New Jersey Devils Defensemen: Zone Exit and Passing Season Review

Bruce Bennett

This is a review of all the zone exits and passing statistics for the New Jersey Devils Defensemen for the entire 2013-2014 season. Read on for the details.

Season-to-Date Passing and Zone Exit Stats for Devils Defensemen

This is a look at the zone exit and passing stats for the Devils Defensemen for the 2013-2014 season. The amount of data and words needed to write up the entire team in either category would be overwhelming at this point, so you’ll get a Part 1 and Part 2. You’ll see several new columns compared to the single-game recaps. All Corsi figures were pulled from ExtraSkater. Time On Ice figures were pulled from NHL.com. Let’s get to it.

Terms You May See:

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Marek Zidlicky: Zidlicky finished the season with a 45.7 PE% and committed 1.5 turnovers in his defensive zone per game. His PE% actually led the Devils defenseman, which is something I would not have seen coming a few months ago. He increased his PE% 1% over the final twenty-three games, so he had to be pretty solid over that split to impact nearly three times as many games by a full percentage point.

Zidlicky finished the season as the least accurate passer on the defense, completing 77.6% of his passes. However, his contribution to the team’s offensive output simply cannot be matched by any other defenseman. 9.8% of Zidlicky’s passes result in a shot attempt, which is 3.2% percent higher than the next best defenseman (Peter Harrold). 9.8% may not seem like a lot, but when you factor in that Zidlicky attempted 1920 passes this season and almost 10% of them are generating shot attempts, that’s a good number of attempts being taken—188 to be exact.

5.2% of Zidlicky’s passes result in a shot being generated, which was 1.5% higher than the next best defenseman (Jon Merrill). Zidlicky generated fifty-eight shots. Remember that I wasn’t tracking shots that were generated until around the 32nd game this season. Zidlicky does slightly better than generating one shot per game.

Zidlicky ended up contributing to 31% of the on-ice Corsi events: 14.6% of them via his own shot attempts, and 16.4% of them via his direct passes. Zidlicky more than doubled most of his fellow Devils defensemen in terms of his SAG/CF% rate. I think it would be a good idea to bring him back on another one-year deal as no one really distributes the puck the way Zidlicky does. Yes, he’s prone to dumb mistakes at times, but this Devils defense is not exactly offensive-minded to begin with, so if you take away Zidlicky, yikes. Of course, the other side of that is that Zidlicky finished the year with “only” a 53.3 CF% in 5-on-5 situations. While that’s a good number, it’s below the positional average for the Devils. So, he brings a lot to the table, but maybe the Devils wouldn’t be so bad off without him.

In terms of his statistics by the minute, Zidlicky attempted a pass every 0:46 of Even Strength Ice Time, generated a shot attempt every 7:57, and generated a shot every 16:05. Zidlicky average 18:29 of ice time at Even Strength, so you see that he was a consistent producer each game.

Zidlicky attempted just over a quarter (25.5%) of his passes in the offensive zone. Zidlicky did face the easiest zone starts apart from Eric Gelinas, but it’s understandable that Pete Deboer would want to get Zidlicky as many opportunities in the offensive zone as possible. Even so, considering that 72% of the shot attempts Zidlicky generated from beyond the offensive zone resulted in a shot on goal, he’s just as efficient elsewhere on the ice.

Andy Greene: Greene saw his PE% slide from 44.3% to 43.4% as he continued to regress. He actually turned the puck over slightly more than Zidlicky, which is disappointing to see. Of course, the two of them have the puck an awful lot, so turnovers are more likely to happen the more often they have the puck.

Greene finished the season right at the average mark for defensemen in terms of his passing accuracy. He completed 1476 passes and attempted 1812. He was just below average in terms of his SAG/Pass% and SG/Pass% among defensemen. Greene actually attempted more shots than I thought he would this season, with 250 attempts, accounting for 20.3% of the shot attempts while on the ice. Adding the 108 shot attempts Greene generated via his passing, he finished the year contributing to 29% of the team’s on-ice Corsi events. Greene also finished the season with the highest CF% of the defensemen at 56.3%.

Regarding how active Greene is, he attempts a pass every 0:50 of Even Strength play, generates a shot attempt every 14:10, and generates a shot every 31:19. Greene contributes more to the team’s Corsi totals by his own attempts, so it’s overly concerning how rare his shot-generation is, but if he could generate more offense then I feel he’d become that much more dominant.

Territorially, Greene saw the most difficult zone starts at 47.2%, which was tied with his partner, Mark Fayne. He still managed to get forward enough to attempt 17.7% of his passes in the offensive zone and 13.4% of his passes in the neutral zone.

Mark Fayne: Fayne finished with an identical PE% of his defense partner, Greene. He did slightly better over the final twenty-three games than in the first three-quarters of the season, and lowered his turnovers by an even better margin.

Fayne finished as the 2nd most accurate passer of the defensemen, trailing on Jon Merrill. Fayne completed 987 passes out of 1159 attempts on the year, good for an 85.2% completion rate. He finished with nearly identical rates as Andy Greene regarding the percentage of passes that resulted in shot attempts (6.6%) and shots (2.1%). Fayne had very poor shot attempt version rate, as only 30.9% of his SAG totals resulted in a shot on net.

Fayne contributed to 27.3% of the team’s Corsi totals while he was on the ice. Unimpressive shot-generation numbers aside, Fayne posted a solid 55.3 CF% in a case where limiting the opposition’s chances influenced his Corsi rate rather than his own production in all likelihood. He’s a solid defenseman alongside Greene and I’d hope he’s brought back next year.

Fayne attempted a pass every 1:00 of Even Strength ice time, generated a shot attempt every 15:37, and generated a shot every 48:05. Territorially, Fayne posted similar numbers as Greene, but slightly more conservative with 70.8% of his passes originating in the defensive zone.

Eric Gelinas: Gelinas played in sixty games this season, but it seemed like less considering how much debate there was over him getting sent to Albany or getting scratched. Sixty games is a lot for a rookie. Gelinas improved enough in the zone exit phase of the game over his final sixteen games to raise his PE% to 43.3% and cut down his turnovers to one-and-a-half per game, which is still not great, but he was just about the same as Greene and Zidlicky. So, people can say Gelinas wasn’t good in his own end with the puck (and he wasn’t), but he’s better than Salvador and Harrold.

Gelinas finished slightly above average for the position with regards to his passing accuracy, completing 831/1016 passes for a completion rate of 81.8%. He wasn’t great on generating offense for others as he possesses a shot unlike any other defenseman in the Devils system. Gelinas attempts 25.6% of the shots taken while on the ice and contributes to 33.2% of his team’s Corsi totals. He has the highest CC% of the Devils defensemen, but still posted a 53.1% CF%, just below average for the Devils defensemen.

Gelinas attempted a pass every 1:03 on the ice, generated a shot attempt every 18:04, and generated a shot every 63:07, which was just behind Anton Volchenkov for worst on the blue line. Again, his teammates are looking for him to shoot, so these numbers will always be a bit behind other defensemen, but you’d hope he could distribute a bit more efficiently next season.

Territorially, Gelinas received the most generous zone starts of any defensemen and only managed 15.6% of his pass attempts from the offensive zone. Put another way, Fayne started in the offensive zone 16% less often, and attempted 0.2% more of his passes in the offensive zone when compared to Gelinas. Yikes.

Jon Merrill: Merrill started very strong in the zone exit phase, but has come way back down to Earth. In the twenty games he played since the Olympic Break, his PE% fell by 0.9%, but his turnovers improved slightly. He’s just behind Zidlicky and slightly ahead of Larsson on the blue line in PE%, but he turns the puck over less than both of them. Solid first year for Merrill.

Merrill finished the season as the most accurate passer among defensemen. He complete d 879/1006 passes. 6% of Merrill’s passes resulted in shot attempts and 3.7% of his passes resulted in shots. That was the lowest difference between the two, suggesting that Merrill’s passes have a better chance of resulting in a shot on goal. In fact, his S/SAG% was the highest on the blue line at 58%.

Merrill contributed to 25.1% of the team’s on-ice Corsi Events, which is below average for the group, suggesting more of a conservative approach by Merrill. He was below the positional average for both iCF events and SAG events as part of his Corsi Contribution percentage.

Merrill attempted a pass every 0:52 of Even Strength, generated a shot attempt every 14:48, and generated a shot every 25:00.The time between generating a shot attempt and a shot was only 10:12, the third shortest duration between the two events and behind only Peter Harrold and Marek Zidlicky.

Territorially, Merrill saw favorable zone starts at 55.5% and fit in about average for the position with respect to his pass by zone percentages.

Anton Volchenkov: Volchenkov turns the puck over the least of any defenseman and by a fair margin as well. His PE% is never going to be high, or even average (35.5%, lowest on the blue line), but he’s a PK specialist, 3rd pairing defenseman who can be good in some spots. If his contract was $2 million rather than the $4+ it is currently, I think we’d talk about this as being a decent signing. The PK has been tops in the league two of the last three years and Volchenkov has been a fixture on it, so he does some things right, but everything he does can be done by Merrill, Larsson, or Fayne even for cheaper.

Volchenkov is about average in terms of accuracy among the Devils backend. He doesn’t get forward a whole lot, nor does he even attempt passes all that frequently. He attempts a pass every 1:15, which is twelve seconds more than the next defenseman, Bryce Salvador. Volchenkov generates a shot every 70:35, which is about five-and-a-third games for him when you look at the fact he spends 12:59 a game on the ice at Even Strength.

Volchenkov contributes to 25.1% of the team’s Corsi events, identical to Jon Merrill. He did finish with a 55% Corsi rate, so he’s on the plus side of things and perhaps he’s doing things well positionally, away from the puck, which we don’t track or can easily reference. This is something I hope to do some work with next season.

Territorially, Volchenkov receives the third-lowest zone starts on the team at 49.7%, and attempts 73.4% of his passes from his own end of the ice. He’s not here for his passing or shot-generation abilities, but Volchenkov is a decent third-pairing defenseman. If only he wasn’t paid like a second-pairing defenseman.

Bryce Salvador: The Captain. Mercifully, Salvador played in only forty games for the Devils this season. He finished 1.2% above Volchenkov in PE%, which means he’s among the worst players exiting the zone with possession. He turns the puck over the most out of any defenseman. Your Captain.

Salvador does do some things well. He had the highest shot attempt conversion rate when generating shots from beyond the offensive zone (80%). Overall his S/SAG% was just behind Merrill’s at 57.1%. Overall, Salvador contributed to 21.7% of his team’s Corsi events while on the ice. He finished with the lowest CF% among Devils defensemen at 50.4%, which is still a positive number, but he just barely kept pace with the opposition while on the ice.

Salvador attempts a pass every 1:03, generates a shot attempt every 18:04, and generates a shot every 31:24. Territorially, he’s faced easiest zone starts as the season progressed, but attempts the second highest percentage of passes in the defensive zone (77%), behind only Adam Larsson. Salvador may do a few things well, but overall he’s a third-pairing defenseman at best with limited ability to successfully exit with possession and contribute to one of the league’s best possession teams.

Adam Larsson: Larsson returned to the lineup for six games since he last had any change in this charts, but it wasn’t for the better. He had some good games and some bad games, but overall his PE% dropped 1% to 45%, and his turnovers increased slightly. He still finished as the third best defenseman by possession exit percentage, behind Zidlicky and Merrill.

Larsson completed 405/495 passes to finish just above average at 81.5% accuracy. He only played in six games after I started tracking shots generated off of passes, and averaged half-a-shot generated each game. 6.3% of Larsson’s passes resulted in a shot attempt, which was right in line with Greene and Fayne’s production. Larsson contributed to 23.6% of his team’s Corsi events while on the ice, 4% lower than the positional average on the Devils. Next season, I’m sure many Devils fans would like to see Larsson contribute more offensively, not even in points, but just by being involved more often. He seemed to do quite well when paired with Eric Gelinas, so perhaps that’s a pairing we’ll see in training camp.

Larsson attempted a pass every 0:51 of Even Strength ice time, generated a shot attempt every 13:45, and generated a shot every 32:53. So, you can see he had the puck as frequently as Andy Greene, generated shot attempts at a faster clip than anyone except for Zidlicky and Harrold, but didn’t do as well when generating shots. Territorially, Larsson has very generous zone starts at 58%, but 80.8% of his pass attempts were within the defensive zone, suggesting he wasn’t as active offensively once he made the initial breakout pass. He did finish with a 55.5% Corsi rate, beyond only Andy Greene.

Peter Harrold: Harrold finished just behind Salvador for the most defensive zone turnovers per game on the team. He did much better in his last nine games over his first twenty-four, lowering his total by almost half a turnover per game. He also raised his PE% to 41.2%, but that is still quite low on even a below-average Devils blue line. He’s a fine 7th Defenseman, but that’s all he is.

Harrold completed 485/620 passes this season, a 78.2% completion rate. He tied with Merrill with one of the higher S/SAG% rates at 57.1%, suggesting the attempts he generates for other players are of a high quality. 6.6% of his passes result in shot attempts, while only 2.2% result in shots. He’s taking more passes than others to generate those shot attempts, but more often than not, they are resulting in a shot on goal.

Harrold contributed to 25.8% of the team’s Corsi events while on the ice, 1.9% below the positional average. He was the only defensemen besides Zidlicky to have more than 10% of his CC% made up of his SAG figures. Harrold can be injected into a lineup if it were missing Zidlicky, but with Zid here, there’s no reason to have Harrold in the lineup.

Harrold attempted a pass every 0:52, generated a shot attempt every 13:20, and generated a shot every 16:31. He was very efficient and frequently on the puck and created opportunities for his teammates to shoot. Territorially, he had a similar breakdown to Andy Greene, with a slight increase in his zone starts and, as a result, percentage of pass attempts in the offensive zone. Again, he’s a serviceable 6th/7th defensemen if you’re looking for a little more offense from the back end, but at the expense of defensive responsibilities or consistency exiting the zone. He’s the opposite of Volchenkov, really.

Musings

Some things were made abundantly clear this season: Marek Zidlicky’s prowess with puck and penchant for turning it over or making a boneheaded play on defense, Anton Volchenkov and Peter Harrold’s offensive and defensive limitations respectively, Bryce Salvador’s rapid decline as an NHL Defenseman, and the overall reliability and consistency in the top pairing of Andy Greene and Mark Fayne.

What we did not expect was the emergence of Eric Gelinas and Jon Merrill, both of which bring significant skill and upside to the Devils’ backend. Adam Larsson featured early on in the season until sidelined by injury, but certainly should have a place going into next season. He just needs someone like Gelinas alongside him to get him going.

I feel these are good stats to use for comparison over the summer (more on that below) and we won’t know for sure who truly excels, is average at, or is poor at, these various statistics until more data is collected. However, there is now more detailed data available to know just how ineffective Bryce Salvador was this season and tangible proof of why he’s not even one of the best six defensemen in New Jersey, let alone should be the Captain. I could make an argument that Peter Harrold deserves a spot over Salvador.

Also, I have to make the case for re-signing Marek Zidlicky as no one’s passes generate the offense that his do. Perhaps he becomes expendable during the season if Merrill, Gelinas, and Larsson continue to develop, but right now he’s needed.

Over the Summer and Beyond

I’ve mentioned that over the summer I’ll be tracking opponent’s stats and comparing them to the Devils. I’ll post my findings every ten games and see what trends develop. I’m keeping a tentative plan of trying to get ten games done each month, so my last post should be in September right before the season starts as a nice way to kick it off. Keep an eye out for those.

The added benefit of doing this is that with more opposition data, we can start to see what standards are set by other teams and compare them to the Devils players. How well do they stack up versus their opposition over twenty, thirty, forty, and fifty games? We’ll find out over time.

Also, for next season I’ve thought about different ways to add to these stats. One of these new stats I’m going to track will be passes in the Scoring Chance area of the ice—the “home plate” area from the faceoff circles down to the goal. These would simply be a way of isolating passes made into this area of the ice and see who is best at setting up scoring chances.

Some other things I’ve thought about were pressure or forechecking stats. Basically, when one player presses another in each zone, what is the result? Do they force a turnover? Break up a pass? Force the opposition to skate or pass backwards? Lateral? There’s a tremendous amount of off-the-puck stats that aren’t being tracked and I feel this might be a good introduction to that. Challenging players that carry the puck into the zone and so forth.

Now, all of this is would be great to have, but I can’t do it alone. I have a newborn on the way and that will impact my time to track everything. If anyone is interested in working with me in terms of tracking and making sense of all of this data, don’t be shy. Let me know and we’ll discuss.

Your Thoughts

Lastly, you’ve had to put up with my excel spreadsheets and stats all season, what did you think of them? How can we use this information going forward to better analyze and evaluate players? What are some changes you’d like to see for next season? In content or presentation? Sound off below and I’ll do my best to respond to each one.

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