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Analytical Summary of the 2021 Devils Skaters

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A summary of some analytical measurements of Devils skaters this season and brief commentary.

New Jersey Devils v Philadelphia Flyers Photo by Len Redkoles/NHLI via Getty Images

In this piece, I’m going to limit the commentary to either brief explanations of the statistics in the charts I’ll present or quick summaries of a few noteworthy players in each table — “Heros” and “Zeros”.

That’s it. End of intro, right to the good stuff.

Individual Metrics (via Evolving-Hockey)

“Individual” metrics are numbers that describe things a skater personally did. The most common of these metrics are things like goals, assists, and shots; though the term would also reference things like zone-entries and shot assists if we had full-season data on them.

An executive decision on my part was not to show the all-situation summary of these metrics. For one, you can get that on NHL’s site or Hockey-Reference or wherever. But, more importantly, looking at all-situations for these metrics is extremely misleading as to the rate of production of each player because, among other things, it’s much easier to score in some situations than others.

5-on-5 Production

Heros: The entire top 6, specifically the Sharangovich-Kuokkanen duo that produced alongside both Zajac and Hughes. Ty Smith was the most productive defenceman. From an efficiency standpoint, Nick Merkley led all Devils in primary point rate (Zacha led regulars), and Will Butcher led all defenders in point rate.

Zeros: The big one is Andreas Johnsson. Outside Nikita Gusev’s trainwreck of a season Andreas Johnsson had the lowest point rate and primary point rate. Interestingly, Nico Hischier was also not too productive. Among defenders, Kulikov and Murray were big fat nothing burgers. As were some of the newer faces.

Powerplay Production

Heros: Zacha led all Devils in points and point rate despite recording zero primary assists, thanks to his excellent shooting (1.74 goals over expected). Bratt, Hischier, and Merkley led the way in primary point rate and Ty Smith led defencemen. Hischier’s return was a big boon, here.

Zeros: Again, Andreas Johnsson somehow managed a single point in over a full games worth (60+ minutes) of powerplay time. Gusev faltered again as well. Among defenders, Severson was most inefficient.

“On-Ice” Metrics (via NaturalStatTrick)

On-ice metrics are measurements of events that occurred while a player was on the ice. Metrics starting with a “C” are Corsi which means shot attempts, metrics starting with a G are for Goals, and metrics starting with “SC” are Scoring Chances. Metrics ending in “F” are events that happened for the players team, whereas metrics ending in “A” are the count against a players team. Metrics ending in “%” are the ratio of the event controlled by the player’s team (Ex: Devils scored 12.5% of the goals by either team when Gusev was on the ice). Metrics ending in “±/60” are the differential per 60 minutes in the metric (Ex: Devils out-shot opponents by 99 shots per hour when Butcher was on the PP).

5-on-5

Heros: Murray, Bratt, Bastian, Vatanen, and Zajac were the only Devils with positive goal differentials. Of them, only Bratt saw the Devils out-chance opponents. In terms of shots and chances; Hughes, Smith, and Severson saw the results you’d expect from studs. Devils were also effective with Andreas Johnsson on the ice. Tyce Thompson had an encouraging start, though was likely sheltered.

Zeros: The biggest name is Zacha who was outscored by a team-high 14 goals and was towards the bottom of the team in everything important we measure. Most of the depth guys also struggled — almost everyone who played less than 400 minutes saw themselves get hemmed into their own zone. Hischier was thrown into tough shifts despite still working into game shape and seems he was not up to the task.

Powerplay

Heros: Will Butcher was most efficient among defenders. The Zacha-Hischier-Bratt line from even-strength play carried over their chemistry into the PP as well — Bratt and Zacha led forwards in on-ice goal differential rate, Hischier led for shots/chances.

Zeros: Severson, Wood, and Sharangovich saw the Devils fail to run up the score as much as they should have on the man advantage. Wood and Severson each played over 100 minutes despite their struggles.

Penalty Kill

Heros: The pair of McLeod and Bastian should have received more time together as they were by far the most effective duo at limiting chances, I talked about that mid-season. Hischier and Sharangovich saw the best goal results. Subban and Severson got the best of the defenders.

Zeros: Supposed PK specialists Murray, Kulikov, and Zajac all struggled mightily (especially early). Siegenthaler also got bad results in his limited time.

“Impact” Metrics (via Evolving-Hockey and Hockeyviz)

Impact metrics are designed to find the impact a player has on specific statistic after controlling for certain variables like the score, venue, rest, teammates, and opponents. The Goal and Corsi metrics use the same shorthands as the “on-ice” section. I’ve also included “xG” which means “expected goals” — a metrics that weights unblocked shots by the probability that they become a goal based on distance, angle, rebound, etc.

Even-Strength (Multi-Metric)

Heros: Hughes and Bratt were genuine studs. Their strong possession game had rollover defensive impacts by virtue of keeping the puck away from the opponent. Wood’s impacts are stronger than his raw on-ice metrics because his usage was difficult, linemates weren’t great, and he did better than expected in those circumstances. Johnsson’s impacts were good everywhere except in “goals for” which may explain his low point totals, but positive differentials. Kulikov and Severson were also strong everywhere but in “goals for”.

Zeros: Smith’s had an up-and-down season that ended up seeing the 2nd worst even-strength impacts ahead of only Tennyson. The models may credit Severson for Smith’s on-ice numbers. Gusev was the worst forward by basically any metric. Trouble beneath the surface continued for Devils point-leader Pavel Zacha as his defensive struggles persisted all year. Merkley was another high point producer that saw very poor 200-ft metrics. Sharangovich also struggled defensively which is surprising given his scouting report and immediate PK role.

Even-Strength (Evolving Hockey vs Hockeyviz)

Conventionally, when we refer to “impacts” without a noun next to it we are referencing expected goals. There are multiple models though (both for xGs and the impacts on them). The two most well-known impact models are Evolving-Hockey and Hockeyviz — the biggest difference in the latter is that it utilizes a “prior” which means that, rather than starting the season fresh, it starts at where they left off last year (or at some rookie projection). As such, it will favor players with a strong history (Ex: Butcher, Bratt) and harm those with a worse histories (Ex: Hughes, Zacha). I didn’t include traded players because the Hockeyviz model doesn’t separate by team.

Heros: Severson is the runaway stud of the defenders and Bratt is the runaway of the forwards since Hughes gets dragged down from his awful rookie impacts. Wood and McLeod overcame tough usage to produce results above expected (Wood with offense, McLeod with defense).

Zeros: Carrick and Tennyson are simply not NHLers. Boqvist may be in that category as well but for him it’s still early. Zacha’s results show as even worse than his already-bad on-ice results would indicate because his usage/linemates were favorable, and his history is that of a poor-impact player. Like Zacha, Sharangovich didn’t get as good shot and chance results as you’d expect given his linemates and usage, but his production limited the ill effects of that negative ice-tilt.

Powerplay

Heros: Same as the on-ice and individual production: Butcher, Hischier, Bratt and Zacha. Hughes didn’t get the goal results, but the shot and chance impacts were there.

Zeros: Severson had worst offensive impacts, though he did seem to limit shorthanded chances allowed to the other team. He may be considered the “safe” PP point-man, but definitely not a productive one.

Penalty Kill

Heros: Bastian, McLeod, Hischier. Basically no defenders. Siegenthaler had bad on-ice results, but his usage was very tough in his 6 games so too early to say.

Zeros: Everyone else. Hopefull a full camp will settle this unit down.

Value Metrics (via Evolving-Hockey and TopDownHockey)

Value metrics, sometimes called “catch-all” metrics are intended to use several components that sum up to the total value of a player’s performance over that of a replacement-level player in terms of goals (GAR), wins (WAR), or standings points (SPAR). It aims to consider all the metrics listed to this point in the article, and put them in proper perspective. In this table, I use TopDownHockey’s (TD) model for SPAR and Evolving-Hockey (EH) models for SPAR and xSPAR — xSPAR gives players less credit for their teammates shooting than SPAR, but more credit for their own shooting. These are descriptive statistics aimed at determining what a player’s production was “worth” not what they’re likely to do moving forward.

Heros: Hughes and Wood were the overall most impactful players both in aggregate and per minute. Bratt’s production and impacts should inch him toward that tier as well. Meanwhile, Zacha and Sharangovich’s goal results and production overcame their poor shot/chance impacts to be in the next tier of value. Kulikov got fortunate goal results and genuinely good defense to make him the most valuable defender. Severson was next partially due to ATOI. Siegenthaler and Foote had encouraging starts with regards to value-per-hour, though Foote’s seems fueled by fortunate goal results.

Zeros: Unlike Zacha and Sharangovich, Smith’s moderately impressive point production came nowhere close to making up for his poor on-ice impacts. He and Subban were sub-replacement impacts in the end. That continues a trend for Subban, though Smith may very well grow past it. Gusev was legit awful. No other forwards were too surprising. We definitely want to see a healthy season of Nico though to prove this year (and last year, to a degree) were flukes, because his numbers would be very troubling if it weren’t for the fact that we know he was hampered.

Concluding Thoughts

I have no concluding thoughts. I just want to hear yours. What of these stats make no sense to you, what sounds right? What is interesting to see, though not actually surprising? What is good news or bad news? Leave your comments below!