Hockey’s most obfuscating stat (What We Learned)

Hockey’s most obfuscating stat (What We Learned)

(Hello, this is a feature that will run through the entire season and aims to recap the weekend’s events and boils those events down to one admittedly superficial fact or stupid opinion about each team. Feel free to complain about it.)

Hockey, like all sports, is a results-oriented business. Don't win, and you're a failure more often than not, even if the not-winning can be attributed to something that is beyond your control. And of course, one of the biggest factors in winning games is your team's ability to score goals.

Scoring goals is the thing in hockey, yeah? Preventing them too; and actually preventing them might be more important, because winning 5-4 every night is not a thing you can do reliably. But scoring goals in quantity over the course of a season is a really difficult thing to do unless you're piling up the shots.

It stands to reason: You take more shots, you score more goals.

But this, of course, doesn't always work out that way, whether it's over a stretch of 10, 20, or even 70 games. Sometimes you score a lot of goals even when you're not shooting a lot. Hockey is funny in this way. And that's certainly what occurred to me when I saw on Friday that Sean Bergenheim asked for a trade.

No one really cares that Bergenheim, a guy who's basically a third-liner for a ninth-place team and who has been scratched a decent amount in recent weeks, asked for a trade. This is not news in the sense that it raised a lot of eyebrows league-wide. He has eight goals and 10 assists in 39 games, and has never in his nine-year career cleared 30 points. That he asked for a trade at all is kind of interesting because who cares about a 25-point guy enough to seek him out? Maybe he fetches Florida a seventh-round pick or something.

But here's the thing: Sean Bergenheim is actually a good hockey player.

Maybe not “four years at $2.75 million per” good, but this is in a lot of ways a value contract for someone in the league to pick up. So the question is why he got this deal in the first place, right? And the answer is simple: The year before he signed that contract, he scored nine goals in 16 games for the Tampa Bay Lightning as that team rolled to the Eastern Conference Final.

This makes him Clutch and Good, despite the fact that, at the time, nine goals in was six short of his career high. And he did it in just 16 games because he shot 19.5 percent, which is 10 whole points above his career average. But again, results-oriented. Bergenheim scored a lot and Tampa won a lot, so he got paid. Now he's about to be moved for next to nothing. He is nothing if not an excellent bottom-six wing option, and sure he has to be sheltered from tough competition, but he can start most of his shifts in the defensive zone and still drive play forward. His possession numbers relative to the rest of his team since he came into the league has been positive every year since he was a rookie in 2005-06. Not that this is what Florida saw him as when they signed him as part of its Summer of Amassing Mediocrity.

Florida paid for a depth scoring winger when what it got instead was a depth possession winger who in fact does not score a particularly large amount. What's interesting is that this is his best shooting season in terms of shooting percentage since they acquired him, but his shot rate has dropped precipitously. There's a pretty simple reason why: This year he's getting 35 seconds a night on the power play. Last year, it was 2:19. That will hurt your shot rate and goal total overall, but at 5-on-5, his shots-for percentage is actually improved this year.

All anyone sees, though, is the goals. If someone wants to gamble on him — and there ought to be a teams trying to shore up their bottom six lined up around the block here — they're going to get a guy whose team has scored 56.4 percent of the goals when he's been on the ice this season, piled up 57.9 percent of the scoring chances, and had 55.6 percent possession. Boy, doesn't a player like that sound nice? And by the way, his 10.1 percent personal shooting is still way above league average.

There's another, more famous instance of this happening, of course. You all know it well: Ville Leino's deal in Buffalo. It came two years after he piled up 21 points in 19 playoff games. The Sabres overpaid for him dramatically and we all know how it went. That's life, I guess, but no one ever really learns their lesson.

But these are individuals. Individuals can go on season-long runs of shooting success that ensure they get a great contract the following summer. Witness the case of Reilly Smith, who shot nearly 14 percent for the Bruins last year and scored 20 goals. Oh how Boston fell in love with him. This time around, he's shooting less than 10 percent and whoa hey, he's only got 10 in 55 games despite the fact that he's taking more shots. Now there's been pretty regular “Reilly Smith needs to pick it up” talk. Let's also not forget the lessons brought down by the Tyler Seguin trade, which was always going to happen but was more conveniently explained away after he scored just one goal on 70 shots in that 2013 run to the Cup Final. “He's a bum (who hit close dozen posts by himself in 22 games! and finished second on the team in shots during those playoffs!))” everyone got to say.

This is a problem with the Bruins as a team this year, though. They're sitting eighth in the East and the perception in Boston — not wholly unfounded, of course — is that the Bruins are just Not Good this year. They're better than people think; they're ninth in possession but only 14th in goals-for percentage. Let's take another guess as to why. Well hey, you got it, they're eighth from the bottom of the league in shooting (7.5 percent). Last year, they were third from the top (8.5 percent). The year before, seventh from the bottom (7.3 percent). And so on. It's almost like a team that really hasn't had that much turnover in its core — bringing aboard and losing Jarome Iginla in a year might have nudged them up but not by a full point as a team — has little to no control over the “quality” of shots it takes. Hmm.

The Bruins are hanging onto a playoff spot for dear life. So too, is Calgary, but for the opposite reason.

The Flames are seen as a hard-working team, yeah? Why? They Get To The Net and Score A Lot.

And really, only the latter of those things that make them successful this season is true. Their shot rates around the net are actually down from last season, but their shooting percentage as a team is second in the league at 9.1 percent. In all, 10 guys on the team who have gotten into at least 15 games have personal even-strength shooting percentages of 10 percent or more. Four more are north of 9 percent. And while there are certainly some guys who seem to be able to keep that number up over the course of their careers, I'd be willing to bet an awful lot of money that Lance Bouma, Kris Russell Josh Jooris, and Dennis Wideman aren't among them.

The reason you can say so with a lot of certainty is that there hasn't been a lot of roster turnover in Calgary either but hey, over the last four years, only two Flames with at least 500 minutes played have shooting percentages north of 10 percent. One of them is Johnny Gaudreau, who's 56 games into his young but very promising career. The other is Jiri Hudler, who is an among the aforementioned drivers of shooting percentage. In fact, given that the Flames didn't add much this summer, you might expect a roughly equivalent shooting percentage from last season. But they were only tied for 13th in the league (as solidly middle-of-the-pack as you can get) at 7.9 percent.

So if they're not getting to the net more, and outperforming their dreadful possession numbers (44.6 percent, 28th in the league) by a considerable amount, it seems that an unusually and unsustainably high shooting percentage is the culprit, along with goaltending that has improved to roughly the league average. Goaltender quality obviously has a much bigger impact on PDO than the individual season of any player, or any small group of them for that matter. But when 14 or 15 guys are exceeding the league average, it helps a whole lot more.

The point being that when individual players or entire teams that aren't typically viewed as very good have surprising seasons, shooting percentage at either end of the ice is typically the reason. And when teams or players disappoint, shooting percentage at either end of the ice is typically the reason as well.

It clouds judgment so much, probably because people want to believe that what their eyes tell them is true 100 percent of the time. Here in 2015, we shouldn't have to keep arguing about the “seen him/them good” phenomenon, but so many people are lined up to tell you that the Flames are playing great hockey and the Bruins are disappointing. It's why Bergenheim has been healthy-scratched and asked for a trade. It's why Leino and Smith and Seguin were over- or under-valued to varying extents.

It always looks like either a surplus or deficiency of playing hard, but more often it's driven heavily by luck and luck alone. That's not an answer people like, but it's the best one we've got.

What We Learned

Anaheim Ducks: Shout out to the Ducks for trying to take care of lost and stray animals in their area. Adopt shelter pets. Thank you.

Arizona Coyotes: After hiring an outside auditor, here's a fun quote from a Glendale city official: “We want to review all the revenue sources to make sure we are getting the revenue we should be getting.” Maybe y'all should have considered that before you gave out that insane arena deal. Just a thought.

Boston Bruins: The Bruins have been unlucky this year, yes, but giving away pieces to add, like, Chris Stewart doesn't really make the team much better now or — more importantly — down the road when Zdeno Chara retires. I get the impulse to say “Trade Chara” but given how mediocre almost all of the East is, there's no reason this team can't go on a PDO-fueled run of success in the playoffs regardless of who they play. Tuukka Rask can go .930 for a month or two no problem.

Buffalo Sabres: Yes, more trades coming in Buffalo. Can they interest you in, say, Cody Hodgson for some reason?

Calgary Flames: Remember those teams that had a huge line brawl last season and their coaches almost got in a fight? Turns out they don't really like each other.

Carolina Hurricanes: Jeff Skinner is having a tough, “frustrating” season. In furtherance of the earlier point: He's shooting 2.9 points below his career average. Was he ever the 30-goal scorer he looked like as a rookie? The answer is increasingly “probably not.”

Chicago: The shootout is terrible but boy was the one on Sunday afternoon ever fun. Look at this Patrick Kane goal. Just look at it.

Colorado Avalanche: Of course Mike Chambers gave a guy who racked up 30 PIM in fewer than nine minutes first star. He's a reallygreat observer of the game and does an awesome job covering the Avalanche. Cody McLeod shouldn't be in the league. See ya!

Columbus Blue Jackets: I watch the Islanders this year and think to myself that if it weren't for all the injuries, the Blue Jackets could be a lot like them.

Dallas Stars: Should of put Saygen on IR earlier.

Detroit Red Wings: Jimmy Howard played his first game in more than a month and, well, it didn't go great for him. At least they got a point.

Edmonton Oilers: Shocker: Jeff Petry's agent expects to see his client traded.

Florida Panthers: Going from Dmitry Kulikov to Shane O'Brien is not enviable.

Los Angeles Kings: The Kings are on four straight Ws here, and boy that Western Conference playoff picture is tightening right the hell up.

Minnesota Wild: Speaking of which, the Wild have points in 10 straight games, and Devan Dubnyk is playing like a damn Vezina contender. I'm sure these two are mutually exclusive.

Montreal Canadiens: PK Subban played more than 35 minutes on Saturday night. The Habs attempted 61.9 percent of the shots when he was on the ice. And 50 percent when he was off. Playing the Leafs helps, but I mean...

Nashville Predators, America's Favorite Hockey Team: Getting Cody Franson and Mike Santorelli for a B prospect and what's probably going to be a late first-round pick? For David Poile, that's easy like a Sunday morning (if you're trading with Dave Nonis). And sure the Preds didn't, like, need-need a second-pairing defenseman and a depth forward. Like a lot of teams, what they really need is a center who's not Tyler Bozak, because the “quantity over quality” thing they tried this summer hasn't really worked out so great down the middle. Not that they care, especially now that they have the best defensive corps in the league. And it's not like they're going to find it impossible to pry a center from some seller. But I dunno, I really only like this trade because it keeps someone else out West from getting those players.

New Jersey Devils: Apparently Lou Lamoriello is always very eager to get the team's plane in the air, so the fact that they canceled a flight back home after they lost in Nashville is apparently significant.

New York Islanders: The Islanders are back to their winning ways after losing four out of five and conceding a point in that one win. Helps that they've played the Sabres, Oilers, Leafs, and Blue Jackets to get four straight.

New York Rangers: Alain Vigneault now has 500 career wins. Took him 18 years to get there, but he's one of only 21 coaches to ever reach that mark.

Ottawa Senators: Chris Neil is out a month but they weren't going to trade him anyway for some weird reason.

Philadelphia Flyers: Insane stat of the day: Claude Giroux doesn't have a single goal at 5-on-5 in Wells Fargo Center this season.

Pittsburgh Penguins: Says here that the guy who's fourth all-time in points per game is one of the best players in hockey history. Jury's still out for me. He's a whiner and so on.

San Jose Sharks: Joe Pavelski scored goals No. 29-31 on Friday night. Seems like no one is talking about this. Easy to get 30 when you can shoot like this, though:

St. Louis Blues: I don't think Mardi Gras Month is really getting the point of Mardi Gras.

Tampa Bay Lightning: Imagine if the Bolts had added Cody Franson instead? Forget about it.

Toronto Maple Leafs: Nonis honestly did a decent job in that trade. Maybe not as good as he should have, but that's the way it goes. And uhh, hey, uhh, why is a guy who basically gave your team's chances of competitive play a series of Owen-Hart-on-Steve-Austin pile-drivers over the last few years the guy you're letting take apart the teetering boondoggle he created in the first place? I mean good lord he took Olli Jokinen off someone's hands here.

Vancouver Canucks: Alex Edler getting hurt doesn't help the playoff push.

Washington Capitals: Well, what are ya gonna do? Can't smoke the Kings every time out.

Winnipeg Jets: I mean don't you just wanna kiss Nikolaj Ehlers' carry right here? Dude switches hands mid-rush, in traffic. This kid is something special, I'll tell ya. This is the only thing I've thought about since Friday night.

Play of the Weekend

Sean Monahan has become a very impressive player for the Flames this year. Nice hold-up, nice pass, nice finish.

Gold Star Award

Feb 14, 2015; Uniondale, NY, USA; New York Islanders center John Tavares (91) high fives the bench after scoring during the third period against the Columbus Blue Jackets at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum. New York Islanders won 6-3. (Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports )
Feb 14, 2015; Uniondale, NY, USA; New York Islanders center John Tavares (91) high fives the bench after scoring during the third period against the Columbus Blue Jackets at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum. New York Islanders won 6-3. (Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports )

John Tavares had four points on Saturday. He also had NINE shots. And he only played 17:40.

Minus of the Weekend

Steve Montador (R) during a game for the Chicago Blackhawks against the Montreal Canadiens at the United Center on December 21, 2011 (AFP Photo/Jonathan Daniel)
Steve Montador (R) during a game for the Chicago Blackhawks against the Montreal Canadiens at the United Center on December 21, 2011 (AFP Photo/Jonathan Daniel)

Horrible to hear about Steve Montador.

Perfect HFBoards Trade Proposal of the Week
User “Roof Daddy” would like to make Tyler Myers' stay in Winnipeg a short one.

To WPG: Eberle, Petry

To EDM: Myers, 2nd

Love it.

Signoff
Oh yeah, I will. I just got... I don't have time right now.

Ryan Lambert is a Puck Daddy columnist. His email is hereand his Twitter is here

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