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NHL Defensemen Shot Attempt Shares, The New Jersey Devils & Adam Larsson

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Does the New Jersey Devils' system hamper the offensive production of their defensemen? Will Adam Larsson be in a better position to contribute offensively on the Oilers?

Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

This is not an attack on or a defence of the Hall-for-Larsson trade. Let me just say that off the top. I haven't come back from hockey blogger dead to lend my voice to that over-crowded discussion. Instead, I want to try and answer a question I've been thinking about since the trade happened.

Does the New Jersey Devils' System Hamper the Offensive Production of their Defensemen?

We know a few things about the Devils system already.

We know that they don't produce a lot of offence. In 2015-2016, they were dead-last in the NHL in Goals For per Game with 2.22.

We know they also run a pretty tight ship defensively. They were eighth in the league last year in Goals Against per Game with 2.46.

We also know that, to an extent, Adam Larsson was affected by this defence-first mentality. He was deployed with partner Andy Greene in a such a way that it's clear he was viewed by the organization as their best option to prevent goals in their own end. See the Player Usage Chart (courtesy of Hockey Abstract) below:

There's Larsson and Greene getting absolutely pounded with brutal zone starts, facing the toughest competition amongst defensemen. This also tells us that, among NJD defenders, Larsson and Greene were put in the most difficult position to score.

This is all for review purposes as it's been covered before here and there and everywhere since the trade. Woodguy over at his Woodblog wrote some essential reading on Larsson post-trade and I would strongly recommend it.

What I'm interested in is this: When the Devils were in the offensive zone, how did they use their defensemen?

Unfortunately, I don't have the time to watch a bunch of film and see exactly how the Devils mostly impotent attack set up in 2015-2016. Instead, I went ahead and calculated total individual shot attempts for/iCorsi for (5v5) for every team in 2015-2016 and then found the percentage of those shot attempts that were generated by defensemen.

What I wanted to find was a kind of statistical approximation for how much the puck is getting back to the point for each team at even-strength. By looking at the share of individual shot attempts that defenders are getting over the season for each team, I'm hoping we can get a picture of how involved their defensmen are strategically in the offensive attack overall.

Here's what I found (data courtesy of Puckalytics.com).

Team PTS GF/GP GA/GP Total iSAF (5v5) Rank Def. iSAF (5v5) Rank DEF iSAF% (5v5) Rank
San Jose Sharks 98 2.89 2.52 3737 9 1573 1 42.09% 1
Ottawa Senators 85 2.8 2.94 3432 17 1394 2 40.62% 2
Arizona Coyotes 78 2.54 2.98 3291 25 1280 8 38.89% 3
Calgary Flames 77 2.79 3.13 3123 27 1190 15 38.10% 4
St. Louis Blues 107 2.67 2.4 3591 12 1360 4 37.87% 5
Philadelphia Flyers 96 2.57 2.56 3606 11 1265 9 35.08% 6
Carolina Hurricanes 86 2.39 2.7 3092 29 1084 23 35.06% 7
Edmonton Oilers 70 2.43 2.95 3478 15 1218 11 35.02% 8
Winnipeg Jets 78 2.59 2.88 3340 22 1162 18 34.79% 9
Pittsburgh Penguins 104 2.94 2.43 3815 6 1318 6 34.55% 10
Boston Bruins 93 2.88 2.78 3914 4 1351 5 34.52% 11
New York Islanders 100 2.77 2.57 3768 7 1300 7 34.50% 12
Montréal Canadiens 82 2.63 2.84 3437 16 1182 17 34.39% 13
Tampa Bay Lightning 97 2.73 2.41 3529 14 1190 14 33.72% 14
Colorado Avalanche 82 2.59 2.93 3414 18 1138 19 33.33% 15
New Jersey Devils 84 2.22 2.46 2584 30 849 30 32.86% 16
Toronto Maple Leafs 69 2.34 2.93 3371 20 1098 21 32.57% 17
Columbus Blue Jackets 76 2.6 3.02 3358 21 1091 22 32.49% 18
Minnesota Wild 87 2.6 2.49 3405 19 1102 20 32.36% 19
Los Angeles Kings 102 2.72 2.34 4282 1 1383 3 32.30% 20
Nashville Predators 96 2.73 2.6 3701 10 1183 16 31.96% 21
Vancouver Canucks 75 2.27 2.91 3283 26 1049 25 31.95% 22
Florida Panthers 103 2.83 2.44 3301 24 1046 26 31.69% 23
Washington Capitals 120 3.02 2.33 3756 8 1190 13 31.68% 24
Dallas Stars 109 3.23 2.78 4063 2 1263 10 31.09% 25
Chicago Blackhawks 103 2.85 2.52 3909 5 1205 12 30.83% 26
Buffalo Sabres 81 2.43 2.62 3105 28 946 28 30.47% 27
New York Rangers 101 2.84 2.62 3582 13 1041 27 29.06% 28
Anaheim Ducks 103 2.62 2.29 3918 3 1052 24 26.85% 29
Detroit Red Wings 93 2.55 2.67 3307 23 880 29 26.61% 30

The above table is sorted from highest to lowest defensive share of 5v5 iSAF (you can sort by other columns by clicking on the column title). Here we can see which teams' defenders are getting the puck on their stick the most in a situation that allows them to direct it towards the net (most likely the offensive zone). I've also included the total iSAF rank for each team and the total DEF iSAF rank as well.

Perhaps not surprisingly, New Jersey shows up dead last in each of the "total" categories. They attempted the least number of shots overall at even strength last year, and their defensemen also attempted the least number of shots of any defensive corps in the league. But the Devils' defenders' share (or percentage) of the shot attempts for the team overall was much closer to league average (which is 31.89%) at 32.86% (16th).

On the other hand, the Oilers defenders attempted a larger share of the team's shot attempts at 5v5 with 35.02% (8th most in the league). This might suggest that the Oilers system is getting their defensemen more involved in the play in the offensive zone.

Of interest: note the monster percentages for the San Jose Sharks and Ottawa Senators. I bet you can guess that it's Brent Burns and Erik Karlsson driving these iSAF shares up. Both these teams get the puck to their star D-man a ton in the offensive zone, and both of those players attempt shots like crazy.

Anyway, the above suggests to me that New Jersey's defensemen aren't being totally left out of the attack at 5v5, but their league-worst offense certainly can't be helping any of their players' scoring totals, position aside.

Will Larsson be in a Better Position to Contribute Offensively on the Oilers?

I think a lot of Larsson's trouble finding the scoresheet in New Jersey can be attributed to his tough "shutdown" deployment and the team's waffling attack.

But if DEF iSAF% is any indication of how much a given team's system involves their D when attacking, then these findings would suggest that Edmonton relies a little more (2.88%) on their defence in this way than the Devils—though the Devils are by no means cutting their D out in the offensive zone.

The Oilers as a whole generated a lot more offense than the Devils did in 2015-2016, and they did it by involving their defenders at least a little more in the attack. I imagine this will benefit Adam Larsson's scoring totals at least a little moving forward in Edmonton.

Defenseman IPP

Another thing I took a quick look at was the average defenseman IPP on both teams in 2015-2016 among players who played at least ten games. The league average for defenseman IPP is 31% and both teams D averages were below that. The Devils came in at 26.85% and the Oilers, at 26.76%.

Adam Larsson was second amongst defenders on the Devils with 31.7% (Severson was the best at 40.5%). Larsson's partner Greene was among the worst on the team at 18% which suggests to me that Larsson did the majority of the puck moving for the pairing (Larsson also started only 30% of 5v5 shifts in the OZ but finished 42.5% in the OZ, suggesting someone WAS in fact moving the puck on the pairing). The Oilers best defenseman IPP? It belongs to Oscar Klefbom. He was at a sexy 50% over the 30 games he played before getting injured.

It's not a stretch to imagine Larsson's scoring totals improving with Klefbom either.

A Final Thought...

I was reading Travis Yost's condemnation of the Hall trade on TSN and was intrigued by this bit after Yost's final chart:

"The troubling piece of it is that the tough zone start issue doesn’t seem to explain his poor impact on team goal-scoring rates. You can see that as his offensive zone start% climbs, the team’s goal differentials – both actual and expected – either stagnate or decline. That’s the discouraging piece of this."

I imagine the games in which Larsson received more than 55% OZ starts were few and far between, but Yost's article says they exist. I wonder what the circumstances were that saw Larsson see so much offensive zone time when, on average, he saw so little over the course of the season. Could the drop in goal differentials have something to to with QoT? Was Larsson baby sitting a lesser partner or forward line in these games, resulting in this strange drop in actual and expected goals?

I couldn't find any game logs with ZS% included. If you can, this might be worth looking into on an individual game basis.