The Washington Post

Why the New Jersey Devils struggled to score this past season

(Photo by Christopher Pasatieri/Getty Images)

Tracking passes and how much offense a player generates serves the hockey analytics world by peeling back a layer in a fluid and complex game. But what would make it even better is to know who generated the most offense with their ice time. How many players have gaudy totals simply from being out there so often? Looking at how frequently a player attempts a pass (possesses the puck), generates a shot attempt (creates a Corsi event) and generates a shot on goal, we can identify which players are the most effective in the ice time they’re given.

You can see how each New Jersey Devils skater stacks up in the below charts with the league average.

What jumps out is that the Devils defensemen were terrible at generating shots for teammates. Only Marek Zidlicky was better than the league average of 19:54. Peter Harrold and Jon Merrill were close, but a few minutes past that mark. You wonder why the Devils couldn’t score enough goals this past season? Look no further than the inability of their defensemen to effectively generate shots.

The blue line you see is the frequency at which a Devils forward made a pass that resulted in a shot attempt by a teammate. The red line is the league average (41 opposition games tracked) for all forwards in the same category. The average forward in these 41 games generated a shot attempt every 8:09. This tells who on the Devils was instrumental in creating shot attempts (Corsi events) for their linemates compared with their competition.

Names you would expect to see — Jaromir Jagr, Patrik Elias — led the team. Just behind them were strong possession forwards like Travis Zajac and Adam Henrique, but Steve Bernier was a surprise inclusion in this group. At the other end of the Devils forwards, we have Stephen Gionta lagging far behind the other forwards. Elias generated nearly three shot attempts in the time it took Gionta to generate one.

It is important to generate shot attempts, but even more important to generate actual shots. Whereas in the previous chart most Devils forwards were ahead of the league average for generating attempts, here the differences in passing ability are more pronounced. Elias and Jagr still lead the team, but players like Mike Sislo, Jacob Josefson, Ryan Carter and Damien Brunner, who were better or around the league average for generating shot attempts, now they take a bit of a dip as it takes them longer to generate a shot.  The average forward in this sample size generated a shot every 13:20.

Why does this matter? Looking at how frequently players and teams attempt passes allows us to gauge how much possession that player has. Looking at how frequently player and teams generate offense allows us to see how efficient teams are and which players are doing the most to drive offense with their ice time. It is yet another layer in the passing phase of the game that reveals new ways to evaluate players and teams.

Ryan Stimson is a contributor at InLouWeTrust on SB Nation and has been a lifelong New Jersey Devils fan. He believes that the future of hockey analytics is in analyzing phases of the game to reveal tendencies of winning teams. Follow him on Twitter @RK_Stimp



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