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Icings Do Not Generate a Lot of Offense & Other Findings from a Devils Season of Icings

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Icings are events in nearly every hockey game. But what are their impact? While the data is from the 2016-17 New Jersey Devils team, this post has plenty of conclusions from the data that would apply to this season and beyond. Namely that icings are not so dangerous

Arizona Coyotes v New Jersey Devils
Ben Lovejoy was your icing leader last season. We can learn plenty from that season of icings for even today.
Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

In this past week, we saw a lot. We saw the New Jersey Devils survived a lot of pressure in waves in Columbus in a 4-1 win. We saw the Devils blow it against Columbus in a 3-5 loss. We saw the Devils flop in the World’s Most Overrated Arena. Among all of those events, you know what I noticed? Icings.

Take that first game against Columbus. There were ten icings in total in that game. Both sides flung the puck away after absorbing considerable pressure. And neither team really took advantage of the other team icing the puck. Shouldn’t either Columbus or New Jersey punish them for that icing? In theory, it should have. An icing by one team gives the other team an offensive zone start and the ability to change players - the icing team cannot change personnel. And starting this season, the team who iced the puck cannot call a timeout. However, in practice, it really did not. And I should have known that. Because I went through all of last season’s icings in the Devils’ season to establish that icings really have not made a big impact on games. Now is a good time as any to explain further.

Sure, last season was, well, last season and probably better left in the dustbin of history. However, many of your main offenders for icing are still on the team along with the same coaching staff. Further, the conclusions from that season with respect to what icings have brought on and have not brought on still apply to this season. Should I have done this sooner? Yes. My delusions of grandeur were dashed by reality. But the past three games inspired me to finally provide the results. So I give you too many words about icings by the Devils to show that icings are not necessarily as dangerous as you may think.

Icings - Totals and Real Time Spent

An icing is defined in Rule 81. It is a clear rule. Normally, when I see the Devils ice the puck, I am usually displeased as the same five guys have to stay out there to take a draw in their own end of the rink. Last season and this season, the Devils have proven themselves capable of being stuck in their own end in regular 5-on-5 play. They do not need to do it anymore. Yet, some perspective is needed. So let’s go through the basic counts.

Last season, there were 689 icing events recorded in the Devils season. 681 of them were legitimate icing calls. The other eight were false icings; most of which were pucks that went out of play and never came close to crossing the goal line. That is pretty bad to mess up. Anyway, of those 681, the Devils committed 372 of them, or 54.63%. So if you thought the Devils iced the puck more than their opponents last season, then you would be right.

Icings - Real & Game Time Spent

In this October post about the little expected impact of no timeouts after icing, I highlighted the actual time an icing takes up. For the icings that did not yield a timeout, the average real time it took from whistle to the puck drop on the faceoff was 31 seconds. There was variation in times due to teams trying to adjust equipment and take their time to the dot, but the real elongation of real time taken away came from the refs. If the ref had to re-do a faceoff, it was common for that delay to be 40 or even 50 seconds long. Only 19 time outs were called off icings in Devils games last season; 13 of which were by New Jersey. When a timeout was called, the average real time between icing and puck drop became 1:46. Coaches would call the timeout before the faceoff would take place and the additional delay to get to the bench, run the thirty-second timeout, and then everyone has to be set up again. While icings definitely break up the flow of a game, they do not really add a ton of real time taken up in the game.

That is, assuming there are not so many icings. Last season, the range of icing calls went from two (01/24/2017 against Los Angeles) to twenty (12/3/2016 in Nashville). The average number of icings per Devils game last season was 8.3. Only that Nashville game had more than 14 in it. I did not find evidence that the team who iced the puck more was worse off in the game. Nor did I find evidence that more icings make for a duller game. I don’t think anyone would call a four-goal comeback with a super-late overtime winner by Taylor Hall to be dull. At least, anyone who saw the game and was honest with themselves. Anyway, with an average of about eight icings per game, the average real time taken up in a game by icings would be four minutes and eight seconds. Again: not a whole lot of time wasted between whistle and play resuming.

There is also not a whole lot of game time taken up by the act of icing either. From the moment the puck left the stick until the whistle was blown for icing, the average icing in a Devils game was a little bit over four seconds. The range was from two seconds to nine seconds. This is similar to what I found with clearances on penalty kills. Icing the puck does not kill a lot of clock. If it is the end of the game and there is less than ten seconds left, then by all means, hurl that puck down the end of the rink. But not a lot is going to be gained by trying to ice the clock down, although I do understand that can happen. Such as the last minute of the Devils’ 2-1 win over Florida in this season.

Icings - By Situation, Period, Location, and Type

Icings can only happen when a team is at even strength or on a power play. As the most common situation in hockey is 5-on-5, it is not a surprise that the majority of icings both for and against New Jersey took place in 5-on-5 situational play.

2016-17 Icings by Situation in Devils games
2016-17 Icings by Situation in Devils games

The shorthanded situation means that the Devils’ opponents collectively iced the puck eight times on their power play. The Devils’ power play only did that twice last season. What that means is that if you see a power play ice the puck, you should both take solace that it is an uncommon occurrence and groan because it is an uncommon occurrence. Interestingly, not so many icings took place in extra skater situations - for either side. Not so surprisingly, the 4-on-4 and 3-on-3 situations had few icings. My guess as to why would be that teams have recognized how crucial possession is in those situations and so missing passes and clearing pucks the length of the rink are to be avoided.

In terms of periods, I was not surprised to see more icings take place in the third period. Here are two short charts for totals and icings by the Devils.

2016-17 Icings by Period in Devils games
2016-17 Icings by Period in Devils games

In each period - even that lone icing in overtime - the Devils took the majority of icings in each period. The third period stood and so I did a little digging to see if there were more icings towards the end of games. After all, teams could be defending a lead and they may just elect to throw the puck away amidst pressure. Seems to make sense? I would think so.

Well, stop making sense because that did not happen. There were only 26 icings within the final minute of the third period; the Devils took 17 of those. I expanded it to the final five minutes of the third period. There were just 86 icings within those final five minutes of regulation; the Devils took 59 of those. It could be said that the Devils iced the puck more than their opponents late in games. It cannot be said that most of the icings in the third period are towards the end of it. Again, you can both take solace in that knowledge and issue a sigh of disgruntlement when a late period icing is taken by New Jersey.

Where are the icings coming from? User kennyz97 suggested some general locations way back in July when I started this tracking project. I followed Kenny’s advice and so I can provide an answer:

2016-17 Devils icings by location
2016-17 Devils icings by location

Most icings took place from the circles and to the blueline. A plurality happened between the goal line and the top of the circles, which was the largest area counted. It is something I have noticed that has continued into this season even though I have not (yet?) counted it. That blueline area is from the top of the circles up to the blueline. Seeing 204 icings there should one hope they are mostly from bad passes because a long clearance from that zone could have been more easily avoided. I expected more from the neutral zone as seeing a myriad of bad dump-ins taken just feet before the red line annoyed me enough to want to count all of these icings to begin. That did not happen nearly as much as I thought. Both in terms of location of the icing and the type of the icing.

In my thinking, there were four types of icing: a pass that missed its target (defended or otherwise), a clearance, a bad dump-in (fired in before reaching the red line), and an empty net try that missed. The missed passes and the clearances were far and away the most common causes for icings.

2016-17 Devils icings by type
2016-17 Devils icings by type

I find it curious that it was nearly even between missed passes and clearances for the opposition but the Devils had more icings created by clearances. I’ll touch on who the culprits for that may be a little later in this post. Icings from empty net attempts were rare and I would think they still are. The reward may be great (a goal) but it is not an easy target to hit from over 150 feet away. The dump-ins, annoying as they may be, did not result in too many icings. It’s still worth getting irked over them since it is an avoidable error. But the focus for reducing icings should be on those passes and clearances. Both generally coming from the defensive zone.

Icings - The Devils Who Took the Most of Them

It should not surprise you that the majority of the Devils’ 372 icings last season came from defensemen. The collective blueline committed 252 of them, or 67.7% of all Devils icings. With the goalies taking two (one each for Schneider and Kinkaid), the forwards were left with 118 icings taken. I will admit that for the missed pass type, I faulted the passer as he was the one who had the puck go to the other end of the rink. I will admit there are occasions where the other team forces that pass to be missed and that the receiver should have received it. Yet, if the receiver is not ready or unaware or defended, then why is the passer passing it to him? Hence, I faulted the passer. That methodology may explain why defensemen far-and-away drove the icing totals. (And likely would this season too)

Without further ado, your top 11 Devils players by icings. It’s eleven because there was a tie for tenth:

2016-17 Devils Top 11 Players by Icings
2016-17 Devils Top 11 Players by Icings

Ben Lovejoy was the leader. But it took until March for him to pass second place in this category, Damon Severson. It’s stunning. Lovejoy is this defensive-minded defensemen with not much of an offensive game and struggles mightily to make breakout passes. Severson is this younger, more offensively skilled defender who has been tasked with attempting plenty of passes for a reason. The two were far and away your biggest sources of icings. Maybe if Andy Greene and John Moore were able to play more last season, then it would be a closer race. It is what it is. Among the forwards, Kyle Palmieri surprisingly led them all with fifteen icings. He beat out Mike Cammalleri and P.A. Parenteau. While four of these eleven players are no longer in New Jersey, the main causers of icings remain on the team.

I understand that these are just raw icing counts. A lot of players suited up for the Devils last season, even just for a few games. Surely, some players put up a higher rate but did not get the chance to play more for whatever reason. For that reason, I took the player’s non-shorthanded ice time and calculated their icings/60 rate. For perspective purposes, I’ve graphed the top twenty along with their actual icing counts:

2016-17 Devils icing and icing/60 rates
2016-17 Devils icing and icing/60 rates

Michael Kapla, Dalton Prout, Reid Boucher, and Karl Stollery did not play a lot last season. When they did, they were good for a couple of icings. Combined with limited ice time and so their icings/60 rates were quite high. That helped nobody in their appearances. That said, it is not a surprise that Lovejoy had a icings/60 rate over 2 and Severson was quite high himself at 1.8. Greene and Moore were close behind Severson, so I am confident that had they played 80 games like Severson did or all 82 like Lovejoy, they would be right up there with the icings. Curiously, Palmieri may have led the forwards with the number of icings but his higher ice time yielded a much lower icings/60 rate than other forwards like Vernon Fiddler and Miles Wood.

I will highlight Steve Santini for a bit. While Jon Merrill iced the puck more often and Kyle Quincey played in more games, Santini had a higher rate of icings than both. Given that he was not used that much in his 38 games (ATOI of 16:05) last season and he has received more ice time this season (ATOI of 20:14), I would consider him to be a “darkhorse” for icings in this season. That is not a positive thing.

Let’s go back to those top eleven. For illustrative purposes, I’ve broke down their icings by the two most common icing types. We can see that this is a bit more in line with the styles of Lovejoy (who had more clearances) and Severson (who had more missed passes).

2016-17 Top 11 Devils by Icings with Missed Passes and Clearance Icings
2016-17 Top 11 Devils by Icings with Missed Passes and Clearance Icings

We can also see some other areas that could be worked on. Such as, why did nineteen clearing attempts by John Moore become icings? Ditto for Wood, who had seven clearances become icings. In general, why were missed passes and clearances fairly even for other Devils on this chart? Again: the top four on this list remain as members of the current blueline. There is value to making improvements to reduce icings this season based on last season’s data alone. And I would not be surprised if Santini joined that foursome in being ahead of most of the team with icings.

Icings - The Impact or Lack Thereof

We know icings force a defensive zone faceoff for the team who committed them. We know that team cannot change players. We know that team can no longer take a timeout after taking an icing call this season. So what’s the actual impact of an icing beyond facing a bad match-up on the ice and interrupting the flow of lines in a game?

I counted attempts myself after each of those 681 icings to find out. I did not rely on the NHL scorer and relied on what I saw the puckhandler do with the puck. It may be a more liberal count. I also counted zone time to see how much time a team had to defend. Surprisingly to me: the impact of an icing is not much. Here are the main points:

  • Zone time was counted from the time the puck was dropped until the time the puck left the zone or play stopped to allow the team who iced the puck to change players.
  • Your average zone time for the team that took the icing was approximately ten seconds. 10.06667 seconds to be more exact.
  • The range of zone time went from zero (e.g. a penalty was called, end of period, etc.) to a minute and forty-three seconds.
  • Zone time over forty seconds was quite rare as it happened only thirteen times out of 681 icings.
  • The number of attempts by opponents after the Devils iced the puck combined for 209. Six of those 209 attempts became goals. Opponents averaged 0.56 shooting attempt per icing.
  • The number of attempts by the Devils after their opponent iced the puck combined for 143. Six of those 143 attempts became goals. The Devils averaged 0.46 shooting attempt per icing.

From a scoring perspective, icings have yielded very little. The Devils scored 180 goals last season. Six goals is not a lot of goals. The Devils allowed 228 goals last season. Six goals allowed is not a lot. Do goals happen directly after icings? Yes, but they were uncommon last season and they are still uncommon this season.

From an offensive perspective, icings have also yielded very little. The zone time average is a little over ten seconds. That is not a lot of time to do much. And the attempt numbers show that not much is being done. The Devils’ allowed 3826 attempts per Natural Stat Trick in even strength and power play situations last season. 209 attempts allowed is just 5.4% of all attempts allowed. The Devils have had issues in their own end last season; but icings contributed little to them. On the flipside, the Devils generated 3970 attempts in even strength and power play situations last season. Those 143 attempts from icings before there was a stoppage or a zone exit represents just 3.6% of all of those attempts. That is just not a lot of offense being generated for either side after the other team iced the puck.

Furthermore, consider the zone exits and stoppages that led to the end of that zone time after the icing.

Icing impact end type counts from 2016-17 Devils season
Icing impact end type counts from 2016-17 Devils season

Both the Devils and opponents managed to get a clearance out of their end of the rink after they took an icing more than any other exit type. The second most common end type: a carry out. Meaning, someone was able to take the puck and skate it over their blueline. Whether it was from the icing team winning the draw and the other side moving back or some other play having been made, that further shows the team supposedly stuck in their own end being able to make an exit themselves. Except when the offensive team does it for them. That was the third most common exit type. The team that should be benefiting from icing managed to lose the puck themselves over the blueline in some way. After those three types, the remainder became less and less common. That most exits were just clearances, carry outs, or provided by the attacking team further points to icings not generating a whole lot of offense.

In total, yes, icings can burn a team every so often. But those are not common occurrences. While icings do lead to bad things like not being able to change potentially tired players, the offensive impact has been small. Not a lot of offense was generated from icings for or against the 2016-17 Devils. Given the findings from what it takes for attempts - just attempts, not even shots on goal - to be generated, the impact is likely to be small for 2017-18 Devils or other teams - even if their defense is statistically worse.

Icings - Faceoffs Matter

A big reason why the offensive impact from icings are so small are because faceoffs play such a big role. Consider the following points:

When New Jersey iced the puck and the opponent won the ensuing faceoff, the opponents combined for 168 shooting attempts. (And scored five goals) That’s an attempt per icing average of 0.89. When New Jersey won that faceoff after they iced it, the opponents combined for just 41 attempts (and scored one goal), or an attempt per icing average of 0.22.

When the opponent iced the puck and the Devils won the ensuing faceoff, the Devils put up 113 shooting attempts (and scored six goals). That’s an attempt per icing average of 0.77. When New Jersey won that faceoff after they iced it, the opponents combined for just 41 attempts (and scored no goals), or an attempt per icing average of 0.22.

On both sides, winning the faceoff was crucial to having anything be attempted after the icing. But there often was more to it than that. From my observations from tracking, the faceoff win has to lead to some clear-cut possession by the attacking team. And whoever had the puck had to make a good decision that would lead to offense. Just dumping it back into the corner and making the puck up for grabs often led to no attempt at all. Even if possession is maintained, the attacking team has to work to have a shooting attempt come from it. A lot more than just the icing call has to go right for an icing to lead to anything. In the case of the Devils, they were just below 50% (49.86% to be exact) when they iced the puck - so they were able to help themselves out a bit on defense.

In a more recent example from this season, the Devils iced the puck three times in that 2-1 win over Florida in the final minute. Brian Boyle won all three draws to ensure that Florida did nothing with the extra skater. Or course, I wish they did not ice the puck three straight times. But, again, the faceoff after the icing call is crucial. And for the attacking team, more than the faceoff has to go right for some offense to be generated. And even more has to go right for the rare goal to be scored as a result of keeping the puck in the zone after the icing.

It is for these finding that icings are not really a big deal in the larger picture of the season and often does not make much of an impact on the ice. If nothing else, that should be the biggest takeaway from this post.

One Last Thing - On Pressure

From what I observed, I figured that pressure would influence icings to occur. After all, why is a player deciding to make a decision with the puck on the ice? Either they want to make something happen or they have to do something before the opponent gets in their business. Therefore, I decided to count pressure to see if any conclusions could be made about it. About two hundred icings in, I realized that there was a big difference in pressure between someone coming towards the puck carrier but is still over five feet away and someone who is physically contacting the puck carrier. So I assigned arbitrary and subjective categories for pressure for the 480 icings tracked: none, light, medium, and heavy.

I did not go back to re-do those first two-hundred icings. For completion’s sake, I should have. However, I do not know if I can make much of a conclusion with the 480 - which is still most of the icings tracked - that I did do it for. Partially because I erred on the “lighter” type of pressure for borderline cases. Such as the puck carrier about to be hit but the hit would come a second after the puck was launched. Those tended to be “medium” instead of “heavy.” For the light and medium difference, I decided on determining whether the forechecker was a stick-length away. That was hard with some of the perspectives of the broadcast video I was using for tracking. Since they are subjective, the whole thing should be taken with a grain of salt. Especially since heavy pressure, as I defined it, was so rare.

2016-17 Devils and opponent icings (480 out of 681) as defined by pressure involved
2016-17 Devils and opponent icings (480 out of 681) as defined by pressure involved

That all said, I was surprised to see that the leading category was no pressure at all for both the Devils and their opponents. Light pressure, such as one forechecker coming towards but is not near the puck carrier, did happen quite a bit too and almost as much as none. There may be something to even just one skater coming forward to force a decision to be made, perhaps a little quicker than originally. Pressure coming from closer proximity did not lead to as many icings. I want to believe that pressure is an influence on icings. However, I’m not confident in how I recorded it in both ways and how to compare it to the other data recorded to confirm it or not. I think it is something to explore.

Conclusions

I wrote too many words about icings to tell you this. While this was based on data collected last season, the following should apply to this season and future seasons provided there are not other rule changes:

  • Defensemen may be more likely to generate icings.
  • Not much time is taken up by the icing itself. It is an average of four seconds with the range being anywhere from two to nine seconds.
  • Without timeouts to prolong things, about 31 seconds on average of real time will be taken between the whistle for the icing the puck drop. This average time may vary by a few seconds but an icing is not going to give a whole lot of time to recover and catch their breath.
  • The most common types of icings are from missing passes leading to the puck going the length of the rink and clearances that go the length of the rink.
  • Icings may not be more frequent at the ends of games, though more occurred in the third period than the other two in regulation.
  • Icings on power plays, non-5-on-5 even strength situations, and extra skater situations were are and may continue to be rare.
  • Very few shooting attempts, much less goals, were generated off icings. The average offensive zone time for the attacking team until an exit or a stoppage in play is about ten seconds. This is likely the result of the attacking team not only winning the offensive zone faceoff but winning it such that they can keep the attack going to have something to actually shoot at. Plenty has to go right for an icing to be taken advantage of.
  • Icings are still bad in that it keeps potentially tired players on the ice, it disrupts the flow of lines being used, and could lead to a unfavorable matchup.
  • However, icings are not a significant contributor to offense over a season or in a game. Taking an icing is still not good, but it is not the end of the world. Especially if you win the draw.
  • Don’t just assume it’s the defensive defenseman over 30 who is constantly icing the puck. Lovejoy was the Devils leader last year, but he had to surpass Damon Severson over time. And Severson, Greene, Moore, and Santini all had fairly high icing rates last season such that it would be no surprise if those four were also driving the icing counts for this season. They’re still on the team. (So is Lovejoy, but he has played fewer games than those four.)

I want to thank NHL.com (time on ice stats), Natural Stat Trick (attempt numbers), Hockey Reference (player numbers), and NHL.tv (hosting all of the video used for tracking). I used OpenOffice Calc, an Excel-type software for all tracking. So if you have a spreadsheet program, then you could do something like this too if you have the patience, desire, and motivation. Don’t do what I did and sit on the data for too long in the hopes of getting a presentation spot or whatever. I apologize for the delay to you, the reader, in providing these too many words on icings. Better to have it out now than never. I’ll see you in the new year. Thank you for reading.