Zone Exits: An introduction

Updated: August 14, 2013 at 9:29 am by Kent Wilson



By: Pierce Cunneen

Most readers here may be familiar with the Zone entry project. For those who aren’t, check out this article by Eric T from NHL numbers. Short version: a group of bloggers for the past few years have taken it upon themselves to track Neutral zone performance for several teams.

The results of such work has been incredible, and we are learning that the neutral zone is far more important than we previously assumed.

And while there is still much work to be done with continued tracking of zone entries (if you are interested in helping track zone entries, shoot me an email at, tweet me at @pcunneen19, or tweet Eric at @BSH_EricT), a few of us have decided to take a closer look at the defensive zone.

Specifically, we would like to focus on zone exits. Zone exits are anytime a defending team is able to clear the puck out of their defensive zone. Zone exits are undoubtedly a very important aspect of hockey, and understanding them better may help lead us to better understand defensive performance.

Why You Should Care

For one thing, you will be changing our understanding of hockey. The zone entry project has helped revolutionize our understanding how teams dominate play and what can be the difference between winning and losing. We have that same opportunity with tracking zone exits.

This is also an opportunity for you to learn some amazing things about your favorite team. Learn who moves the puck more between a pair of D-men, which defensemen are turnover machines, or which D-men are a detriment when it comes to moving the puck with possession out of the D-zone.

All these questions can be answered by tracking zone exits.

So How does one Track Zone Exits?

It’s not too complicated. All you have to do is watch a game and record when a team sends the puck out of their defensive zone, noting the time, the player, the exit type, whether the play was pressured by the opposition, and the strength (5v5, 5v4, 4v5, etc). For exit type, all you have to do is write down a one letter or two letter code depending on how the puck was advanced across the defending blue line (C=carry, P=pass, Ch=chip, etc).

Below is an example of the first minute of the Rangers vs Flyers game this past season that I recorded:

Period Time Exit type Player Pressure? Strength
1 19:55 P 8 YES 5V5
1 19:45 C 8 YES 5V5
1 19:27 CH OPP YES 5V5
1 19:15 I OPP YES 5V5
1 19:05 P OPP YES 5V5

That’s all there is too it. Just like with the zone entry project, we have decided to not record the opponents numbers (in order to save time, since most fans can’t recognize players from other teams very easily). There are a few other things we excluded/included, and if you are interested in joining the zone exit tracking project I can fill you in on those things.

So what can we do with this info. Well for one, we can evaluate players based on how often they clear the defensive zone and how often they clear the zone with possession. We can also evaluate teams. Once we get enough data from enough teams, we can determine how often “good teams” are able to exit the defensive zone with possession.

We can also link up zone exit data with zone entry data and figure out how often certain types of exits generate zone entries with possession/without possession.

So if you have a NHL game center account or can record NHL games on a TV and want to learn a bunch about your favorite team and/or want to make an impact on our understanding of hockey, shoot me an email at or tweet me @pcunneen19 to get all the information on either zone entry tracking or zone exit tracking. I will further explain the process of zone entry/exit tracking and what you need to do.