Evaluating Defensive Ability in Hockey Using Passing Data

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Measuring defensive success in hockey is difficult due to a historical reliance on shot- based metrics. In other sports, passing data has led to major insights on defensive play. In 2015, 20 fans began tracking each pass leading to a shot to help understand the factors that lead to goals. For each shot, trackers recorded the sequence of passes which preceded it. Data collected included shot time, passer(s) and shooter, pass locations (center/left/right and offensive/defensive/neutral zone), and other known predictors of shot success (one-timers, odd-man rushes). Using this data, new metrics were developed to better evaluate the defensive impacts of both players and coaching systems. Defensive passing metrics are significant improvements upon existing defensive measures, and are both more repeatable and more predictive of future defensive results. Passing metrics have a broad range of applications at both the in- game and managerial level, and can inform tactical decisions, measure system success, and assist with player evaluation.

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