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Possession Improvement

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Last season, the New Jersey Devils were one of the worst teams in the league in terms of possession, which was a stark contrast to a few years ago when the team was one of the best. How much improvement do we need to see next year in this department?

He had the best 5v5 Corsi last year for anyone on the team with at least 50 games played.
He had the best 5v5 Corsi last year for anyone on the team with at least 50 games played.
Bruce Fedyck-USA TODAY Sports

Last season, as I'm sure most all of you know by now, the New Jersey Devils were a horrible possession team.  In fact, at 5 on 5 play, they were the 2nd worst in the entire NHL (in terms of Corsi), ahead of only Colorado. A 46.2 CF% is quite poor, and it means that the majority of the time, the play was in the Devils end, and the Devils were continually getting less shot attempts and less movement up the ice.  Looking at Fenwick, removing blocked shots, has the Devils slightly better, but at 26th in the league, it was still an atrocious possession year from our favorite team.  And this is coming from a team that was ranked 3rd in the league in Corsi in 2013-14, behind only Los Angeles and Chicago.  It has been a precipitous drop from a team that had great possession and could not score to a team that does not possess the puck at all and still cannot score.

This season, we should not all of a sudden expect a return to possession dominance.  There is nothing about the changeover in roster that should indicate as such.  We should, however, look for some improvement, as that would be a strong sign that this team is improving in its rebuild and is moving in the right direction.  What I want to look at today is how much improvement would mean that the Devils could return to being a real contender.  Do they need to get over 50% Corsi, which would be improbable given their possession performance last season, or would a jump to like 48 or 49% be good enough to enter the mix?

While there is no exact answer, obviously, let's look at some past numbers to get some indication. Below I have made up a few charts listing the number of teams that made it into certain possession brackets.  I've broken it down into four categories: teams with a Corsi at 5 on 5 over 52%, those between 50% and 52%, those between 48% and 50%, and those under 48%.  Then, with each category, I listed the number of teams in that bracket, along with the number of teams that made the playoffs.  I've done this for the past 5 seasons, since the Devils themselves last made a playoff appearance.  All of this information comes from Hockey Analysis, linked above.

Teams with Corsi At or > 52%

Year

# Teams in Bracket

# In Playoffs

Percentage In

2015-16

7

7

100%

2014-15

10

7

70%

2013-14

8

6

75%

2012-13

9

8

89%

2011-12

8

8

100%

Teams with Corsi Between 50%-51.9%

Year

# Teams in Bracket

% In Playoffs

Percentage In

2015-16

9

5

56%

2014-15

8

5

63%

2013-14

9

4

44%

2012-13

4

2

50%

2011-12

5

3

60%

Teams with Corsi Between 48%-49.9%

Year

# Teams in Bracket

% In Playoffs

Percentage In

2015-16

6

2

33%

2014-15

6

3

50%

2013-14

6

4

67%

2012-13

9

5

56%

2011-12

9

3

33%

Teams with Corsi < 48%

Year

# Teams in Bracket

% In Playoffs

Percentage In

2015-16

8

2

25%

2014-15

6

1

17%

2013-14

7

2

29%

2012-13

8

1

13%

2011-12

8

2

25%

So as you can see, possession is obviously important.  As if you didn't know that already. It has a direct relation to a team's percentages of making the postseason.  A team that has had a 5v5 Corsi For of at least 52% has had a no worse than 70% chance of making the playoffs during the last 5 seasons.  Furthermore, teams with a CF% worse than 48% have had a no better than 29% chance of making the dance.  Those are staggering numbers.  Now I highlighted each year where the Devils fell, so in 2012-13 and 2013-14 the Devils made the top bracket but still failed to qualify despite most every other team in their bracket getting in, but the past two seasons they were one of many teams in the bottom bracket to not play games beyond mid-April.

So, that brings us to this upcoming season.  My initial question was how much improvement would turn our team into a legitimate contender for a postseason berth.  The answer to that is not really any clearer, but let's look.  If the Devils can get above the 48% threshold next season for Corsi, they should have at least a 33% shot at grabbing a playoff spot, and perhaps have as high as a 67% chance if the cards fall the right way.  The average percentage in that bracket over the past 5 years is at 47.8%, so just under half.  If the Devils can somehow get into the black and get above 50% for possession, a highly unlikely prospect but theoretically not impossible, their chances would improve further.  They would then have no worse than a 44% chance of getting in, and the bracket average over the past 5 years has been 54.6%.

If they remain in the under 48% bracket this upcoming season, however, their chances are a lot worse.  No more than 2 teams from this bracket have made the playoffs in any of the past 5 seasons despite the bracket holding at least 6 teams every year.  The average percentage of teams that make the dance from this bracket is at 21.8%, not nearly as good as the 44% chance in the next bracket up.

So I would personally say this: we should root for a team next season that has a Corsi at least above 48%.  I feel that is a very reasonable goal, one that an improving team can achieve.  Last season's 46.2% was exceptionally low, and if the team is improving at all, it should definitely improve.  If it can get above 48%, then the odds of the team winning more games and being more competitive gets a lot better.  47.8% of teams with a Corsi under 50% but still at or above 48% have made the playoffs over the last 5 years, almost half.  That is not a terrible number, and it means that teams in this bracket can definitely be competitive, much more so than teams with really bad possession numbers.

Of course, these numbers are all just rough averages, and the sample size is small, just the last 5 years.  But it at least gives us fans some indication of where a team needs to be possession-wise to really have a good chance at competing for a playoff position.  While being over 52% gives a team a really strong shot, that number is really far away from the 46.2% that NJ posted last year.  However, the Devils do need to improve somewhat, and I personally am hoping to see a number over 48%.  That should theoretically help make the team more competitive, and it would be a great sign that it is on the right path.

Your Thoughts

What are your thoughts about these numbers? What are you looking for from the Devils next year in terms of possession?  Will you be happy with a Corsi over 48% like me, or do you have to see a higher number to be happy, perhaps over 50%?  Or do you think that these numbers are less important, and you are looking elsewhere to see improvement?  Please leave your comments below, and thanks for reading.