in the top right corner; Andy Greene and Adam Larsson in the middle; Jon Merrill, Seth Helgeson, and Peter Harrold bringing up the rear. I’ve eliminated Bryce Salvador and Mark Fraser due to the lower number of events and ice time we have for them.

What this plot tells us is that of all the Devils defensemen, Gelinas has the largest Attempt Share (contributes more to all attempts while on the ice than other defensemen) at 41.1%. He also contributes to the highest number of attempts per sixty minutes (21.1). Severson and Zidlicky are just behind Gelinas, though their plots tell slightly different stories: Zidlicky contributes to a greater share of the team’s offense while on the ice than Severson, but contributes to fewer events while on the ice overall. This likely suggests that more offense goes through Zidlicky when he’s on the ice, but that Severson is involved in events slightly faster. Do the Devils play a quicker pace or attack more directly when Severson was on the ice rather than Zidlicky?

Greene and Larsson situate themselves closely together, which makes sense since they’ve been paired together for most of the recent games. Larsson’s numbers are actually better than they appear, which is something I’ll return to later, and he’s starting to assert himself move into the game on a nightly basis. I expect these numbers to rise throughout the season.

Merrill, Helgeson, and Harrold are all in the back. Harrold and Helgeson we aren’t surprised by, but what exactly is Jon Merrill? Last season, I think many Devils fans felt he might be the most consistent of the rookie defensemen. This season? I have no idea what to make of him.

Forwards

Fwd_CC

No surprise that Jaromir Jagr is both contributes more often and play goes through him while he’s on the ice than any other Devils forward. Scott Gomez is not too far off given his playmaking ability. Mike Cammalleri stands out as well. Adam Henrique and Michael Ryder, yes, we’d expect to see them towards the right side of the graph as well.  But Jordin Tootoo?

Tootoo played well on the fourth line and has since been promoted to a top-six role by the coaching triumvirate. He has made some decent plays recently, but his volume is right in line with Jacob Josefson and Tuomo Ruutu, which makes sense. He’s also contributing just as often as Travis Zajac. This is why I mentioned above that these are ways to assess players from an offensive standpoint. Zajac has never been an offensive force and needs wingers to truly bring out his offensive game. We’ve seen this throughout his Devils career.

Also, let us collectively mourn the demise of Patrik Elias. Oh, you are a cruel master, Father Time. Speaking of mourning, look at how pathetic Dainius Zubrus’ offensive game is. Isn’t there a bar mitzvah that needs a DJ or something, Dainius?

Coaching Impact

While this would be a suitable overview of the players had Pete DeBoer stayed with the team, that was not the case. To get an idea of how much better or worse a player performed under DeBoer or under the current coaching regime, I sorted each player's stats before and after December 26th, the day of DeBoer's firing. I've also included deployment charts from War on Ice to get an idea of how players were used under the different coaches.

Usage under DeBoer

WOI_DeBoer

So, we can see from DeBoer’s usage of the players that Gelinas benefited from slightly-below average competition and favorable zone starts. Larsson, on the other hand, faced about the same competition, but the most difficult zone starts of any player. Greene and Severson were the defensive pair that received the difficult assignments and tough zone starts as well. Zidlicky came out ahead with his favorable matchups and deployment, while Merrill, Salvador, and Helgeson didn’t do much. Notice the disparity in ice time as well: Larsson got about the same as Helgeson and less than any other defenseman, yet did not get creamed in matchups. How did this affect the defensemen and their overall contribution? Let’s have a look.

Deboer_Def_CC

So, similar to the overall picture, Gelinas, Zidlicky, and Severson are all near the top-right corner. However, pay attention to Larsson here: he contributes to just under seventeen shot attempts per sixty minutes, which is only two fewer than Zidlicky and Severson, and three fewer than Gelinas. That is impressive considering he drew the most difficult zone starts on the back end. Before Severson’s injury and Larsson moved up to play with Greene, his next most common defense partner was Helgeson, according to LeftWingLock. Greene’s numbers don’t look great, but we know he took on more of defensive role with Severson having the freedom to go forward. Now to the forwards.

DeBoer_Fwd_CC

Jagr is still best. Cammalleri is second. Gomez moves into third after having a solid opening three weeks on the team after he was signed on December 1st. Notice where Zajac falls. This is the purpose of looking at this data. We know Zajac, Jagr, and Cammalleri played together for much of their time under DeBoer. In fact, looking at LeftWingLock again, it’s still the Devils most common line. But, looking at the data, we know Zajac was more a passenger on that line than Cammalleri and Jagr, considerably so. And Elias…what’s there to say?

Usage Post DeBoer

The moment many fans, and some writers on this site, myself included, had waited for. DeBoer was gone. Let’s see how the new coaching staff decided to use the players.

WOI_Post_DeBoer

First thing I notice is that Larsson easily steps into the role alongside Greene that we’ve seen him excel in lately. The second thing I notice is Gelinas still getting favorable zone starts, but unless they’re extremely favorable, he’ll be a negative possession player. The defensemen and their deployment is bit more balanced here than under DeBoer. Merrill has benefited, but Helgeson has been a tire fire—if his circle was any redder, it may burst into flames now. Let’s see how it impacted their numbers.

PD_Def_CC

Well, I think the entire group misses Severson. As a quick aside, had Lou kept Fayne last summer, how comfortable would you feel with a top four of Fayne-Greene, Larsson-Severson going into next season? I’d be quite happy with that. Maybe we can get him back on one of Tyler Dellow’s vacation days during the offseason. Maybe not.

Anyways, Gelinas still contributes to and generates significantly more offense than other defensemen. Larsson and Greene are nearly identical, and Zidlicky’s offense drops off. The more balanced approach to deployment has limited the offense of several defensemen, which has been evident by their lower shot totals overall. Of course, Merrill, Harrold, and Mark Fraser have become something else.

PD_Fwd_CC

Blame Zubrus for how clustered some players are, his total lack of offensive contributions are the reason for the graph behind so stretched. The next thing you’ll notice is that Jagr is no longer the top dog in terms of offense. He’s been replaced by Gomez with Henrique nipping at his heels. Obviously, if you reduce Jagr’s ice time as much as it was before being traded, the numbers are going to go down. But, I don’t think it was just the numbers. He had not looked at all like himself and I was all for the picks that Florida sent back to Jersey.

Next, look at Zajac, Elias, and Havlat, which has been the second most common line for the Devils. Their production is middle-of the-road, but if you look back at how they’re being used since DeBoer left, they’ve essentially been given the toughest zone starts and competition and have done quite well in those matchups. What does this say about Zajac? He does from contributing least on a prolific line with favorable zone starts, to contributing most on a line receiving the toughest zone starts. I think Zajac is steady, solid, and can perform well in any situation, but he will never be the guy that drives play for the line. That shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone on this site, but he has excelled in two vastly different roles for this team amidst the changes this season.

One last thing to point out is the play of Jacob Josefson who, while getting favorable matchups, has been involved offensively as often as anyone not named Jagr, Henrique, or Gomez since 12/26. Quite simply, Josefson has been driving play when he's out there more often than his linemates, whomever they may be. Over the last ten games, he's most often been on a line Gionta and Zubrus.

Conclusions

So, what do we think of how the coaches are using the players since DeBoer left? Do you agree/disagree with how the coaches have used the players since then? Or, did you prefer how DeBoer used the players? What questions do you have on this information? Does it help you decide on which players should be re-signed or let go that are free agents this coming offseason? Sound off below!