One of the many unfortunate things about having NHL teams in markets that aren’t rabid hockey markets is that interesting things can happen that slip under the radar. If the Florida Panthers dressed a horse for a game, odds are that we’d never hear about it in Canada. The only reason I can say with any certainty that the Phoenix Coyotes exist is that I watched the city council meeting that gave them all the money they had. And maybe the New Jersey Devils had all sorts of really weird things going on with their Corsi% last year that nobody’s pointed out.
Actually, that last one’s true. Ten forwards were on the ice for at least 200 open play Corsi% events for the 2011-12 and 2013 New Jersey Devils. I’m going to split them into two groups. You should be able to see why
These seven guys all saw massive improvements in their open play Corsi% – huge. Seven or more percentage points each. It’s phenomenal. Zubrus, Kovalchuk and Josefson don’t show anywhere near that improvement. Josefson barely makes my cut-off and Zubrus missed half the year so Kovalchuk was sort of a lone holdout, resistant to this Corsi% tide.
The Corsi% didn’t increase because of an increase in the ability to generate shot attempts. Broadly speaking, both groups were pretty much the same, year over year.
The SAA/100, a measure of the ability to prevent multiple shot attempts on the same shift, is a bit of a different story. Kovalchuk and Zubrus showed some marginal improvement but my first group of players ranged from marginal improvements to large improvements in this facet of the game.
And again, you see with the ratio of shifts with 1+ SAF/shifts with 1+ SAA, there was a massive improvement with my first group of seven and then basically nothing from Kovalchuk, Zubrus and Josefson.
What we see, with the forwards save Kovalchuk, Josefson and Zubrus, is a huge improvement in open play Corsi%, SAA/100 and SAF 1+/SAA 1+. It adds up to a huge swing in the Devils’ possession numbers. Let’s look at the defencemen:
Four guys with big jumps, three guys who were stagnant. In reality, it was only two – Zidlicky’s numbers were far, far worse with Salvador than without him. I think you can isolate things down to Larsson and Salvador.
SAF/100 changes: Basically none.
SAA/100 – some big changes for Greene, Tallinder (who didn’t play a ton), Fayne and Larsson; the others were basically flat.
And again, as with the forwards, some massive eye-popping numbers for my first group of four in terms of their ratio of shifts with 1+ SAF/shifts with 1+ SAA. Not much in the second group though.
I can tell you as well that the Devils posted some mindblowing numbers following 5v5 OZ faceoff wins this year – their Corsi% in that situation was north of 85%, the best I’ve ever seen. So what’s going on? I’m not entirely sure. The downside that the Devils had is that they couldn’t score goals or make saves so all the Corsi% in the world didn’t get them over the line for the playoffs. Cory Schneider will probably fix the latter problem; we’ll see if the former was just bum luck or whether there’s something else to it.
The real question – and one for which I have no answer – is why. Why, when Kovalchuk, Zubrus, Salvador and Larsson weren’t on the ice were the Devils such a dominant team in terms of their Corsi%? How did they suddenly get so good at limiting second and third shot attempts for the opposition? How did they become so fantastic in terms of absolutely crushing the opposition in probability of getting a shot attempt on a shift versus allowing one?
What you see in these graphs isn’t a usual team – it’s very unusual. Basically 2/3 of the team became elite outshooters last year, somewhat out of the blue. New Jersey’s a quiet team, in that nobody cares about them and they don’t really talk to the media about what goes on internally but it strikes me that there’s a pretty massive story here and that the Devils are quite possibly into some interesting things or have found something that works awfully well. It’s going to be a fascinating thing to follow this year: if the Devils are still crushing the opposition shot-wise, someone really should look into why.
One other implication of note: is David Clarkson *really* an amazing possession player or is the NHL’s version of a system goalie at the college level? I’m left a bit suspicious by 2/3 of the Devils team turning into possession all-stars in 2013, to the point that I wonder if, like a goalie who plays for a defensive team in college, players can generate big numbers within the context of whatever it is that the Devils are doing but if they get outside that system, they sort of revert back to being whatever it is they were. Alex Ponikarovsky was putting up decent possession numbers in Winnipeg; they went though the roof when he came to NJ. Matt D’Agostini, who was acquired from St. Louis during the season, saw his open play Corsi% go from 50.8% to 58.3% and his golden ratio from 0.99 to 1.34, albeit in limited time.
There’s something going on here – I’m sure of it. I’d be eternally grateful if someone else would figure out what it is and write a post proving it but, in the absence of that, it’s something worth keeping an eye on this year as, if the Devils experience some success, it may be something that other teams around the league look to figure out and copy. If only to try and get the David Clarkson they thought they were getting.Email Tyler Dellow at email@example.com