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Cullen: In NHL, shooting percentage shifts perception

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Scott Cullen
4/3/2014 2:35:31 PM
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Having covered on-ice shooting and save percentages aleady, the next step is to look at the biggest variance in individual NHL player shooting percentages this season.

While it might be easy enough to accept the notion that it's difficult for a player to affect on-ice shooting or save percentages, because they are heavily-dependent on other players, it's another matter entirely to accept the premise that an NHL player doesn't necessrily have a significant impact on his own shooting percentage in a given season. For one thing, as much as it might be convenient for viewrs, a single season isn't enough to capture a player's true shooting ability, which means there is a high degree of variance possible.

This variance is important, particularly in terms of perception, because it's how players end up having career years. When Brett Hull scored 86 goals in 1990-1991, he finished a career-high 22.1% of all of his shots; 65 goals for Alex Ovechkin in 2007-2008? Scored on a career-high 14.6% of all of his shots. Teemu Selanne's 76-goal rookie season came on 19.6% shooting, the best of his career. This is how seasons go from good to great but, just as save percentage is wildly unpredictable for goaltenders from one year to the next, so too is shooting percentage for individual players.

This is relevant because perception is widely based on goal-scoring. Goals determine winners and losers and are easy to identify, but the reason we pay attention to these outlier percentages is to have have some idea what's real and what isn't.

Take Blues LW Alexander Steen, for example. He's enjoying the best season of his career, with 33 goals and 60 points in 64 games. He's a tremendous two-way player who has probably been underrated, but he's received more accolades this year because he's become a more prolific goal-scorer. Even though his scoring has slowed since an outrageous start to the year, when he scored 17 goals in 18 games, Steen ranks fifth in the league in goals per game, behind Steven Stamkos, Alex Ovechkin, Gustav Nyquist and Corey Perry.

If Steen was finishing at his typical (5-on-5) rate, 8.87% over the previous five seasons coming into the year, that would knock 11 even-strength goals off his total and while 22 goals and 49 points in 64 games is a fine season, it's not held in the same esteem as Steen's 33-goal, 60-point season. When you've evaluating Steen going forward, is it fair to conclude that he's now the player who scores on 18.4% of his 5-on-5 shots, or is that departure from his established performance level essentially a fluke?

There is a lot of randomness at play for a player to have his shooting percentage skyrocket, Steen (and his linemates -- David Backes and T.J. Oshie) deserve some credit because Steen is getting better quality shots than he has in previous seasons. Using Some Kind of Ninja's shot tracker, we can see that Steen's average shooting distance, at even-strength, is 28.4 feet, his best of all years tracked since 2008-2009. So, getting shots 3-4 feet closer on average may account for some improvement, though most likely not enough to more than double his even-strength shooting percentage.

Let's look at Nyquist, who had four goals in 40 NHL games entering this season and now has 28 goals in 51 games this year, virtually saving the Red Wings' playoff chances. Even the most optimistic fan isn't going to expect Nyquist to keep scoring on more than 20% of his shots, simply because no one does. This isn't to rain on Nyquist's current goal parade, because it's awesome, but if we reasonably think that Nyquist might be an above-average shooter (even, as high as 12%), then that would typically mean 12 goals at 5-on-5 instead of 21 -- that nine-goal difference would be massive for both Nyquist and the Red Wings.

It's the kind of thing that no player needs to apologize for, but everyone must understand that these runs will end and regression will bring a player closer to his real skill level. That can still be very good, just not necessarily the out-of-this-world pace that Nyquist is keeping now.

By the same token, how many times do you hear a player, mired in a slump, say that they feel okay as long as they are getting their chances? It's cliche, but utterly true. Sure, this player might be snakebitten for 10 games, 20 games, even a whole season, but if there is an established level of being able to score, there have to be extreme reasons for that player to suddenly and dramatically lose that skill.

If you're looking for bounceback players going into next season, then, consider some of those that saw their shooting percentages crash this year and, by contrast, you might consider selling high on those players that finished at an abnormally high rate this season.

Below, you'll see players that have the widest differentials in their previously-established 5-on-5 shooting percentages compared to their results this season. My thanks to stats.hockeyanalysis.com for the data.

HIGH INDIVIDUAL SHOOTING PERCENTAGE (min. 10 5-on-5 goals in 2013-2014)

Alexander Steen, LW, St. Louis
2007-2013 5-on-5 SH%: 8.87
2013-14 5-on-5 SH%: 18.40
Difference: +9.53

Joe Pavelski, C, San Jose
2007-2013 5-on-5 SH%: 8.19
2013-14 On-ice SH%: 16.80
Difference: +8.61

Ryan O'Reilly, LW, Colorado
2007-2013 5-on-5 SH%: 6.98
2013-14 On-ice SH%: 15.13
Difference: +8.15

Joel Ward, RW, Washington
2007-2013 5-on-5 SH%: 6.67
2013-14 On-ice SH%: 14.44
Difference: +7.77

Ryan Getzlaf, C, Anaheim
2007-2013 5-on-5 SH%: 10.42
2013-14 On-ice SH%: 17.32
Difference: +6.90

Nick Foligno, LW, Columbus
2007-2013 5-on-5 SH%: 7.89
2013-14 On-ice SH%: 14.74
Difference: +6.85

Artem Anisimov, C, Columbus
2007-2013 5-on-5 SH%: 9.83
2013-14 On-ice SH%: 15.38
Difference: +6.45

Frans Nielsen, C, N.Y. Islanders
2007-2013 5-on-5 SH%: 8.89
2013-14 On-ice SH%: 14.89
Difference: +6.00

Valtteri Filppula, C, Tampa Bay
2007-2013 5-on-5 SH%: 11.96
2013-14 On-ice SH%: 17.20
Difference: +5.24

(Honourable mention to Nashville's Nick Spaling, who has nine 5-on-5 goals, but has seen 5-on-5 shooting percentage jump from 8.38% to 13.64% and San Jose's Martin Havlat, who only has eight goals, but his SH% is up from 9.47% to 16.00%.)

LOW INDIVIDUAL SHOOTING PERCENTAGE (forwards with min. 20 5-on-5 goals from 2007-2008 through 2012-2013)

Matt D'Agostini, RW, Buffalo
2007-2013 5-on-5 SH%: 7.54
2013-14 On-ice SH%: 2.53
Difference: -5.01

Todd Bertuzzi, RW, Detroit
2007-2013 5-on-5 SH%: 9.95
2013-14 On-ice SH%: 4.76
Difference: -5.19

Torrey Mitchell, RW, Buffalo
2007-2013 5-on-5 SH%: 7.62
2013-14 On-ice SH%: 2.33
Difference: -5.29

Mathieu Perreault, C, Anaheim
2007-2013 5-on-5 SH%: 21.90
2013-14 On-ice SH%: 16.46
Difference: -5.44

Kyle Brodziak, C, Minnesota
2007-2013 5-on-5 SH%: 10.20
2013-14 On-ice SH%: 4.49
Difference: -5.71

Blake Comeau, RW, Columbus
2007-2013 5-on-5 SH%: 9.66
2013-14 On-ice SH%: 3.49
Difference: -6.17

Ryan Malone, LW, Tampa Bay
2007-2013 5-on-5 SH%: 11.90
2013-14 On-ice SH%: 5.66
Difference: -6.24

Tomas Fleischmann, LW, Florida
2007-2013 5-on-5 SH%: 11.58
2013-14 On-ice SH%: 5.26
Difference: -6.32

Colin Wilson, LW, Nashville
2007-2013 5-on-5 SH%: 14.02
2013-14 On-ice SH%: 7.59
Difference: -6.43

Steve Ott, C, St. Louis
2007-2013 5-on-5 SH%: 9.82
2013-14 On-ice SH%: 3.33
Difference: -6.49

David Jones, RW, Calgary
2007-2013 5-on-5 SH%: 13.92
2013-14 On-ice SH%: 6.67
Difference: -7.25

Steve Bernier, RW, New Jersey
2007-2013 5-on-5 SH%: 9.78
2013-14 On-ice SH%: 2.41
Difference: -7.37

Shawn Horcoff, C, Dallas
2007-2013 5-on-5 SH%: 9.69
2013-14 On-ice SH%: 2.04
Difference: -7.62

T.J. Galiardi, LW, Calgary
2007-2013 5-on-5 SH%: 10.31
2013-14 On-ice SH%: 2.47
Difference: -7.84

Benoit Pouliot, N.Y. Rangers
2007-2013 5-on-5 SH%: 13.46
2013-14 On-ice SH%: 4.81
Difference: -8.65

Alexandre Burrows, RW, Vancouver
2007-2013 5-on-5 SH%: 12.77
2013-14 On-ice SH%: 4.11
Difference: -8.66

Martin Erat, LW, Phoenix
2007-2013 5-on-5 SH%: 11.90
2013-14 On-ice SH%: 2.50
Difference: -9.40

Marcus Johansson, LW, Washington
2007-2013 5-on-5 SH%: 14.47
2013-14 On-ice SH%: 3.03
Difference: -11.44

Ville Leino, LW, Buffalo
2007-2013 5-on-5 SH%: 12.50
2013-14 On-ice SH%: 0.00
Difference: -12.50

Steve Downie, RW, Philadelphia
2007-2013 5-on-5 SH%: 13.00
2013-14 On-ice SH%: 0.00
Difference: -13.00

Scott Cullen can be reached at Scott.Cullen@bellmedia.ca and followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tsnscottcullen. For more, check out TSN Fantasy on Facebook.

Gustav Nyquist (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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