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Zone Deployment Optimization: Left-shooting defensemen

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Placing the Jets' skaters where they perform best.

Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports

Through the previous week we've shown the effects of zone deployment with comparing Byfuglien the forward vs the defender. We continue this in depth study by turning our focus to the left side defensemen.

Rudimentary evidence suggests that coaches may overvalue handedness when constructing defensive pairs; however, the analysis on defenders will still be split between left-handed and right-handed.

The Jets have five left-handed defensemen with NHL experience under contract. In descending 5v5 TOI per a game last season, they are: Tobias Enstrom, Grant Clitsome, Mark Stuart, Keaton Ellerby, and Adam Pardy. The first three defensemen have sufficient sampling for all discussions to follow, while the later two will be a bit more limited.

Note: All numbers are for 5v5 events only. Much of the data and graphs have been derived with the help of Muneeb Alam's, Adam Stringham's and Corey Sznadjer's amazing talents. Please give them a follow and support them in their work.

Contextual Nuances

Before we start discussing how these players performed against each other, we should offer some context. After all, there are nine other players on the ice and these players affect the results as well.

Player TOI TmCF/20 TmCA/20 OpCF/20 OpCA/20
Clitsome 1141.13 19.32 19.56 18.93 19.06
Ellerby 414.67 19.83 19.41 18.96 18.99
Enstrom 1557.95 20.11 20.28 19.25 19.28
Pardy 478.27 18.95 21.19 18.68 19.13
Stuart 1590.08 19.81 19.43 19.08 19.27

Above is the zone-start adjusted, score-close shot-attempt results for these players' teammates and opponents, when they were not on the ice with/against them.

For example, we see Enstrom usually played with teammates who created a lot in both directions (like Dustin Byfuglien). He also played mostly against those who created a lot in both directions.

Defensive Zone

Maurice stressed defensive zone performance as a priority for the Jets. The goals against average needs to come down. After all, Ondrej Pavelec's performance obviously cannot be assessed until team defense improves.

Post Defensive Zone Face Off Shot Attempt Rates:

1_lhd_dzfo_medium

Click the image to expand.
The lines represent the rate of shot attempts. Black is shot attempts for with the player on the ice, which you want to have higher than red (shot attempts for with the player off the ice). Blue is the shot attempts against with the player on the ice, which you want lower than green (shot attempts against with player off the ice).

Enstrom's numbers may be hurt by his tougher assignment in line matching and linemates defensive acumen, but the results seem pretty substantial relative to the two other defenders.

Stuart shows that he has areas of use even if his overall numbers are not great. Although, the Jets winning a slightly greater amount of defensive zone face offs with Stuart on the ice may have assisted his results. The Jets have won 50.1% of defensive zone face offs with Stuart on the ice, while only 48.6% and 48.2% with Enstrom and Clitsome. Looking exclusively at defensive zone losses, Stuart still displays value in shot repression, albeit lesser in degree.

Grant Clitsome seems the best option in defending defensive zone face offs. Clitsome represses shot-attempts against more than the other three left-handed defensemen. Note that being the best option to defend a defensive zone face off is not equivelent to being the best defensive defender. Also, Stuart appears to be a decent alternative option.

Microstatistics - Zone Exit:

Defensive zone effectiveness goes beyond defending a defensive zone face off. Most of the game is played in fluid motion. A major component to defensive zone effectiveness comes from a player's ability to successfully breakout with control of the puck.

Player Touches Success% Turnover% Icing%
Tobias Enstrom 1026 23.6% 4.9% 1.7%
Grant Clitsome 578 21.3% 7.8% 2.4%
Adam Pardy 484 19.6% 7.2% 1.2%
Keaton Ellerby 616 19.3% 7.0% 1.5%
Mark Stuart 603 12.9% 9.3% 1.7%

The extremes are not surprising.

Enstrom has always excelled in puck movement. He comes out with extremely high success rate in breaking out the puck and by far the Jets best turnover rate. Clitsome's numbers are quite good, although not quite the top 10 in the league success rate he had in the 2012-13 season.

On the other side, Stuart has always been known for not being the most adept puck mover. He has the Jets worst success rate and turnovers for those with 400 or more puck touches. He was also in the bottom 10 in the league for 2012-13 (see same link as above). While Stuart seems to defend well -as seen in the face off data- Stuart needs to improve in this area improve efficiency. Placing him with a puck mover could help give him an option, although would severely handicap his partner.

Neutral Zone

The eye-test struggles to evaluate players on neutral zone play, most likely because human's psychologically depend on direct impact for memory and tends to miss indirect impact. However, there is evidence that the neutral zone's importance is highly underrated.

Post Neutral Zone Face Off Shot Attempt Rates:

2_lhd_nzfo_medium

Click the image to expand.
The lines represent the rate of shot attempts. Black is shot attempts for with the player on the ice, which you want to have higher than red (shot attempts for with the player off the ice). Blue is the shot attempts against with the player on the ice, which you want lower than green (shot attempts against with player off the ice).

Clitsome once again comes ahead, although with a high-risk and high-reward nature. In the early moments after a neutral zone face off, the Jets are heavily out attempted with Clitsome on the ice. By the 15 second mark though the Jets are heavily out attempting their opponents.

Enstrom comes out a plus much like Clitsome. Unlike Clitsome though, Enstrom's consistently treading above water. Stuart displays the consistency of Enstrom, but without the positive results.

The better option for neutral zone face off likely depends on the opposition. Enstrom's consistency looks favourable for minutes against tougher match ups, while Clitsome high-risk / high-reward would be best used against those less threatening than the oppositions top lines.

Microstatistics - Zone Entry:

Neutral zone microstatistics first started with zone entries. Eric Tulsky (et al.) found that a major driver of shot production came from play in the neutral zone, specifically in entering the offensive zone with control of the puck.

Player # of entries Shots per entry # of carry-ins Shots per carry-in % of entries with control # of dump-ins Shots per dump-in
Pardy 38 0.47 9 0.78 24% 29 0.38
Enstrom 93 0.31 14 0.86 15% 79 0.22
Clitsome 53 0.34 7 0.57 13% 46 0.30
Ellerby 39 0.28 5 0.60 13% 34 0.24
Stuart 45 0.40 3 1.67 7% 42 0.31

The sample isn't huge with defensemen, which is expected given they are usually not the primary options for entering the offensive zone.

Pardy has succeeded in gaining entry with control often while Stuart has not. Neither defender skates well, so it would be interesting to investigate why they have polar opposite results.

Enstrom has performed well in entries where he has carried the puck, and has entered with control far more often than team norm.

Ice time adds perspective on how often these players are entering the offensive zone and just how much offense they are creating.

Player Entries per 60 Shots per 60 from entries Shots per 60 from controlled entries
Clitsome 6.25 2.12 0.47
Pardy 2.86 1.35 0.53
Enstrom 3.98 1.24 0.51
Stuart 2.57 1.03 0.29
Ellerby 3.45 0.97 0.27

Clitsome has low shots per entry and average percentage of entry with control, but his huge numbers of entries per a minute is where he pushes the Jets shot volume creation.

Microstatistics - Denial of Opposition Zone Entry:

The obvious byproduct to research in zone entries came the discovery of the importance in denial of opposition zone entry.

Player Targets Carry% Break-up% Rel. Carry%
Adam Pardy 105 44.8% 9.5% +13.6%
Keaton Ellerby 184 52.7% 7.6% +5.7%
Grant Clitsome 106 53.8% 17.0% +4.6%
Tobias Enstrom 230 60.0% 10.0% -1.6%
Mark Stuart 223 64.6% 5.4% -6.2%

Enstrom and Stuart have been huge targets for entry by the opposition, which makes sense with their major partners being physical beasts in Dustin Byfuglien, Zach Bogosian, and Jacob Trouba. Neither have been that great at holding the line.

There have been those that say Stuart is the best at preventing players from entering the Jets' deffensive zone, although this data would say the opposite.

Clitsome broke up the most but only allows a slightly lower percentage of carries against.

Microstatistics - Overall Neutral Zone Score

Tuslky (et al.) combined the effects of zone entries and zone exits in a formula to evaluate the overall neutral zone effectiveness in gaining and preventing zone entry.

NHL Rank (N=216, min: 250 mins) Names NZ Score NZ Score Relative % of On-Ice Z.E For Control% For Control% Against
14 Adam Pardy 51.40% +3.40% 49.75% 44.2% 36.5%
73 Tobias Enstrom 49.26% +1.14% 49.98% 41.7% 45.1%
133 Grant Clitsome 47.97% -0.71% 48.26% 46.1% 47.5%
204 Keaton Ellerby 45.35% -3.80% 46.98% 36.6% 44.2%
209 Mark Stuart 45.06% -4.42% 46.29% 39.6% 45.5%

Here we can see why Adam Pardy has such strong Corsi% against other team's bottom six players, despite not being overly effective outside of the neutral zone.

Enstrom is the only other LHD that has a neutral-zone score above the Jets average, despite playing against tough competition.

Meanwhile, Ellerby and Stuart are both within 12 positions from the league's bottom spot for NZ score relative to team average.

Offensive Zone

Relatively speaking, the offensive zone tends to be easier to grasp the most effective players, but still there can be some surprises.

Post Offensive Zone Face Off Shot Attempt Rates:

3_lhd_ozfo_medium

Click the image to expand.
The lines represent the rate of shot attempts. Black is shot attempts for with the player on the ice, which you want to have higher than red (shot attempts for with the player off the ice). Blue is the shot attempts against with the player on the ice, which you want lower than green (shot attempts against with player off the ice).

The Jets offense lags a bit with Enstrom on the ice, some of it could come from Enstrom's hesitant nature. Regardless, the Jets end up with their best differential with Enstrom on the ice. Both Clitsome and Stuart start with more offense, but Enstrom is sustaining pressure for longer. At the 45 second mark, the Jets are outshooting by about 40 attempts per 60 minutes with Enstrom on the ice. In contrast, Stuart and Clitsome are out shooting by about 25 attempts.

Generally speaking, all three Jets perform superior than the average of the other options (Pardy, Ellerby, Hainsey, Oduya, Meech, Flood, Festerling, etc.). Still, Enstrom's ability to sustain pressure in the offensive zone is second to none.

Point Production
Player 5v5 Points/60
Clitsome 0.90
Enstrom 0.81
Stuart 0.59
Pardy 0.45
Ellerby 0.44

The median 5v5 point production is 0.74 for first pair defensemen, and then 0.66 and 0.56 for the second and third pair. The Jets are no slouches in producing points from the blue line. Both Enstrom and Clitsome pace above norm for top pair defensemen, while Stuart (who does receive more flak than probably valid) performs adequately for a third pair defensemen.

Closing Thoughts

The competency of the Jets left side for defensemen has severely diminished over its original levels after the loss of Ron Hainsey and Johnny Oduya. With wise deployment though the Jets could help improve their shot differentials, and further improve their probabilities in winning.

From this information, we would suggest that these choices could do that

1) Use Enstrom as the top choice for neutral zone and offensive zone face offs, and the third choice for defensive zone face offs. Also, work with some video with Enstrom on defending the opposition's offensive zone entries. Another area where some video work could be focused is on the first 10 seconds of an offensive zone face off win.

2) Use Clitsome as the top choice for defensive zone face offs, and secondary choice for neutral zone and offensive zone face offs.

3) Use Stuart as the second choice for defensive zone face offs, and third choice for neutral zone and offensive zone face offs. Use video work with Stuart on his neutral zone play and breakouts. Also, make sure Stuart's partner is a capable puck mover, and maybe create a defensive zone breakout specifically for when Stuart is on the ice.

We'll look at right-handed defensemen next, to see who may be the best partners for each of these defenders.

This is only the the tip of the iceberg. There is so much information available that could be used in improving a team's efficiency. These numbers could be very powerful if used in conjunction with a good video coach and a wise tactician.