Thanks to some wonderful work by Ryan Stimson over at In Lou We Trust, we can begin to assess the passing ability of NHL players and their contributions to zone entries and scoring chances. Ryan and his team watched a number of games to collect the data (manually, I should add) and are now publishing the data for public use. A lot of thought was put into why this tracking was important and the methodology to collect the data.
A fantastic visualization tool has been developed by Spencer Mann, who has applied a few metrics to convert the passing data into some useful information. You can access his charts, along with a useful glossary, on his Tableau page.
What I'll do here is review how the Oilers defencemen did last season using the data collected by Ryan and the dashboard developed by Spencer. The players are ranked based on their total time on ice at even-strength. For context, I included some high-level stats (Source: War on Ice) for each player to go along with their passing visualization diagram. Please note, the passing data includes even-strength play only and does not include every single game played.
Here's a description of each of the stats, courtesy of Ryan.
CC% and CC/60 are for Corsi Contribution (individual shot attempts, primary passes leading to shot attempts, and secondary passes leading to shot attempts) percentage and per sixty minutes. These tell you how much offense goes through that player while on the ice and also how often they contribute.
Composite SAG and SG represent the total number of shot attempts and shots a player generated from both primary and secondary passes per sixty minutes. SAG/60 is solely for the player's primary passing contributions.
Entry Assists represent the number of controlled entries a player assisted on. This is determined by the number of passes in transition (prior to entering the offensive zone) we recorded for each player.
SC Contribution % and SCC/60 are the exact same thing as CC% and CC/60, but represent only the scoring chances a player was involved in. I combined our passing data for scoring chances with War-on-Ice's scoring chance data to arrive at the total number of scoring chances a player contributed to. SC SAG/60 represents the number of scoring chances set up from a player's primary passes. (Source: In Lou We Trust)
And here we go!
|Justin Schultz (Even-strength) - 2014/15|
Based on the data collected, we see that Schultz was great at creating chances once he got into the offensive zone, but had a lot of trouble getting there. This might be why the Oilers gave him 62.9% of his starts in the offensive zone, which was the highest among all NHL defencemen.
|Andrew Ference (Even-strength) - 2014/15|
The captain brings a lot of experience and leadership to the lineup, but unfortunately, not much else. We know he did start more often in the defensive zone, but he ranked quite low for Entry Assists/60. This is definitely a replaceable player, who would slot in as a number six or seven defenceman.
|Oscar Klefbom (Even-strength) - 2014/15|
As a 21 year old, Klefbom performed quite well. The Oilers paired him with Schultz quite often as the first pairing, so he got a lot of offensive zone starts relative to his teammates. I'm a little surprised that his Entry Assists/60 were low, but it might be because they didn't start often in the defensive zone, limiting their sample size. Either way, Oscar is definitely the real deal, and I think this diagram supports that.
|Mark Fayne (Even-strength) - 2014/15|
Fayne played well as a shutdown defenceman for the Oilers this past season. I did not think that his Entry Assists would be this high, but it's definitely encouraging. If a player is starting that often in his own zone, you have to hope that he can make that critical pass into the oppositions zone as often as possible. His scoring chance metrics are definitely higher than I thought they'd be, considering you don't notice him often in the offensive zone.
|Martin Marincin (Even-strength) - 2014/15|
Like I needed any more reason to hate the trade, right?
Martin Marincin was trending very well for the Oilers this past season, playing a lot of tough minutes, and showing well at such a young age. While guys like Schultz and Klefbom were getting the cherry minutes in the offensive zone, Marincin was taking on tougher competition and surviving.
This graph by no means shows a superstar in the making. But the fact that he was contributing to scoring chances and posting a respectable Entry Assists/60 at the age of 22 tells me he'll likely have a long NHL career.
|Nikita Nikitin (Even-strength) - 2014/15|
Can't say I'm too shocked by the graph. Nikitin had an awful season, often chasing the play and losing puck battles all over the ice. He didn't contribute at all and was often a liability on the ice. There's definitely some injury or conditioning issues, so I wouldn't be shocked if he improves next year. But based on his recent performance and the fact that there will be competition for roster spots, he may have played his last season as an Oiler.
The New Guys
The defence was terrible in many ways, so it was obvious that the Oilers would dip into free agency to acquire a steady top 4 defenceman.
I think they may have found one in Andrej Sekera.
|Andrej Sekera (Even-strength) - 2014/15|
If Sekera can repeat his performance from last season, he can definitely start pushing this team in the right direction. His ability to make plays to enter the zone are top notch according to this data, which is something that the Oilers haven't had in a long time. I can definitely see him playing the tough minutes with Fayne next season and still driving play.
And lastly, here are the numbers for Eric Gryba.
|Eric Gryba (Even-strength) - 2014/15|
Remember, we shipped out Marincin for this player. He appears to be a lifetime 6th defenceman, who'll need more offensive zone starts to make up for his lack of production. If you're interested, I highly recommend this article by Walter Foddis that dissects the performance of Gryba, compared to Marincin.
I'd be interested to hear what others think about the data that's been collected on the Oilers. There's a lot to glean from the diagrams, and people typically see different patterns. A lot of thought went into the tracking, but, like any analytics projects, there are always questions and further analysis required.
Also, I really can't say enough about some of the work going on in the online fan community to not only analyze data, but to collect it. The NHL is still catching up to their own fans when it comes to collecting and publishing data. The work done by Ryan and his team is just another example of how far off the league is today. The key for the NHL will be to not only publish the data, keeping it free for everyone, but collect the right data that fans want to use.