Brief Analysis of Justin Schultz’s 2014/15 Season

When I analyzed the seasons of Mark Fayne & Andrej Sekera, my analyses were dense. I was still learning about the new data–data that went beyond the “first wave” of analytics, like shot-attempt differential (a.k.a. Corsi). I was still deciphering what “right” analytical pieces were needed for a comprehensive, yet readable player profile. Recently, an Oilers’ fan asked me if I could give an analytical overview of Schultz’s season. The overview had to be brief because I was posting to a Facebook thread. Much to my surprise, I think I managed to pull it off. I include this analysis below. I am curious to hear from readers if they find the analysis, as brief as it is, understandable and informative.

Brief Analysis of Justin Schultz’s 2014/15 Season

Take-Home Point: The Oilers were only slightly worse defensively with Schultz on the ice, but he appears to contribute enough on offense to compensate.

I begin with the broadest measure, shot attempts (SAT), and then refine the analysis to Scoring Chances (SC) and High-Danger (i.e., the slot area) Scoring Chances (as defined by war-on-ice). Unless otherwise stated, all player data originates from war-on-ice.

Shot Attempt Metrics

I computed the Oilers’ score-adjusted shot attempts generated (SAG) and suppressed (SAS) per 60 minutes, relative to the team’s average (RelTM). Combining SAG and SAS, I also computed a shot-attempt differential per 60 minutes (SAT60), Schultz lead the Oilers’ defense with a SAT60 RelTM of +7.2. Next was Oscar Klefbom with +4.5. To clarify, +7.2 means that with Schultz on the ice, the Oilers generated just over 7 more shot attempts per 60 minutes compared to the team’s average. Defensively, Schultz’s SAS60 RelTM was -2.2, which was third lowest (lower is better) behind Klefbom (-3.7) and Jeff Petry (-2.2).

Scoring Chances & Net Goals

In terms of scoring chances, defensively Schultz was only slightly better than the team’s average with the Schultz-iced team allowing 0.14 fewer scoring chances (SC) per 60 minutes. Offensively, though, Schultz again lead Oilers’ defenders with the team generating 3.5 more scoring chances per 60 minutes. Marincin was second with 3.25 and Klefbom was third with 2.8.

In terms of the High-Danger Zone shots (the slot), the Oilers allowed 14% more shots than league average. With Schultz on the ice, the team allowed 2% more shots from the slot. So when it comes to allowing high quality shots, Schultz is a little worse than the team. Again, though, Schultz tends to compensate with more offense. Indeed, the team generated 16% more shots from the slot with Schultz on the ice. Because of the additional offense with Schultz on the ice, the team is actually expected to out-score the opposition. Including all scoring zones, when Schultz was playing, the team’s expected Net Goals was +0.32 per 60 minutes, which translates into +8 goals.

Passing Metrics

A common pattern in Schultz’s shot metrics is his apparent ability to generate more offense. Because of Ryan Stimson’s Passing Project, we have direct measures of a player’s passing and shot metrics. Here’s the glossary for the graph below.

  • CC% and CC/60 Corsi Contribution (or Shot Attempt Contribution), which are individual shot attempts, primary passes leading to shot attempts, and secondary passes leading to shot attempts. These are given as a percentage (i.e., proportion of shot attempts a player is involved in when on the ice) and per sixty minutes. These metrics tell you how much offense goes through that player while on the ice and also how often they contribute.
  • Composite SAG and SG represent the total number of shot attempts and shots a player generated from both primary and secondary passes per sixty minutes. SAG/60 is solely for the player’s primary passing contributions.
  • Entry Assists represent the number of controlled entries a player assisted on. This is determined by the number of passes in transition (prior to entering the offensive zone) that was recorded for each player.
  • SC Contribution% and SCC/60 are identical CC% and CC/60, but represent only the scoring chances a player was involved in. Passing data for scoring chances was combined with War-on-Ice’s scoring chance (link to definition) data to arrive at a player’s total number of scoring chance contributions. SC SAG/60 represents the number of scoring chances set up from a player’s primary passes.

Passing Metrics - Justin Schultz 2014_15

When it came to generating shot attempts and shots, Schultz was pretty close to the average defender (e.g., Corsi Contributions/60, Composite Shots-on-Goal/60). However, in terms of directly contributing to Scoring Chances through primary passes (SC SAG/60), Schultz reached an “elite” level. He ranked 8th overall among NHL defenders. Moreover, looking at scoring chance contributions overall (i.e., the last 3 metrics), Schultz ranked among the best in the league (over 90th percentile). Thus, there is not only more offense with Schultz, but higher quality offense.

Summary

Relative to the team, Schultz’s defense metrics suggest that he isn’t a terrible liability, and in fact, not that bad at all. This contrasts with his defensive gaffs in highlight reels. I also vaguely remember Schultz’s blunders, but I also know that human memory is unreliable and biased. (That’s why I rely on analytics to rescue my fallible memory with objective data.) Although Schultz is not that bad defensively, relative to the team, we all know the team’s defense was bad overall (e.g., 26th in score-adjusted Scoring Chances Against). In short, he’s average as a defender on a defensively weak team. Still, Schultz’s offensive ability compensated for his middling defense, which we clearly saw in the team’s expected Net Goals (+8) and increased Scoring Chances with Schultz on the ice.

Recommendations for Schultz to Succeed

What does Schultz need to succeed? First, he needs to be more consistent in executing his defensive responsibilities. At times, it seemed like he fell back into old habits. Easier said than done when under pressure, but I think he needs to work on the mental discipline to execute what he intuits to be the “right” play, which includes the discipline to implement what McLellan and his coaching staff will have taught him. This is more of a psychological battle than mistakenly being labelled as “lazy.” When a player is overwhelmed, they tend to feel their options are limited. But if they have enough practiced learning in different situations, this would give them confidence when a similar game-situation occurs.

Second, I would suggest avoid matching him up against tougher competition. On the road, though, this may be next to impossible.

Third is what I consider the must-fix-above-all-else element: Schultz needs to improve his ability to read plays. This is possibly linked to my first point about mental discipline. I recall seeing him look lost at times and wondered how the coaching staff was going to help him correct it. Then I would see this “lost in the wilderness” situation repeatedly, which lead me to wonder about Schultz’s “Hockey IQ.” Specifically, I questioned whether he was cognitively capable enough to read developing plays, decide where he should go, and what he should to to be most effective. Can McLellan and crew help him break through this apparent psychological barrier? (Disclaimer: I don’t know what media pundits and hockey people mean by “Hockey IQ.” If someone can define it for me in a formal way; that is, a way that it can be measured reliably, I would be a happy analytics camper.)

Fourth, Schultz cannot be hesitant to use his body. (His physical hesitation, accompanied by a compensatory stick-reach while bent over, has lead to the derogatory term, Jultzing.) I think being more physical is what Schultz was alluding to when he spoke of “playing with an edge.” By physicality, I don’t expect him to separate opponents from the puck with big hits, but I do expect and want him to make it more difficult for opponents to execute their shots and passes. Duncan Keith of Chicago had 16 hits last season. You’d think he get more hit by random chance alone. Yet, he is one of the best defensemen in the league. Victor Hedman of Tampa Bay also hits very little; less than 1 hit per game. Thus, effective defense is possible without splattering players along the boards.

Finally, being partnered with an effective defensive defender would be ideal. Klefbom is on his way to being a strong defender (as well as an offensive contributor), but we also have to remember he only has 60 NHL games under his belt. Despite being in the league for over 200 games, Schultz still needs a mentor! Pairing him with a veteran like Fayne in certain situations (e.g., softer competition), could help Schultz progress.

Thanks for reading and please let me know what you thought of this brief analysis. (At least, briefer than what I normally post.) Also, what do you believe needs to happen for Schultz to succeed?

Walter Foddis Written by:
  • reithmayermk

    Softer and less minutes should translate into a good season for Justin.

  • Micah Kowalchuk

    Great article as always sir 😉

    I’d say, based on this, what we’re likely to see is, a D that’s more like the 1A and 1B forward lines you see on more and more teams (Krejc/Bergeron, Stamkos and the Triplets as examples). Teams have begun using the forward lines more as an Offensive #1 line and a more Defensive #1 line with fairly equal ice time, and you see that in teams that lack a true #1 Defenseman also (such as Anaheim).

    Since the Oilers picked up Sekera, the view has been that him and perhaps Fayne would become a true #1 pairing, but looking at Schultz’s numbers, and the idea of a Left and Right shooting D paired together, that having Sekera/Schultz as the more offensive D pairing, and then Klefbom/Fayne as the more defensive D pairing make the most sense, with likely Ference/Gryba or Reinhart/Gryba as the physical energy pairing (similar to a 3rd line on most teams)

    What I could see McLellan doing is to use Sekera/Fayne together as a PK1 unit, with Ference/Gryba as a PK2 unit, relying on the veterans to hold a lead or handle a particularly dangerous power play team (the Penguins scream to mind).

    On the powerplay, I imagine we might see Hall-McDavid-Purcell-Yakupov-Sekera as a PP1, and then Pouillot-RNH-Eberle-Schultz-Lander as a PP2. On the PP1, Yak’s point shot is one that’s lacking by the Defense (except for Nikitin), and proved very effective last season. By running Sekera and Purcell on that unit, you have a fast, skilled D who can effectively cover any defensive gaffs by Yak acting as a point-man along with a responsible two-way forward on a line that would be heavily offensive.. On the 2nd PP, Lander has proven to be very defensively responsible and has a very good point shot (the weakness of Schultz), which would provide an effective defensive conscience on the ice alongside him. As well, this PP unit has the more defensively conscious forwards, allowing Schultz to take more gambles.

    Anyhow, that’s just a few thoughts on how I think we might see Schultz deployed this year, along with a few other ramblings 😉

  • Walter Foddis

    I am also hopeful for softer minutes, but as (presumably) 2nd-pairing D, I’m not sure how much this can be controlled, especially on the road. Some of my other analysis suggests that any competition with a SAT% (Corsi) > 51% is “too much” for him. On the lower end of this range, this includes Radim Vrbata (Vancouver), Hampus Lindholm (Anaheim), Robin Regehr (LA), and Justin Fontaine (Minnesota).

  • CofC

    Thank you for the great article;

    Really enjoyed your presentation of related analytics – too often it’s easy to gloss over a particular metric when one has a biased picture in mind;

    Traditionally I have placed much reliance on visuals during a game, and I still do; However, I have made an effort ongoing to compliment this picture with those “intangibles” (and tangibles) that can often be better illustrated through analytics, in many cases more accurately and more consistently.

    I think Shultz has much potential – he is relatively young for a D-man (reflected in his 200 game mark), yet has mammoth upside should he continue to progress.

    I’m pulling for him, given his youth, his seemingly earnest willingness to improve, and the fact that he will be a dominant player if he rounds out the rough corners of his game.

    • Walter Foddis

      Thanks for the kind words. I also believe in the importance of incorporating the visual with the analytics. (The following is a bit of rant for folks who favour “eye-ball test” instead of analytics. So it’s not directed at your or your comments.) Unless we are reviewing game-video (e.g., to record certain events), there is simply too much happening to remember things accurately. When players make mistakes, these are more easily remembered because they are obvious and infrequent, but are the mistake representative of the player’s entire game? What about all the positive contributions that he made? Analytics helps us see past this narrow view, which make us prone to biased interpretations of players.

      I am also hopeful that Schultz takes his game to the next level this season. I first watched him play for the Barons (I live in Tulsa, Oklahoma) and he looked very dominating. Playing with Hall and Eberle also helped, but still, I think there was much potential. During an autograph session, I recalled telling him, “I look forward to seeing you in an Oilers’ jersey.” I don’t recall response exactly, but it was something modest. Let’s hope that McLellan is able to turn this ship around with Schultz being one of the anchors.

  • Will

    I think less Brad Hunt and less Dallas Eakins will do wonders for this kid. However, I still remember even late in the season watching his give a shit meter barely tick. He just looks like he hates being in the NHL, all the time. Schultz’s biggest problem is Schultz.