Blackhawks’ analytics team tracking blue-line turnovers at Luke Richardson’s request

In the rear of the Blackhawks’ charter plane flying back from Los Angeles to Chicago on Sunday, coach Luke Richardson and associate general manager Jeff Greenberg talked numbers.

They’d decided during training camp they’d wait a month into the regular season before having that discussion. While Greenberg and the Hawks’ beefed-up analytics team continue building a full-fledged information-processing system, Richardson wanted some time to install his own on-ice systems and accumulate a significant sample size.

But after 14 games, the first analytics summit convened. The primary focus? Blue-line turnovers.

“I put in a few areas that I wanted [more data on], and I let them see if they could find a couple of areas,” Richardson said. “I asked them to look into…turnovers at both blue lines. What does it lead to? Does it lead to prime-‘A’ chances? How many times does that happen? Or does it put us in [the] ‘D’-zone for a long period of time?

“That’s definitely one area we’re looking at. We’ll see what else they come up with. Probably within the next week, I’ll have numbers. [We’re] finally getting there. But we didn’t want to do it just to do it and throw all these numbers [around]… We wanted to find areas that are going to be meaningful. We might have to move around every month on that, depending how we’re growing or faltering as a team.”

During Richardson’s first year as a Senators assistant in 2009-10, he actually tracked blue-line turnovers by hand.

Technology has since advanced far past that point. The Hawks should be able to calculate the success rate of different types, speeds and angles of passes across and around the blue lines, the frequency of scoring chances created or conceded based on the success or failure of those passes, and so on and so forth.

While awaiting the findings, though, Richardson theorized that the Hawks are particularly struggling in that regard.

And he’s probably right. The NHL doesn’t make detailed turnover data publicly available, but the Hawks’ awful available numbers — last in shot attempts and scoring chances per game; second-to-last in shots on goal per game — are probably affected by the turnovers.

“It hasn’t been a problem every game or all game; it’s just certain times of the game, and it puts in a bit of a tailspin defensively,” he said. “We just don’t want to do that. We want to spend that energy on attacking and trying to create more offense.

“In certain games, we’ve had trouble getting to the net. Sometimes it’s not necessarily because of our offensive zone play — [that has] been pretty good. It’s just…because of not getting pucks out of our ‘D’-zone and not getting them in at the offensive blue line.”

Richardson received more anecdotal evidence Wednesday supporting his hypothesis.

The Blues’ first goal in their 5-2 win at the United Center came after Max Domi pulled up about 20 feet into the offensive zone — instead of skating deeper toward the crease — and attempted a speculative, somewhat backward cross-ice pass that missed its target (Patrick Kane) and jumpstarted a Blues counterattack.

“[Domi] should be shooting more, driving the puck more,” Richardson said. “That [pass] puts us in a back-checking position where we’re outnumbered and scrambling. They get a lucky bounce on it, but it is…turning pucks over at the blue line, right? That’s a killer.”

From a thousand-foot perspective, meanwhile, it is exciting to see the Hawks’ newly intensified focus on analytics under GM Kyle Davidson starting to trickle into their day-to-day operations.

It’ll take some time to catch up to (and potentially pass) the league’s other 31 teams in terms of analytics investment, but conversations like Richardson and Greenberg’s on Sunday exemplify the organization’s shifting approach.

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