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Scott Cullen Analytics


There has been an increased focus on puck possession in recent NHL seasons, and while it’s not a guarantee for team success, the odds are better for teams that are getting the better of shot differentials on a regular basis.

Shot differentials measure productive possession, so it makes sense for teams to take these results into account when making lineup changes.

Here’s a look at the best and worst players to change teams this summer in terms of relative possession stats over the past three seasons.



Colin Miller D Boston Vegas 56.7 6.2
Jason Pominville RW Minnesota Buffalo 53.2 4.7
Brayden McNabb D Los Angeles Vegas 58.3 4.2
Beau Bennett RW New Jersey St. Louis 53.1 3.9
Sam Gagner C/RW Columbus Vancouver 52.5 3.5
Artemi Panarin LW Chicago Columbus 53.2 3.4
Chris Kunitz LW Pittsburgh Tampa Bay 54.4 3.1
Adam Clendening D N.Y. Rangers Arizona 51.5 2.9
Martin Hanzal C/RW Minnesota Dallas 50.4 2.9
Justin Williams RW Washington Carolina 54.7 2.8
Alexander Radulov RW Montreal Dallas 54.1 2.7
Jussi Jokinen LW Florida Edmonton 52.5 2.7
Mikhail Grabovski C N.Y. Islanders Vegas 52.4 2.6
Jacob Josefson C New Jersey Buffalo 49.9 2.5
Patrick Sharp LW Dallas Chicago 53.6 2.4
Kevin Shattenkirk D Washington N.Y. Rangers 53.1 2.3
Scott Hartnell LW Columbus Nashville 51.1 2.2
Jordan Eberle RW Edmonton N.Y. Islanders 51.0 2.2
James Neal RW Nashville Vegas 54.2 2.1
Patrick Wiercioch D Colorado Vancouver 49.9 2.1

A good number of those players are reliable veteran wingers. Jason Pominville, Chris Kunitz, Justin Williams, Jussi Jokinen, Patrick Sharp and Scott Hartnell are all well into their thirties, but have continued to push play the right way. Some are still efficient scorers, but even for those who aren’t scoring as much, they tend to get the better of play.

Some of the defencemen on this list are of the scarcely-used variety. Colin Miller, Adam Clendening, Brayden McNabb and Patrick Wiercioch have all faced battles for playing time, and could be looking at better opportunities with new teams. For some, their success might be more dependent on their teammates.

Brayden McNabb, for example, has spend most of his time on the ice in Los Angeles with Drew Doughty and Anze Kopitar, a pretty good place to be, and better than he's likely to have in Vegas.

At the other end of the spectrum on the blueline is the big-ticket free agent, Kevin Shattenkirk, who takes his puck-moving skills from D.C. to Manhattan. The Rangers have re-modeled their blueline and, at least theoretically, it should have a positive effect on their shot differentials.

There are forwards that are known more for their scoring yet also have had solid possession numbers. Artemi Panarin, Sam Gagner, James Neal, Jordan Eberle and Alexander Radulov can generate offence, and that might stand out more, but getting a better percentage of shots has also been a standard part of their performance.

Rounding out the list, there are a couple of depth forwards leaving New Jersey, oft-injured winger Beau Bennett, to St. Louis, and checking centre Jacob Josefson, to Buffalo. They aren’t major difference makers, but could be effective for their new teams.

On the wrong side of the possession ledger, the list consists of mostly fourth-liners and seventh defencemen, where those numbers are to be expected, but there are a handful of exceptions:



Pierre-Edouard Bellemare LW Philadelphia Vegas 47.0 -2.4
Tommy Wingels RW Ottawa Chicago 48.4 -2.4
Cody Eakin C Dallas Vegas 49.6 -2.5
Brad Malone LW Carolina Edmonton 47.1 -2.7
Alexander Burmistrov C/RW Arizona Vancouver 46.3 -3.0
Trevor Daley D Pittsburgh Detroit 48.9 -3.1
Karl Alzner D Washington Montreal 49.4 -3.3
Matt Tennyson D Carolina Buffalo 47.5 -3.4
Tyler Ennis LW Buffalo Minnesota 41.8 -3.4
Nate Thompson C Anaheim Ottawa 47.0 -3.5
Chris Thorburn RW Winnipeg St. Louis 46.6 -3.6
Dominic Moore C Boston Toronto 46.0 -3.6
Lance Bouma LW Calgary Chicago 43.9 -4.0
Ryan Reaves RW St. Louis Pittsburgh 46.3 -4.0
Brian Flynn RW Montreal Dallas 43.3 -4.0
Devante Smith-Pelly RW New Jersey Washington 45.3 -4.2
Brandon Bollig LW Calgary San Jose 42.6 -4.5
Deryk Engelland D Calgary Vegas 44.2 -4.6
Dan Girardi D N.Y. Rangers Tampa Bay 44.1 -6.5

While Dan Girardi’s ice time had been decreasing in New York – last season’s 19:06 average time on ice was his lowest since his rookie year – and he was bought out by the Rangers, the Tampa Bay Lightning are going to hope that he can be a better fit on their blueline.

Montreal went after defensive defenceman Karl Alzner, who certainly played tough minutes in Washington, but he also ends up on the wrong side of shot differentials, especially so last season. Consider that a cautionary indicator, at the very least.

Going to Detroit after winning two Stanley Cups in Pittsburgh, Trevor Daley has consistently struggled in terms of shot differentials, but he’s also averaged nearly 21 minutes per game over the course of his career. He will play a significant role in Detroit, even if he’s not a noted play driver.

Tyler Ennis hasn’t always had possession problems, but he’s been battling injuries the past couple of years and the year before that he was a first-line player on a historically bad Sabres team. Can he contribute in a supporting role with a better Minnesota Wild team?

While Cody Eakin had been a decent complementary scorer before last season, when his percentages and point production crashed, he has been on the wrong end of possession stats too. He’ll have a big opportunity in Vegas.

It’s not as if this offseason brought moves of major possession drivers, but it’s also worth keeping an eye on these players to see what kind of impact they might have on their new teams. A few percentage points one way or another may not seem like much, but those points can add up.

Scott Cullen can be reached at