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2015 Passing Project Data Release: Volume III

The third article in this series focuses on the on-ice player data for our passing metrics. Read on for the details.

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In this article, I release our on-ice player data. This will include the same 260 game sample as Volume II’s linkup data. I’ve managed to pull the Time on Ice figures for each player from this sample thanks to Andrew Thomas at WaronIce helping me take my first R baby steps. Now, since this is a little over half of our total sample of games, there won’t be as much data on players that were not on the teams we tracked all season. Those, again, are the recent Stanley Cup winners Chicago Blackhawks, Florida Panthers, New Jersey Devils, New York Rangers, New York Islanders, and Washington Capitals. Remember that you can access the full season of player data from Volume I.

So, how to use this data? Well, you’ll see a number of tabs in the downloadable spreadsheet that is below. The first represents the passing events a player is on the ice for. A glossary is included, but I’ll briefly summarize here. You can filter by team, position, and if the player had more than 100 or 200 minutes of TOI. Columns E and F tell you the number of shot attempts generated by passes a player was on the ice both for and against, with their percentage in column G. You can think of this as a "passing Corsi." Columns H, I, and J do the same thing for shots. The column after a player's on-ice percentage will show you their relative numbers as well.

The metrics grow more detailed as you move to the right. A2 For and Against tell you how many attempts were generated through sustained possession (multiple passes) while that player was on the ice. This is especially important because teams shoot at a higher percentage from multiple passes when compared to a single pass. SC SAG, if you recall from earlier articles, are scoring chance attempts generated by a pass sent into the home plate area. These can be actual passes or shots/passes that are deflected within this same area.

RR stands for Royal Road. Identifying which defensemen are on the ice both for and against these greatest of scoring chances seems important. Now, you can see how many and their per 60 minute rate of allowing these chances. PGF and PGA simple stand for Passing Goals For and Against. The rates for all of these metrics follow. Also, based on the sequencing of the events a player is on the ice for, we can calculate an expected goals number both for and against. That is next to the observed goals. These do not take into account specific shot location or shot type (other than one-timer status), but simply the passing location and sequence that preceded it. Combining much of the work many people have done recently on shot type, distance, angle, etc. with this data would yield some intriguing data.

But that’s not all! In addition to on-ice data, I’ve included player shooting and passing data. This illustrates how often players were set up for one-timers, made passes across the Royal Road, how efficiency they were on these attempts, and other things.  Refer to the glossary for those definitions, but much of it is the same. Enjoy!

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So, now that this is out there, let’s take a look at some of the Devils best and worst players when they are on the ice in terms of passing possession. The next few charts show the possession rates for sustained passing plays (shot attempts preceded by multiple passes or A2s) and Royal Road rates. We'll look at the defensemen first and then the forwards.


Def_RR Rates

From these two charts we can extrapolate quite a bit of information. In terms of generating offense with multiple passes, moving the puck around, and simply keeping possession before generating a shot attempt, the Devils had their most sustained possession with Damon Severson (4.7% A2 Rel) and Jon Merrill (5.4% A2 Rel) on the ice. They also generated more Royal Road passes per sixty minutes with these same two defensemen on the ice. You'll see two examples below of both of them making good passes out of the zone that lead to chances the other way. Transitioning the puck for defensemen is of vital importance and these two do it quite well. If you recall from Volume I, Merrill led the blue line in this regard, with Severson just about tied for second with Marek Zidlicky.

Unsurprisingly, Mark Fraser is terrible, nothing happens when Peter Harrold is on the ice, and Marek Zidlicky is the opposite of Harrold: events galore at both ends. I go into detail on an idea I have for the summer a little later on, but it will be interesting to dig into Harrold's numbers.

It is somewhat concerning to see Adam Larsson and Andy Greene's Royal Road against figures. Of hte seventy defensemen we tracked data on that played at least 200 minutes, Larsson and Greene were only ahead of Derek Engelland. Of course multiple Devils were at the bottom of that list, so it will difficult to assign all the blame on these two until I get into it with more detail. On to the forwards.



Here, we see most of the forwards breaking even in sustained passing possession, with some excelling (Scott Gomez, Jaromir Jagr, Steve Bernier, etc.) and some, not so much (Dainius Zubrus and Stephen Gionta), but it's not a wide range.

The Royal Road events paint a different picture. I'll get into this more when I release the team data next week, but it's a tire fire for most players. All except Travis Zajac.

I want to focus on Travis Zajac in this section. Zajac generated fourteen Royal Road attempts at a rate of 1.48/60 minutes, best mark on the team of players over 100 minutes. While he’s on the ice the Devils generate 3.60 Royal Road attempts/60 minutes and give up 2.96/60 minutes. The offensive production is, again, best on the team and defensively is sixth-best. So, in terms of the most dangerous chances a team can generate, the team is at its best with Zajac on the ice, and still defends reasonably well. Let’s have a look.


This first screenshot shows both of his abilities. Zajac skates back into his zone as Ryan Nugent-Hopkins carries the puck in, Zajac drops off and moves defend the passing lane. He picks off the attempt cross-ice pass and skates away with it.


At the other end of the ice, Zajac is going to lead Havlat with this pass to allow him to receive inside the home plate area and just over the Royal Road. Havlat is able to get off a good chance.


This play starts with Severson making a gorgeous pass out of his own end to Zajac at the blue line.


Zajac carries the puck in, holds up, and then threads a pass between two Coyotes defenders to Patrik Elias. Elias, unfortunately, whiffs on the attempt.


In this next shot, Zajac carries the puck into the Coyotes’ zone and threads another pass past a defender—this time under the stick—to Mike Cammalleri. Jordin Tootoo would score on the rebound on this play.


This next sequence starts when Jon Merrill plays this excellent pass to Zajac in the neutral zone. It allows Zajac to take it in stride and carry into the Toronto zone.


Zajac carries in, holds up, and draws three Leafs to him. He is still able to play a pass into space for Elias to skate into. Unlike the last example, Elias doesn’t miss on this zone and scores his 400th goal.


This one I turned into a GIF because it’s fun to watch. Severson picks the puck up in the neutral zone and dishes to Zajac as number nineteen is about to enter the zone. Zajac skates and then pulls up. He waits for traffic to clear and a seam opens up that Cammalleri skates into. Zajac feeds him for the one-timer that is saved.

It should be noted here that Zajac generated seven Royal Road passes for Cammalleri and he did not score on a single one of them. That is incredibly unlucky. Of the 15,000+ events we tracked since January, when a shot is preceded by a Royal Road pass it goes in 26.5% of the time. He generated five shots and another two attempts for Cammalleri. Zajac's seven Road Road passes to Cammalleri was the highest amount any player generated for another player, so clearly the two of them have a feel for where the other is and, more importantly, where he will be. It will be fun watching the two of them next season.

So, there’s your next data release and a quick highlight of Zajac’s passing ability. Now that I have all the data prepped and just need to post it each week, I have more time to get into what you all want to read: analysis of the Devils. After the team and goalie data release posts, there will be posts on the defense and how they perform individually and in pairings. How a defenseman plays the puck or a passing lane might depend on his partner’s situation and responsibilities, so I decided it would be best to look at passing events with the Devils defensemen in pairs.