The Vancouver Canucks season has long since passed, but the data that helps us connect the dots that drew their third-last finish are just starting to come together. I’m talking about microdata that points to the ‘hows’ and ‘whys’. In this case, neutral zone statistics.
If you’ve been paying close attention, you’ll have noticed that I’ve been providing periodic updates on how the Canucks have fared through the neutral zone this season. Specifically, how well they’ve performed at attacking the opposition’s blue line. I collected this data by accounting for every zone entry, noting which player is responsible, how they entered the zone and how often they failed.
It’s taken me quite some time, but I’ve finally collected that data for all 82 of the Canucks games this season — and another 150 or so for other teams. I’ll share the results and make sense of my findings, on the other side of the jump.
Observing the Canucks through this data can be a fruitful exercise, especially in the context of what they’re aiming to accomplish through their roster development. Canucks General Manager Jim Benning cited team speed as an area he hoped to address in the wake of their first-round exit at the hands of the Calgary Flames last off-season. Think of the neutral zone as a freeway. Find the most efficient teams and players on that stretch of ice and you’re likely collecting a list of the league’s fastest players.
It’s not hard to see then why the Canucks zeroed in on Matt Bartkowski last off-season. Or why they didn’t balk at paying Derek Dorsett, a nominal fourth-liner, $2.65-million annually. Better still, what specific traits they value in younger players. Sven Baertschi, Jake Virtanen and Emerson Etem stand as proof that speed and proficiency with the puck in space are commodities this club places a premium on.
Though the Canucks reigned him in as the season waned, Bartkowski was able to finish the year completing 41% of his zone entries with control of the puck — the next highest Canucks defender, Yannick Weber, sits at 30%. And while Dorsett was decidedly less choosy, he still accounted for 26.1 successful entries per-sixty-minutes of even strength ice-time. For the Canucks, who value speed above most other inputs, this is the Sri Racha that makes the sum of their parts palatable.
The image is perhaps a little skewed by the Hunter Shinkaruk data. All of which accounts for 9.6 minutes of play at even strength. All that is to say that I don’t think the Canucks dealt their most efficient puck carrier.
I wouldn’t rule out that they trade one of their most genuinely productive neutral zone forwards, though. Especially if the Canucks are shopping Jannik Hansen anywhere near as much as the chatter around town might suggest. He looks to be one of their most efficient players in the neutral zone, entering the offensive zone with control 13.8 of the 25.1 times he completes a successful entry per-sixty-minutes.
Interestingly enough, the only player that one could reasonably argue performed better by these metrics (with more than 70:00 of even strength ice-time) than Hansen was his pivot for much of the season, Henrik Sedin. Though he produced slightly fewer successful entries, 21.3 to Hansen’s 25.1, Hank actually had a higher amount amount of controlled zone entries per-sixty, with 14.3 to Hansen’s 13.8.
|Shots per Entry||Shots per Controlled Entry||Shots per Uncontrolled Entry||Shots/60 from Entries||Shots/60 from Controlled Entries|
Shot data is representative of Fenwick events — unblocked shot attempts.
I’ve noticed the variability isn’t especially large for shot based entry data. The devil is in the detail, really. If there’s a Mendoza Line for forwards, though, I’d say it’s somewhere in the .35-.4 range. Any higher than that, and you’re in the upper tier of forwards. That makes Bo Horvat’s .48 shots per entry a highly impressive mark. So too is Virtanen’s .41.
Neutral Zone Burden Percentage
Neutral zone burden percentage (NZB%) attempts to take the guesswork out of which players are driving play. If a player is accountable for five of ten on-ice entries, that player was burdened with 50% of the team’s entries with him on the ice.
This type of data can be subject to massive swings based on small samples. Shinkaruk rears his head again, as one example. Interestingly enough, though, the player the Canucks traded Shinkaruk for, Markus Granlund, is the worst forward on the Canucks by this metric.
Among players with sample sizes worth examining, Hansen led the pack with an NZB% of 35%. Not far behind him is Etem, which makes sense given that he was playing primarily in the Canucks bottom-six, but still showed to be a strong skater with the puck in space.
Perhaps most encouraging, though, is the fact that Ben Hutton led all Canucks defenders with an NZB% of 11.8%. Of course, Andrey Pedan bests him every so slightly with an NZB% of 15.7% but many of his games were played at forward — that’s practically cheating.