Analysis

Tracking the Rangers zone entries & exits for the upcoming season

Mats Zuccarello

Over the course of the summer there has been one major topic that continues to pop up in the hockey analytics world: tracking zone entries and exits. The concept was originally brought to the forefront of the analytics community by blogger turned NHL consultant, Eric Tulsky. From there the idea of tracking these events took off, most noticeably with Corey Sznajder (creator of the Hurricanes’ blog “Shutdown Line”) who undertook a huge workload this summer by tracking every entry and exit from every NHL game of the 2013-14 season.

That’s just a little bit of the background, but why is tracking entries and exits so important?

The days of chip and chase hockey are slowly dying. Just like everything else in this world, hockey is evolving. Many teams have hired people to head up analytics departments this summer, including the Rangers (Jim Sullivan). Puck possession is as valuable as anything else in the game. The belief is that carrying the puck into the offensive zone is a more efficient play than dumping and chasing, and ultimately results in more shot attempts. At the same time, carrying the puck out of your own end results in more success through the neutral zone than stretch passes through multiple opponents. By tracking these events game by game we will be able to get a sense of which players can sustain high possession numbers and contribute to a teams shot total, which in turn will contribute to goals scored.

Of course we will see some players connecting on stretch passes which eventually lead to odd man rushes, but in the long run the percentage of stretch passes out of your own zone is mostly unsustainable and the thought is that it leads to far too many neutral zone turnovers. The same can be said for chip and chase hockey. Sure, it will lead to some goals and you wont always have the option of carrying the puck over the blueline, but more often than not you are willingly giving the puck up to your opponent, something you clearly do not want to do.

Another part of the game we will gain information on by tracking entries and exits will be seeing which players, mostly defensemen, defend entries well. Many of the “crease clearing” defensemen that so many teams and fans value are nothing more than sticks in the mud, unable to stop the opposition from gaining the zone with ease. This collection of data will be able to separate a lot of things defensemen should be doing that maybe they aren’t despite our original perception of their defensive strengths.

This upcoming 2014-15 season, Dave and I will undertake the task of tracking zone entries and exits for every Rangers game. While the concept may seem a bit confusing now, it will make more sense as we begin to post the data we collect and analyze it for you.

Ultimately this all comes down to evaluating players. We want to know who is helping the Rangers win hockey games and who is hurting their ability to win. I understand many people are resistant to new concepts and analytics in general, but there is more to these metrics than the dreaded “Corsi” and “Fenwick”. Try to keep an open mind and hopefully I can start convincing the naysayers that these metrics hold a lot of meaning and value.

If you have any questions or inquiries about this project or anything analytics related, whether it’s an explanation of certain statistics or anything at all don’t hesitate to email me (mburnshockey@gmail.com) or reach me on twitter (@mburnshockey).

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  • Ah the first steps of human capital management.

    I do really think these kind of stats will fuel a renaissance for hockey.

    Getting more scoring in the fame isn’t about modifying the constraints, its about accurately measuring a players impact to the team.

  • Ok Martin, I’ll admit that I’m a skeptic re: analytics in hockey but I’m open to the idea so convince me!

    • This isn’t really analytics, it’s just measuring something that the NHL currently doesn’t offer publicly. Zone entries/exits are a standard hockey play that, for some reason, seems to get ignored. There have been a few studies done that show carry-ins are more effective (about 60% more) than dump-ins.

      That’s just face value. The Kings are a dump-and-chase team, but they are so good because they limit their opposition’s entries to dump-and-chase as well.

      • The dump n chase teams may be dyeing off but even teams like Det, Chi, or others knows strictly as possession teams. Dump the puck in once in a while and not just when changing. Many time now a days it seems more of a One on one move to gain the zone rather than a team concept. Even Mike Babcock has integrated more dump n chase the last season or so. He’s lost a lot of his top core players to retirement and last season to injury.
        I think coaches like Torts are obsolete or are becoming so. They will need to update their tactics to combat the evolution of the game. I beleive the team that has the puck all game and is willing to fight like hell to get it back when they don’t will win more games than they lose. 60% sounds about right. He who wins the Corsi battle has the edge in the game.
        AV seems to like his players to support each other so their is always a short quick pass to make. This makes zone exits/entries easier if the game plan is executed properly. The Rangers have now 107 games under the new coach. They should have the strategy down and continuity should be of little problem. Offseason rust aside.
        The Rangers should be in the top 5 or 6 in the NHL in this statistic.

        This stat should be broken down into a +\- of successful entries/exits as a team stat. I don’t see how this can be broken down to an individual point of view. If the defenseman with the puck has no support he may try the home run pass behind the NZ coverage leading to a turnover. Rather than turn it over for a breakaway it might have been the right move or he may have rushed a long pass with time and space to carry it up ice like DZ used to do. This shouldn’t be quantified as an individual stat. Only team by team!

  • Are these stats going to account for such things as blowing a tire or a pass that becomes a broken play because the other player decided to do a line change?
    Stuff happens in hockey that stats can not show. It’s like poker. Odds tell you so much yet a person hits the one or two outer on you 3 times in a row. And when you have the 22 outer and you miss 5 times in a row

    • Without getting into semantics about this not being a stat: Yes, we will account for broken plays.

      It’s worth noting that over an 82 game season, all the broken plays tend to even out. It’s about large sample sizes, not the one play here or there that draws focus. You can draw much better conclusions when you increase the sample size.

    • Sample size!

      I don’t think anyone is arguing that advanced stats will allow you to predict the outcome of any specific game. But it does tell you what’s likely going to happen given a large sample size (like over the course of a full season).

      And when you’re trying to figure out who is better between two defensemen, I would rather look at as many stats as possible over a large sample size than use my own opinions that I know are going to be biased and put too much value on luck.

  • Analytics seems to promote d. Baseball players are now picked for defense, basketball teams love d now. I love analytics but im worried itll reduce scoring

  • Here is the problem with that stat. In most cases it takes one and sometimes two or more outlet passes from a defenseman to a forward to enter the offensive zone. You can’t judge the stat of the player who enters the zone without judging what kind of breakout pass he receives.

  • As an old timer I have trouble with new stats (WTF is Corsi?), but I’m open minded about new ways to measure player productivity. Once you have some data collected it would be interesting to see if there is a correlation between this stat and the most productive players. As the Rangers have limited individual offensive punch compared to the rest of the league, it would be interesting to see this measurement for some of the top players in the NHL. Looking forward to the start of the season, especially since the Giants will be painful to watch this year, but that’s for a different blog. Good Luck Martin!

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