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Zone Deployment Optimization: Right-shooting defensemen

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Placing the Jets' skaters where they perform best.

Bruce Fedyck-USA TODAY Sports

Throughout 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, now turning our focus to the right 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 three right-handed defensemen with NHL experience under contract. In descending 5v5 TOI per a game last season, they are: Zach Bogosian, Jacob Trouba, and Paul Postma. The first two defensemen have sufficient sampling for all discussions to follow, while the later one will be a lot more limited. There's also Dustin Byfuglien... but we'll ignore him for now.

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
Bogosian 1470.32 19.94 19.32 19.26 19.21
Byfuglien 1891.67 19.57 19.94 19.18 19.21
Postma 450.97 19.65 19.42 18.77 19.23
Trouba 615.67 19.71 19.67 19.36 19.18

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 Bogosian usually played with teammates and against opponents who created the most shot volume. Byfuglien though played the most with teammates that tended to allow the most attempts against.

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_rhd_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).

Neither Trouba nor Bogosian exceed above the Jets average in terms of defending defensive zone face offs. Bogosian performs at average instantaneously after a face off, but then starts to allow more than average amount of attempts against after about ten seconds. Trouba tends to allow more attempts against during the first bit, passing over the 100 per 60 minutes mark, and then gradually moves back towards Jets average.

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%
Jacob Trouba 680 23% 9% 3%
Dustin Byfuglien (D) 991 22% 6% 2%
Zach Bogosian 790 20% 7% 1%
Paul Postma 126 11% 10% 0%

Both Trouba and Bogosian perform adequately in moving the puck out of the zone. Trouba tends to be higher event with more successes but also more failures.

Postma's numbers create intrigue. Known as a puck moving defenseman, Postma was the loan defensemen to post worse break out numbers than Mark Stuart. It is possible these numbers improve with greater sample, but no promises.

Neutral Zone

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

Post Neutral Zone Face Off Shot Attempt Rates:

2_rhd_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).

Neither defensemen starts above the Jets average. Trouba eventually moves into the positive shot differentials at about the twenty second mark. Bogosian, however, stays consistently in the slightly negative range.

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
Byfuglien 124 0.65 47 0.74 38% 77 0.60
Trouba 76 0.49 32 0.66 42% 44 0.36
Bogosian 100 0.43 20 0.80 20% 80 0.34
Postma 8 0.25 3 0.67 38% 5 0.00

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

All three defenders like to carry the puck into the defensive done, and do very well in it. Trouba's and Postma's percentage of entries with control is above the average for Jets forwards.

Player Entries per 60 Shots per 60 from entries Shots per 60 from controlled entries
Byfuglien 5.8 3.8 1.6
Bogosian 6.2 2.6 1.0
Trouba 4.2 2.1 1.2
Postma 1.7 0.4 0.4

Bogosian's shot volume generated per entry is second only to Byfuglien the defensemen, and Trouba falls not far behind third place Grant Clitsome.

While Postma performs well at gaining the zone, the low number of attempts per minute saps the team's shot volume production. Although, once again there is concerns of small sample size with only 8 attempts and minimal TOI for Postma.

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%
Byfuglien 174 59.8% 15.5% -1.4%
Bogosian 113 60.2% 14.2% -1.8%
Trouba 183 63.9% 6.6% -5.5%

The results are not what you'd expect. Both defenders allow an above average number of zone entries with control for the opposition. There is a caveat though. Both have extremely low target numbers for their ice time relative to their partners (they are in the mid-to-high 200s). It is likely that most players are avoiding entry on their side, thus attempting on their side only opportunistically.

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) Names NZ score NZ Score Relative % of On-Ice Z.E For Control% For Control% Against
8 Zach Bogosian 51.29% +3.71% 51.2% 44.2% 43.6%
50 Dustin Byfuglien 49.64% +1.82% 50.0% 45.8% 47.5%
190 Jacob Trouba 46.39% -2.78% 47.7% 41.3% 47.6%

Overall, Bogosian's neutral zone score has been exceptional. He is the only Jet defender above 50%. He is also above his team's average by more than all but eight regular defenders in the NHL. This looks not just at personal numbers (the ones listed in the previous two sections) but also on-ice numbers, in seeing how he effects his linemates.

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_rhd_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).

Talk about different results. Bogosian lacks in promoting shot production while Trouba seems to excel in it, even more than Byfuglien.

Point Production
Player 5v5 Points/60
Byfuglien 1.20
Trouba 1.12
Bogosian 0.83
Postma 0.56

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. Just like the left side, the Jets are no slouches in producing points from the right side of the blue line. Both Tobias Enstrom and Grant Clitsome paced above norm for top pair defensemen as well. Postma creates average offense for a third pair defensemen, but his real offensive production comes from the power play.

Closing Thoughts

The competency of the Jets right side for defensemen has severely diminished over its original levels after the loss of an elite defender in Dustin Byfuglien. 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 help do that:

1) Use Trouba as the top choice for neutral zone and offensive zone face offs, and the secondary choice for defensive zone face offs. Also, work on some video with Trouba focusing on why he struggles for the first ten seconds after defensive and neutral zone face offs. Also, some review on denying zone entry may help as well. There is a chance that this is just youthful inexperience and will change as Trouba develops.

2) Use Bogosian as the primary defensive zone option, secondary neutral zone option, and tertiary offensive zone option. Trouba actually performs better in all three face off situations. The gap though is near zero for defensive zone, while much larger in the other two zones. Some video on defensive zone coverage would be beneficial, especially since Bogosian has struggled there without the verbal guidance of Ron Hainsey.

3) Postma will need severe sheltering as his sample size grows to see where he performs best. He definitely needs some video work with breakouts, although maybe being paired with Stuart a lot harmed him there.

Looking at the optimal usage patterns, we'd also suggest that Trouba play with either Grant Clitsome or Tobias Enstrom, with Postma playing with the other. Meanwhile, Bogosian might benefit most playing with Mark Stuart in a defensive role.

This is only the the tip of the iceberg of what could be done. 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.

EXTRA: Big Buff

We mostly ignored Byfuglien due to already breaking him down individually in all these situations.

Here though are his three graphs in case you are wanting:

Buff_medium

For those wondering, the numbers indicate optimal usage of Jets defensemen would be for Byfuglien to take Postma's spot in the Jets top 6. Byfuglien would pair one of Enstrom and Clitsome, whichever is not with Trouba. Optimal deployment suggests Trouba with Enstrom and Byfuglien with Clitsome, although there would be concerns with placing two high-risk/high-reward defenders together in Clitsome and Byfuglien. Although, with two other competent pairs, you would be able to protect them from line matches that could hurt the most.

In conclusion for defensemen, optimal zonal deployment suggests:

Enstrom-Trouba: First offensive zone face off option. Second neutral zone face off option. Third defensive zone face off option.

Clitsome-Byfuglien: Second offensive zone face off option. First neutral zone face off option. Second defensive zone face off option.

Stuart-Bogosian: Third offensive zone and neutral zone face off options. First defensive zone option.

Without Byfuglien, you could sub in one of Postma, Adam Pardy, Keaton Ellerby, or Josh Morrisey. The pairing would then likely require more substantial sheltering.