If you hadn’t heard yet, the demise of “dump and chase” hockey is coming. Slowly, more teams are focusing on players carrying pucks into the offensive zone as opposed to dumping it in and skating like crazy on the forecheck to get it back. The idea is that carrying the puck into the zone is going to help lead to more offensive chances than dump and chase.
This movement has been bubbling more to the surface ever since a study led by hockey analyst, consultant and writer Eric Tulsky was spotlighted at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference in 2013. In short, the study showed that teams were generating more than twice as many shot attempts and goals when carrying the puck in as opposed to dumping it in.
If you thought this study and subsequent paper, which can be downloaded here, were just for stat geeks and bloggers, then you would probably be surprised that at least one prominent NHL player has read it and is fully bought in.
Minnesota Wild winger Zach Parise recently told Michael Russo of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune that he’s happy to do away with dump-ins whenever possible and will try to carry the puck in more now.
“I read a study this summer that showed shots generated off carrying the puck in as opposed to dumping it in, and it’s like 4-to-1. It’s not even close,” said Parise, who is set to make his preseason debut with linemates Mikael Granlund and Jason Pominville against the Penguins on Thursday night. “I just found it so interesting because everyone’s like, ‘Forecheck, forecheck, forecheck.’
“I get it, but you dump the puck, you have to get it back. All you’re doing is giving the puck away. I mean, it’s so hard to get it, why would you give it away?”
…“But dump it just to dump it, I’m not a believer anymore in getting rid of the puck when it’s so hard to get. That’s the way we played in New Jersey. We always had a plan: Forwards dumped it in, we knew where it was going and that’s how we got it back. But the more I thought about it, possession is just so much better than dumping it in. Dumping it should be, I don’t want to say your last option, but your second or third option.”
It should be noted that this is coming from one of the finest forechecking forwards in the game, too. Parise’s tenacious style and speed made him a nightmare for opposing defenders on dump-ins, which was a practice employed to high levels of success by the New Jersey Devils while Parise was there.
Considering there have also been a lot of players that have been extremely vocal about their lack of interest or belief in advanced stats, hearing a player like Parise diving into something like this is almost out of the ordinary at this point.
Many players have said they’d rather not know much about the advanced stats because they don’t want to change their games. After all, it’s the way they play that got to the NHL.
And in reality, advanced stats don’t necessarily have to change the way a player plays, but if there are ways to make subtle improvements like the one Parise seems to be interested in, it could go a long way in helping a player in the long run.
When it comes to specifically dumping the puck in, this is one area where a team’s system is going to dictate the strategy. Parise may prefer to carry in, but he’ll be carrying in more because that’s what the team wants, not what he wants. Wild head coach Mike Yeo was also receptive to more controlled entries in the article linked above, so you can expect to see this in action some next season.
Another example is Winnipeg Jets head coach Paul Maurice who addressed zone entries in this fashion:
Maurice: "We don't want to dump the puck ever."— PATRICK WILLIAMS (@pwilliamsNHL) September 25, 2014
Who could blame him with that speed the Jets possess in the top six? Of course, even Maurice kows that “ever” is probably too strong a word, but it illustrates just how much he values being a team that controls the puck going into the offensive zone.
And though this is a trend that could be making its way around the NHL, it’s not going to necessarily be the norm for every rush. Controlled entries aren’t exactly the best in every situation anyway.
There will still be value to dumping the puck in for teams in various circumstances. It’s often the better alternative to a blue line turnover or when a team is in need of a change. No one is going to say that a team is going to be able to carry it in every time, but dumping for the puck just for the sake of getting it deep is going to probably start happening less and less.
When you turn on an NHL game next year, you’re still going to see the dump and chase with a physical forecheck used as a tactic to wear defenses down and maybe even intimidate the opponent a bit. Even teams that have more controlled entries than the average team do that. But even with that strategy, you’re more likely to see fewer wasted possessions via the lazy dump-in and that's good for entertainment value.
As the advanced stats movement continues to grow with more teams employing full departments or consultants or experts in the field, there could be minor shifts here and there that fans will notice over the course of the season. The controlled carry-ins could be one of the most visible yet, and if that leads to more offense across the board, who could complain about that?