• Points Aren’t Offence

    by  • June 18, 2014 • Hockey • 23 Comments

    Ray Ferraro went on TSN in Edmonton the other day and, according to Jason Gregor, said “(Anton) Stralman is a solid #4, but I think he is a candidate to be grossly overpaid. He had 1 goal. He won’t bring much offence.”

    I have to quibble with the “won’t bring much offence” bit. It depends on what you mean by offence. Let’s compare Stralman with Ryan McDonagh and talk about 5v5. McDonagh puts up way more points at 5v5 than Stralman does. Over the past two seasons, McDonagh has scored 0.93 PTS/60. For Stralman, that number is 0.60. McDonagh has scored .23 G/60. Stralman has scored .14 G/60. You can fairly say that McDonagh gets about 50% more points and 50% more goals than Stralman.

    So is Ferraro right that Stralman doesn’t bring much offence? Well, I’m not so sure that he is. See, the thing is this: the Rangers have scored more often when Stralman’s on the ice (2.6 GF/60) than they have when McDonagh is on the ice (2.4 GF/60). Part of that edge is due to the S% when Stralman was on the ice – the Rangers shot 7.7% when he’s on the ice and 7.3% when McDonagh was on the ice, both slightly below the league average of about 8%.

    The Rangers got slightly more shots when Stralman was on the ice though. In fact, amongst defencemen who played at least 1000 minutes between 2012-14, only six defencemen saw their team get more shots when they were on the ice than Stralman did.

    To me, this raises a question that has to be answered if you want to suggest that Stralman is lacking offensively: why does he team score so much when he’s on the ice? Why, despite the difference in points, does his team score more when he’s on the ice than it does when McDonagh’s on the ice?

    Part of the answer is simple: his team had a better S% when Stralman was on the ice than it did with McDonagh was out there. I give Stralman no credit for that because I buy the research that says that defencemen have a negligible impact on S%. That still leaves the fact that the Rangers get more shots when Stralman’s on the ice than they do with McDonagh. I do give Stralman credit for that.

    I think it’s important to remember this: points aren’t offence. Points are an attempt to divvy up credit for offence according to crude mechanical rules that may or may not bear any resemblence to who deserves the credit for the offence. We know that there are cases in which points don’t accurately reflect someone’s offensive contribution. To pick an easy example, there are many players who played with Joe Thornton who saw their points spike: Glen Murray, Patrick Marleau, Jonathan Cheechoo and Bill Guerin all spring to mind.

    Did those players just suddenly get better when they played with Thornton? I doubt it. I think that what happened was that Thornton creates buckets of offence and our archaic system of crediting players for offence inappropriately credited some of the players who played with him with offence that was actually created by Thornton.

    If you accept that this is a thing that happens and that hockey’s system of crediting people for offence can credit people with offence for which they aren’t responsible, does it not also seem plausible that hockey’s system of crediting people for offence can fail to credit people for offence for which they are responsible?

    On that line of thinking…Craig MacTavish talked to Mark Spector about various things the other day and said this:

    “We need a puck-moving defenceman, another one,” says the second-year GM. “Justin (Schultz) is developing, and is going to be very good at that. But we need somebody to challenge open ice, and open up ice for our forwards.

    I’ve made my own thoughts on the Petry/Schultz thing pretty clear. This is not unlike the McDonagh/Stralman thing. Schultz gets more 5v5 points than Petry. The Oilers score marginally more goals when Schultz is on the ice, which is due to an on-ice S% edge that Schultz has had which we shouldn’t bet on going forward. They get slightly more shots when Petry is on the ice. Who’s the better offensive defenceman? Schultz needs to win this by a lot to be in the discussion with Petry, I’d think, because nobody’s saying he’s in Petry’s league defensively.

    It’s MacT’s language that I find interesting there: “a puck-moving defenceman.” I would think that if Schultz is so good at moving the puck, the Oilers would get more shots with him on the ice than they do with Petry. They don’t. I think that phrase tends to get used as code for “defenceman who gets points.”

    Screen Shot 2014-06-18 at 1.50.39 AM

    Is getting points necessarily the same thing as moving the puck? I’m not so sure that it is. If we look just at this year, we see that Justin had 19 5v5 points to Petry’s 12 5v5 points, with the rates being as summarized above. I had a suspicion that Justin was getting more points not because of his superior puck carrying ability but because of his willingness to jump into the offensive zone, so I took a look at them both, with some comments afterwards.


    Screen Shot 2014-06-17 at 2.46.04 AM

    Justin shoots, misses the net and then Ference scores from the other point on the ricochet.

    Screen Shot 2014-06-17 at 2.47.19 AM

    Justin knocks down puck in neutral zone, steps up and makes pass to Gordon for the goal.

    Screen Shot 2014-06-17 at 2.49.14 AM

    After play on the left boards, Schultz slid down, took a pass and set up Hall for a goal.

    Screen Shot 2014-06-17 at 2.51.23 AM

    Justin jumps into play as puck moves up the left side of the ice and Capitals switch off.

    Screen Shot 2014-06-17 at 3.02.16 AM

    Coyotes collapse to left wall, Schultz provides outlet, three on one created.

    Screen Shot 2014-06-17 at 3.03.29 AM

    Oilers win DZ faceoff, creates 3 on 2. Backchecking winger gets puck focused, leaving Schultz alone on right side.

    Screen Shot 2014-06-17 at 3.04.33 AM

    Pretty standard defenceman in the offensive zone play, puck comes to point.

    Screen Shot 2014-06-17 at 3.07.04 AM

    Standard breakout pass. Offensive wizardry from Perron, who goes length of ice and scores.

    Screen Shot 2014-06-17 at 3.08.25 AM

    Schultz pinches deep, passes behind net leading to goal.

    Screen Shot 2014-06-17 at 12.52.45 PM

    Hall gains blue line after Coyotes clear, Schultz drives net, Hall sets him up for goal.

    Screen Shot 2014-06-17 at 12.53.54 PM

    Standard D shot from point, tipped into the net.

    Screen Shot 2014-06-17 at 12.55.12 PM

    Hawks collapse to left side, Schultz slides down vacated right side, Hemsky finds him with pass, Schultz goes back to Hall for goal.

    Screen Shot 2014-06-17 at 12.59.20 PM

    Stars collapse to left side, Schultz slides down vacated right side, takes pass and scores.

    Screen Shot 2014-06-17 at 1.00.58 PM

    Oilers cycle the puck in the corner, Preds’ high man dozes off, Schultz slides into the slot unmarked, scores.

    Screen Shot 2014-06-17 at 1.02.18 PM

    Standard slapshot from the point.

    Screen Shot 2014-06-17 at 1.12.59 PM

    Schultz (pinning man against wall) shovels puck forward, Oilers go up ice and score.

    Screen Shot 2014-06-17 at 1.14.29 PM

    Standard breakout pass.

    Screen Shot 2014-06-17 at 1.15.16 PM

    Schultz jumps into space between three Coyotes who were back and the two forwards doing a sloppy job of backchecking, takes pass from Hall and scores.

    Screen Shot 2014-06-17 at 1.16.29 PM

    Schultz jumps into breakout as puck comes out from congested left side of ice. Play goes up ice and fizzles, before a rebound ends up lying in crease that Schultz shovels in.


    Screen Shot 2014-06-17 at 1.35.30 PM

    Oilers controlling puck down low, Petry slides past a sleeping Ovechkin (Petry comes in on the left for some reason) and makes pass across to Acton.

    Screen Shot 2014-06-17 at 1.37.49 PM

    Standard shot from point.

    Screen Shot 2014-06-17 at 1.43.32 PM

    Screen Shot 2014-06-17 at 1.43.35 PM

    I put two pictures in for this one because it was a pretty nice play. Petry moves the puck up to RNH (out of the shot in P1) and then beats the player in front of him to the net. RNH feathers it back, Petry scores.

    Screen Shot 2014-06-17 at 1.45.21 PM

    Soft chip off boards to Hall

    Screen Shot 2014-06-17 at 1.47.19 PM

    Jets kind of fall asleep, Petry sneaks down the right side, finishes Yak missed shot.

    Screen Shot 2014-06-17 at 1.49.06 PM

    Petry keeps play alive by rolling puck into corner, Smyth puts it out front and Oilers score.

    Screen Shot 2014-06-17 at 1.51.09 PM

    Petry sends in Hemsky, who scores a wondergoal.

    Screen Shot 2014-06-17 at 1.54.10 PM

    Standard shot from point, deflected in.

    Screen Shot 2014-06-17 at 1.54.54 PM

    Petry jumps into rush, finishes a kind of fumbled play that ends up in the slot.

    Screen Shot 2014-06-17 at 1.56.43 PM

    Schultzesque play where Petry activates down the right side after play goes to left, no hope shot from corner goes in.

    Screen Shot 2014-06-17 at 2.00.40 PM

    Outlet to Hall.

    Screen Shot 2014-06-17 at 2.02.01 PM

    Schultzesque jump into space left open as Oilers cycle in the left corner.

    That’s it. So what does it all mean? Well, to be frank, there’s not a ton of difference between them numberswise. Schultz shot 14.3% at 5v5 last year – he’s not doing that going forward. I went and took a look at the individual S% for defencemen with at least 300 shots at 5v5 over the last seven years – here’s the distribution of S%.

    Screen Shot 2014-06-18 at 2.22.35 AM

    So Schultz isn’t going to shoot anything close to 14.3% for his career. Watching the goals, I had a sense that he has a tendency to be more active than Petry getting off the blue line if the play kind of slows down on the opposing boards, giving the Oilers an option if they get control. I’d guess that that’s why he gets more points than Petry.

    I was struck, as I went through this, by the lack of points that Schultz generated by skating and creating plays from his own end: the number was roughly zero, same as Petry. I suspect that if I went through Erik Karlsson or P.K. Subban, I’d find that the number was different. I’ve actually sort of done this with Karlsson before and found lots of assists where he drove the play up the ice before getting the assist.

    I guess what I struggle with, in terms of labelling Schultz a puck mover, is why there doesn’t seem to be anything as far as data that supports the argument. The Oilers don’t get a lot of shots when he’s out there. His points don’t particularly seem tied to puck moving as opposed to a willingness to jump into the offensive zone from the blue line. The goals he scored this year are at least partly due to a shooting percentage spike. Where’s the evidence that this guy is a puck mover?

    This question, figuring out what makes a defenceman a puck mover as opposed to a point getter (and whether there’s value in being a point getter who isn’t really a puck mover), is obviously one that people in hockey grapple with. I’m not convinced that they’re entirely sure how to make this assessment either – I don’t think Ferraro’s views on Stralman are particularly out of step with those of the NHL as a whole and I’m pretty sure Schultz is seen as a puck mover – but I can’t see a way that the numbers support it. What’s more, when you go and look at the video, it doesn’t really seem to support it either.

    It’s a conundrum. We’re getting better at figuring out forwards with numbers but the contrast between what hockey people say about defencemen and what the numbers say still frequently has a big gap between it, particularly with guys who drive possession without getting points (Stralman/Petry) and guys who seem to do less in terms of driving possession but get points (McDonagh/Schultz). If the argument in favour of those guys is that they get points, I think we may need to consider whether or not the system of awarding points that we use accurately captures offensive contributions.

    Obligatory: Schultz is a young player who hasn’t spent a lot of time in the NHL. That said, college career or not, he’s 24 years old entering next season. If he was going to be a real deal puck mover, I think we’d see signs of it by now and I don’t see it. I’m nowhere near writing the guy off but it concerns me a little bit that the Oilers are talking about getting a puck mover to add to Justin Schultz rather than getting a puck mover in case Schultz isn’t one and letting Schultz, Petry and new RHD (hey, Stralman is UFA!) engage in a knife fight for ice time.

    Of course, talk is cheap. The contract that the Oilers and Schultz ultimately agree on will tell us a lot more about where they see him at this stage than whatever MacTavish is saying now. That said, MacTavish is sort of like Kevin Lowe was as GM, in that there’s not a lot of verbal misdirection and I think you can reasonably read things in to who they talk about (Schultz) and who they don’t (Petry). I sure hope they’re right.

    Email Tyler Dellow at tyler@mc79hockey.com


    23 Responses to Points Aren’t Offence

    1. Pingback: Buzz: Anton Stralman is one player the Rangers want to keep | SNY Rangers Blog

    2. speeds
      June 18, 2014 at

      One of the great ironies here, IMO, is that many members of the “watch the game” crowd are, either consciously or subconsciously, affected by points, and that influences how they view the player (in two senses, both in their mind when thinking of the player abstractly, but also in their mind when watching the player).

      Meanwhile, some that pay attention to stats find that it sometimes gives a new appreciation to players when you watch them, players you might not have thought too much about or noticed prior to looking at some stats.

    3. woodguy
      June 18, 2014 at

      I think Jultz’ ability to effectively join the offense in the ozone is a skill that should be attributed to him.

      I agree that it is certainly different than “puck mover”, its more like “rover”. or “finishing ability” I see Marincin becoming more of a rover in the ozone too, and I like it.

      The rover ability is the ability to see the hole in the D (they’re standing at the back and can see the play develop) and then jump into the hole and help create the goal, or in other words “finish off the offensive sortie” Finishing ability.

      That is a valuable skill.

      I agree that its not “puck moving”

      This is why the zone exit/entry project is going to yield soooooo much fun data.

      I think offence is often created by turning the puck over and maintaining possession until you reach the ozone.

      Possession in the ozone is offence.

      Getting from dzone to ozone with possession is offence.

      When we see who is contributing to zone exits with possession compared to exiting the zone without possession, we’ll get a much better understanding of who the puck movers are, and who actually creates offense.


      The ability to get the puck from dzone to ozone is offense. (or from any zone to the ozone with possession)

      The ability to score when you have the puck in the ozone if finishing ability.


      • Kris
        June 18, 2014 at

        Not sure I buy that Dmen at 5 on 5 have some innate finishing ability other than maybe Karlsson.

      • Locky
        June 19, 2014 at

        “The rover ability is the ability to see the hole in the D (they’re standing at the back and can see the play develop) and then jump into the hole and help create the goal, or in other words “finish off the offensive sortie” Finishing ability.”

        Fair point. Christian Ehrhoff is an example of a guy that gets a lot of his points (or did when in Vancouver ) doing this exact thing. Now, Ehrhoff is absolutely also a ‘puck-moving d-man’ in that he has the ability to carry or pass the puck through the neutral zone to put forwards in a good position. But this is definitely a real skill, or at the very least a tendency, that a lot of high-point defencemen seem to posses.

    4. Sukh
      June 18, 2014 at

      Really interesting Tyler.
      So obviously it would take a tremendous amount of man hours to try to dissect who is or isn’t responsible for every goal but with the resources available to these teams it is amazing that there wouldn’t be even a cursory attempt to dig into an idea like this, no?

    5. Triumph
      June 18, 2014 at

      Nice post. One of my pet peeves with talking hockey on the Internet is the insistence that the puck moving defenseman is someone that every team needs, then when called on to indicate what the puck moving defenseman does, they give a bunch of characteristics then list off a bunch of guys who supposedly have those characteristics. Of course the thing that unites these players is that they put up high point totals. Players who don’t drive play but put up a lot of points (all situations) may be valuable on the PP, but at ES they just increase variance.

      One thing I don’t think the stats community has a good grip on is how tactics affect a player’s point totals. Certain tactics on the PP will, I imagine, lead to differing point totals – it’s insane how these things get lumped together all into ‘points’ and fans judge who a ‘puck-moving defenseman’ is on them.

    6. Robb
      June 18, 2014 at

      They are all just “Buzz words”, but I always saw a difference between “Offensive Defenseman” and “Puck Moving Defenseman”:
      Visnovsky is an Offensive Defenseman. I liked the Whitney trade (when it first happened!), because it looked like we were getting a puck Moving Defenseman back for Visnovsky; A guy that can move the puck out of the zone, and make that first pass that we were not doing effectively at that time.

      Petry seems to fit that description, and Stralman possibly as well. Schultz is an Offensive Defenseman; A guy that puts points on the board, but his contributions are mostly seen in the offensive zone.
      A guy like Petry or Stralman you want on the ice in the defensive zone, because they are able to actually move the puck down the ice.

      Again, all just “Buzz words”, but… that is how I see it.

    7. FastOil
      June 18, 2014 at

      Well done. I hope the Oilers become early adopters of the deeper understanding of player contributions as it grows. I fear they go unicorn hunting again or after fading lights. Just get better players with a chance of remaining that way for how long you need them. It continues to baffle the mind that with so much free info out there now more people with a lot to gain don’t incorporate it.

      I understand a natural inclination to dismiss what is being pitched to them, it would be hard to know what was real without being a stats person. But anonymous free stuff?

    8. Dave
      June 18, 2014 at

      David Staples and the crew at Cult of Hockey track earned scoring chance +/- for the Oil, any chance you could grab their data and see how Petry and Schultz compare in terms of this metric? As far as I can tell the Neilson numbers they evaluate are attempting to classify offense more generally as you suggest.

    9. Stephan Cooper
      June 18, 2014 at

      I’ve been thinking a lot along similar lines lately about ES offense from defensemen. I think there is a major dichotomy between “puck movers” and what I’ve come to term “4th forwards” on defense. One thing I’ve noticed is that there are quite a few “offensive” defensemen who are masters of driving puck possession who don’t get particularly high ES points totals. Nick Lidstrom, PK Subban and Drew Doughty being notable examples. The thing is, their on-ice ES offense (in particular relative to teammates) tend to be significant. These guys tend to spend their careers getting a point on about 35% of the goals scored. Then there is a class of defenseman like Mike Green, Dustin Byfuglien and Erik Karlsson who can get towards a point on 50% of the goals scored despite not being noticeably better at on-ice offense.

      I think there is a style of playing defense where you are significantly driving the play through the neutral and defensive zone but aren’t adventurous in the offensive zone which significantly impairs the ability to get points despite doing a lot to drive team offense. I’ve been toying with checking shot locations for defenseman on ES as a proxy for where they spend their time in the offensive zone and I think you can see a notable difference there although I haven’t been able to look at the matter systematically yet.

      For example Subban and Karlsson for example, seem to be in the same ballpark in terms of driving on-ice puck possession, but Subban is in the 35 IPP group and Karlsson in the ~50 IPP group. Looking at their career ES shot locations (http://www.sportingcharts.com/nhl/icetrack/?r1Id=478197&r1Year=&r1eventType=%27SHOT%27%2C+%27GOAL%27&r1type=1&r1strength=EV&r2Id=456827&r2Year=&r2eventType=%27SHOT%27%2C+%27GOAL%27&r2type=1&r2strength=EV) I think it may be reasonable to surmise that the depth in the offensive zone they are playing at is a significant factor.

      I think comparing the career ES shots by Schultz and Petry demonstrates a similar kind of trend (http://www.sportingcharts.com/nhl/icetrack/?r1Id=542700&r1Year=&r1eventType=%27SHOT%27%2C+%27GOAL%27&r1type=1&r1strength=EV&r2Id=660044&r2Year=&r2eventType=%27SHOT%27%2C+%27GOAL%27&r2type=1&r2strength=EV)

    10. Danks18
      June 18, 2014 at

      NYRangers fan here. I don’t know much about stats myself but I watches nearly every nyrangers game this year. What Stralman did well was: 1) retrieve the dumped pucks or seal off his man so someone else on the team could get it, 2) make a slick initial pass to help break out of the NYR zone and 3) Keep the puck in the ozone along the boards even in heavy mess/traffic. He missed about 5 goals this year because of poor shooting (his biggest flaw IMO, he just misses the net too much). He also has problems sometimes moving out of the d zone when he tries to bank it off the boards/glass. I fear that he will be unduly critized by his new teams fans b/c he is not flashy and his shot is below average. Might seem like a lot of $ for not much but he takes care of business on d and keeps the offense in the o zone

      • PaperDesigner
        June 19, 2014 at

        Interesting profile for Stralman. Seems to fit with the high corsi and low counting stats, and still paints a picture of an effective defenceman. I still want the Oilers to sign him.

    11. chelch
      June 19, 2014 at

      A “puck-mover” is a guy with skill versus a guy with defensive strengths like size and reach that lacks skill. “Puck-movers” are typically the best skaters on the team. Not necessarily the fastest, but they have that effortless stride and extreme agility. They have excellent vision and make great passes. That vision also helps them find the holes in the offensive zone. I think “puck-moving” has replaced “offensive” the way “stay-at-home” has replaced “defensive.” “Offensive” and “puck-moving” are interchangeable.

      While you’re bang-on about the lack of understanding by Ferraro, I think debating these terms is way below you.

    12. bituman
      June 19, 2014 at

      I always thought it was pretty clear that a puck moving defenceman is a player who can move the puck out of his own end, either by skating it up the ice or with an aggressive first pass, permitting the forwards to enter the offensive zone.

      So maybe points aren’t offense (?). But individual’s CF%, GF%, or WOWY stats don’t indicate “offense” or “driving possession” either – these are purely correlative stats with no evidence of causation (less evidence of causation in fact than goals or assists). Correlation is not causation. This should be the first rule of analytics.

      • Benjamin
        June 19, 2014 at

        If by ‘offence’ we mean goals, how is GF% not a very simple and effective measure of a player’s offensive talent? The amount of goals a team scores [when a player is on the ice] isn’t correlated to offence, it is offence.

        • bituman
          June 20, 2014 at

          So putting the puck in the net isn’t offence. Passing the puck to a player who puts the puck in the net isn’t of fence. But being on the ice when the puck goes in the net is offence. ?

        • bituman
          June 20, 2014 at

          The correlation is that the player was on the ice when the shot was attempted or goal was scored, but it’s not a measure of the players skill. We infer that the player contributed to the shot or goal. But we don’t know that they did. When a goal is scored or an assist is made there is a measure of a direct action taken by a player.

          I thought that was pretty straightforward.

          • Benjamin
            June 20, 2014 at

            Arbitrarily cutting off assists at 2 and saying ‘that’s offence’ lends me to believe that points are certainly not a better measure than GF% of a player’s offensive abilities.

            In an ideal world maybe we up the number of assists possible on a goal to 4, then every single player on the ice who touches the puck in succession gets credit for their efforts. Or how about 5, so the goalie/extra attacker can get in on the action?

            Needless to say that’s not going to happen so in the mean time I think GF%, vs goals or points, works better as a broad measure of a player’s ability to produce offence, because of the arbitrary nature of assists and because goals are only one dimension of offence.

            • bituman
              June 20, 2014 at

              I don’t necessarily disagree. But in this particular case, I don’t see much difference between Stralman & MacD. The numbers are close. There’s no notion if these numbers reflect an actual difference in relation to on-ice events. It could just be a matter of chasing spreadsheet phantoms. On the isuue of Stralman in particular there was a good post at c&b and a good post at nation. The nation post made the point that Stralman’s numbers with CBJ were not nearly as good. Just looking at the numbers we don’t know why this is.

    13. TigerUnderGlass
      June 19, 2014 at

      Enter Staples with his plan to replace standard goal/assist stats with his “Staples thinks I deserve a plus” system.

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