User Dr. Witticism brought up the following in a comment response within a recent post speculating what the New Jersey Devils might do with their free agents this season. It's not exactly a popular opinion given that it's about defenseman Marek Zidlicky, also known as "defense"man Marek Zidlicky to some fans:
Regardless, say what you want about Zid, he is still a very effective offensive defenseman. His defensive lapses are glaring, but he is e[x]cellent on offense and really doesn’t seem to be slowing down. In not nearly as down on him as others here have been.
In fact, I wish someone would do a post here on just how much he added to the team this season.
The comment was dealing with whether Mark Streit would be a better option than Zidlicky and the short consensus of other users was, no, he would not be. But let's get to that latter wish and fulfill it. Zidlicky most definitely contributed something to this team. He decided to shoot the puck a lot. He had a lot of shooting attempts, not only among Devils defenseman but the entire team and more than most defenders in the NHL.
Way back in March, when the team was only mired in a three game winless streak as opposed to a ten-gamer that killed their playoff hopes dead, I put a post together highlighting the team's accuracy. Rather, their lack of it relative to the league as a whole. When I got the numbers from Hockey Analysis, it then surprised me to see that Zidlicky was so far ahead of the other defensemen in shooting attempts. One month of hockey later and that didn't really change. That didn't surprise me as much. Still, it makes Zidlicky stands out.
Here's a legend for this and the next two charts: TOI is time on ice; SOG is shots on goal; MS is missed shots; A/B is attempts blocked, iFen is individual Fenwick (shots plus misses), iCorsi is individual Corsi also known as shooting attempts (shots plus misses plus blocks). SOG/iFen is shots over individual Fenwick; SOG/iCorsi is shots over individual Corsi. The final three columns are the stats per 60 minutes. The "Rk" is league rank. all numbers come from Hockey Analysis. The base values come from scorer's counts - so take it as you will.
In 5-on-5 play, Marek Zidlicky finished the season with not only the most shots on net with 58, but also the most shooting attempts on the team with 139. He finished sixteenth among all defensemen in the NHL who have played at least 100 minutes. His iCorsi/60 rate is the second highest on the team, so his total number of attempts is not a matter of him just taking an occasional shot while playing a ton of minutes. Simply, Zidlicky was not afraid to fire away if he felt he had a look at the net.
With all of those attempts also come more failures. He led the Devils defensemen in missed shots with 30, though Andy Greene came mighty close at 29. He also led them in getting blocked with 51. I suspect this could be a source of some of the frustrations with the defenseman. A block deep in the zone is one thing, but one high in the zone can be far more costly. Not only does it make us unhappy with the attempt, but a bad bounce could spring an opposing player into space for offense. I'm not going to go through all 51 blocked Zidlicky shots to see which were costly and which were not - I'm not even sure where to start with that - but it's a point of concern. You would not be wrong to state that he - and most of the blueline - could stand to aim a little better.
However, the larger point of concern is the rest of the blueline shooting pucks on net. Out of the 242 defensemen who played at least 100 minutes of 5-on-5 ice time this season, only Zidlicky and Greene finished in the top half of the league in shooting attempts. Greene's really up there due in part to playing a ton; his per-60 rates show that he wasn't firing away a whole lot. While there are four Devils right below the median mark, those four are Mark Fayne, Bryce Salvador, Anton Volchenkov, and Henrik Tallinder. Only Tallinder made attempts at a high rate, which makes it a little more baffling why he couldn't get in and/or stick in the lineup. Salvador and Volchenkov are the exact opposite of offensive defensemen and they made enough attempts on net to represent the pack here. And if you're wondering why you haven't seen a lot of offense from Adam Larsson, well, just look at this. He made fewer attempts on net than Anton Volchenkov despite playing more. For a team that didn't shoot the puck a whole lot, imagine this group without Zidlicky and it's clear what he brings to the table.
Let's expand this category to the entire team. Here's how the various Devils rank in individual Corsi - their own shooting attempts - in 5-on-5 play in 2013.
It should be no surprise to see David Clarkson lead the way with 188. He was all about the shot in 2013. It was a surprise to me that Zidlicky finished second on the team in shooting attempts in 5-on-5 play. I didn't expect him to take more attempts than Patrik Elias, who finished close behind him with 132. I certainly didn't expect him to be clearly ahead of Ilya Kovalchuk, who did miss several weeks but really could have taken more attempts in retrospect. You can make same claim to other Devils who were in the top six like Travis Zajac and Adam Henrique, though they did get plenty of time with Clarkson and Elias. Still, Zidlicky really shows up well here. He's tied for fifth in shots on goal with 58 with Zajac, tied with Ponikarovsky with 30 misses, and actually led the team in blocks with 51. OK, the last two aren't worthy of praise, but the point remains the same: Zidlicky attempts to shoot the puck a lot. Only one other Devil can claim to do it more.
Going down the twenty-five Devils who made the cut in terms of 5-on-5 minutes, you'll notice that plenty of players just didn't attempt all that many pucks. Everyone from Clarkson down to Adam Henrique made it within the top half of the NHL in attempts. 686 skaters played at least 100 minutes and only ten out of twenty-five Devils finished in this top half. In fact, it may even be nine as Ponikarovsky did play 12 games with Winnipeg. To put it in another way, the Devils finished 25th in the NHL in total shooting attempts in 2013. While they significantly out-attempted their opponents, they didn't generate a lot for themselves. And now, the first, second, and third most prolific attempter of shots are impending UFAs. If you believe the Devils need to take more attempts and more shots to get more goals in 2013-14, then it does the Devils no good to let those three players walk if they can help it.
Now, Zidlicky wasn't just a 5-on-5 defender, but he was the usually the lone defenseman on the first power play unit this season. Hockey Analysis did have these individual shooting stats for 5-on-4 play. Here's the same chart for all the Devils who have played at least 50 minutes of ice time in 5-on-4 situations. The rank is out of all 302 skaters who played that much in that situation.
Now, it should be no surprise that Ilya Kovalchuk really was the focus point on the power play. He led the Devils in shots and even misses. He was fifth in the entire league in shooting attempts. Look at who's in second: Zidlicky. Zidlicky was quite prolific in his own regard. Alas, a good portion of those attempts were blocked by penalty killers as he got blocked out more than Kovalchuk. Given that he was on the point, perhaps that should be expected. Greene didn't play much on the power play but still managed to finish third on the team in attempts blocked with 15.
As an aside, I do have to apologize. On a recent Talking Red, I complained that the Devils didn't get the puck enough to Clarkson on the power play. Clarkson finished second in 5-on-4 shots on net and third in total attempts in 5-on-4 play. Clearly, he got the puck. Clearly, I was wrong.
It's good to see that Kovalchuk, Zidlicky, Clarkson, Elias, Henrique, and Greene all finished in the upper half of the league in shooting attempts in 5-on-4 play. However, it's not that great of a stat to lead in given that the Devils weren't all that successful on power plays. A successful power play ends it early and so there aren't any other opportunities to attempt a shot. When there isn't a goal, then there's more time to shoot and the Devils had plenty of that. At least we have evidence of effort, and it shows that Kovalchuk led the way. But right there behind him were Zidlicky and Clarkson. That's further evidence of Zidlicky bringing something to the table.
Of course, attempts and actual shots are valuable in that an attempted shot means the puck was in the offensive zone, the player felt they had an opportunity to shoot it, and that possibility - if it's on net - could lead to a score. As we all know, the Devils struggled with the latter and Zidlicky was no different. He scored a whopping four goals all season; only one on the power play. Greene had fewer attempts in 5-on-5 and 5-on-4 situations and manged to score just as many, including one shorthanded goal. Peter Harrold was dead last among the Devils defensemen in shooting attempts in 5-on-5 play and he scored twice. The effort was there but not the results.
Still, for all of his warts, Zidlicky clearly was an offensive defenseman for the Devils and did what one would expect from one: move the puck forward and fire away if there's a shooting lane. He clearly brought something to the table in 2013 just with his shooting attempts. Compared to the other Devils skaters, it's something he excelled at. Only Andy Greene came the closest to attempting as many shots and short of Peter DeBoer and Scott Stevens demanding the other defenders (or other skaters, and maybe that's not a bad idea for some of them to be told this...) fire away at all times, I don't think it's easily replaceable. Shooting attempts aren't the be-all, end-all reason to sign anyone, but it's a reason why it's not so ridiculous to think he did some good work in 2013. It's likewise not so ridiculous for the Devils to want to keep Zidlicky in that sense - especially if he can keep it up. Though, I would recommend not giving him prime minutes again - but that's a topic better suited for after the defense is set.
Reducing the ridiculousness, it must be pointed out that this year's class of UFA defensemen is pretty weak on paper. Here's the list at CapGeek. Only two impending UFA defensemen put more points than Zidlicky: Mark Streit, who didn't get a lot of love from the comments in the post that inspired this one, and Sergei Gonchar. And that's not accurate as Gonchar is no longer a UFA. He just got $10 million over two years earlier this week. Only two impending UFA defensemen scored more goals than Zidlicky: Streit and Joe Corvo with six. Zidlicky can certainly command some serious coin (Thanks a lot, Jim Nill), but it would be in the short term. Were he to go elsewhere, it would be asking a lot of a young defender from Albany or whichever unimpressive defender on the market to replace all that offense. Then again, the Devils have went several seasons without a clear offensive defenseman so it's not impossible to imagine.
In any case, what do you make of all of this? Would you agree that Marek Zidlicky brought something positive to the table in 2013? Were you surprised to see how highly he ranked among all Devils skaters in shooting attempts? What else did you see among the charts that stuck out to you? Would you agree that he is the team's lone offensive defenseman? Would you agree that his relatively large amount of shots and attempts is a reason for the Devils to keep him? If not, why not? Could anyone replace Zidlicky if it came to that? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about Zidlicky or the Devils shooting the puck in the comments. Thanks to Dr. Witticism for the inspiration and thank you for reading.