Every year, there are guys who go on scoring runs they’ve never seen in their careers before, while other players take huge steps back for seemingly no reason.
People don’t like to be told that “luck” is often a big reason why this happens, but it has to be said that oftentimes, that plays a huge role. With all the preseason standings predictions now coming out, I was thinking about this in the context of the Washington Capitals overall, because they’re a team that had the highest shooting percentage in the league to go along with the highest save percentage.
Some of that is obviously skill-driven, because the Capitals have long scored more goals than it appeared they “should have” thanks to their talent level, but the extent to which it happened last year should be worrying, especially given how much the team lost this summer at both the forward and defensive positions.
But after looking at some things, where a lot of that concern I originally had about the Caps as a whole largely settled with T.J. Oshie. Here’s a guy who scored a career-high 33 goals in just 68 games in his age-30 season. In fact, that scoring rate obliterated his previous career best, at nearly 50 percent more goals per game. Not surprisingly, this was driven by a shooting percentage north of 23. Only seven other guys have cleared 23 percent shooting in 60-plus games since the league instituted the shootout. Like Oshie, they’re mostly skilled guys, but they didn’t shoot for nearly as much volume. And to a man, they all experienced big steps back in goal-scoring rates the next seasons.
The stat that best illustrates this issue for Oshie, and several other guys in the league, is the difference between the number of goals they scored at 5-on-5 and the number of goals they mathematically “should have” scored based on the location, type, volume, etc. of their shooting.
Oshie actually led the league in the difference between actual (1.5 goals per 60 at 5-on-5) and expected goals (less than 0.7 per 60). Again, you can attribute some of that to his quality as a player — he has more skill than an average NHL forward, to be sure — but that doesn’t mean you should’t expect a big step back from him in terms of putting the puck in the net.
But certainly, Oshie is not alone in this regard, and there are a few others for whom their scoring last season should be a point of concern. The red dotted lines here are the league averages for expected and actual goals, separated by 0.01 goals per 60. (And here we should all say, “Thank you, Corsica, for coming back to us in our hour of need.”)
More worry for the Capitals should come in what newly re-signed Brett Connolly, who outperformed a subpar expected goals per 60 by more than double, brings to the table. His actual goals per 60 was 13th in the league last season among forwards with at least 500 minutes at full strength; expected goals was just 230th.
You also see Rickard Rakell, Jonathan Marchessault and Patrik Laine fill out the rest of the top-five in terms of goals-above-expected. The first two guys here are interesting cases because they’re good players who had breakout years, but whose teams can likewise expect them to take a step back. But you have to be curious about Laine. His skill threshold, I mean, he’s gotta shoot the puck better than any rookie teen since Ovechkin just in terms of pure lethality, and that made up for what was a pretty subpar season in terms of actually shooting the puck in a way that’s normally conducive to goal scoring.
Laine is a guy you can mostly expect to keep outpacing his expected goals. All the greats do, and we know what Laine’s pedigree is. Nonetheless, I think it’s also fair to say he probably doesn’t have “shooting 18 percent forever” talent, and it might be fair to set standards for him a little lower than the 36 he netted last season, even if he takes a step forward in terms of his actual on-ice process. He’s still only 19, and has plenty of room to grow, but this is something worth watching all year.
At the other end of the spectrum there are a handful of guys who had awful years putting the puck in the net — Riley Sheahan, come on down — but who aren’t that great to begin with. Sheahan of course needed to get to the last game of the season to score his only two goals in 82 games, and that’s not something that will happen again. Likewise, Jimmy Hayes, Matt Moulson and Kyle Clifford are three perfectly okay bottom-six players whose goal-scoring went sour this year and who could see more pucks go in for them this time around if they get the opportunity. Not a lot more, of course, but if they get back near the league average for 5-on-5 goals they could be okay contributors once again.
But there are three guys in the chart above who had rotten luck last year by their own fairly high standards who should be highlighted: Zach Hyman, Taylor Hall and most interesting I think, Patrick Sharp.
Hyman was a guy who should have scored a lot more goals than he did just based on what his linemates, Auston Matthews (who led the league in expected 5-on-5 goals per 60 last year) and Willie Nylander, presented to him. He’s not the most skilled guy in the world, of course, but he should have scored more 5-on-5 goals than the six he actually put in the net. In fact, based on expected goals, he should have scored 15. That’s a lot of goals; it’s what Blake Wheeler, Jeff Carter, and John Tavares actually scored last year. Obviously Hyman isn’t at that level of player, but even if he’s not that good, if he’s put in the same position he’s still likely to boost his 5-on-5 scoring significantly, and that would only be good news for the Leafs.
Hall is another guy where you look at what he should have scored (35th in expected goals per hour) versus what he actually did (261st in goals) and say, “Well that’s not gonna last.” Poor Taylor Hall. The kid can’t buy a break.
Finally, maybe the most interesting player in this batch is Patrick Sharp, who returns to Chicago on a cheap contract thanks to one of the worst years of his career. As you can see, he didn’t deserve to only score eight goals in 48 games, but suffered through concussion issues and had hip surgery at the end of the year, both of which are likely to hamper performance, especially for a 35-year-old skill guy. If he’s anything resembling healthy, and Joel Quenneville puts him in a position to get time with skilled players, he could return to form and be a solid bargain. Most recently, he’s been skating with the third line of Ryan Hartman and Artem Anisimov, but if things don’t pan out with Richard Panik for some reason, maybe he gets bumped up to the Saad/Toews line.
As much as people don’t want to hear it, “luck” and a lot of other factors play huge roles in player (and team) production, and it provides observers a basis for what they should be looking for over the course of the full 82.
What We Learned
Anaheim Ducks: Can this team really reach a higher goal than “Western Conference Final” because it doesn’t seem like it.
Arizona Coyotes: As always, this team is going to improve, but improving from being awful still doesn’t get you a lot of wins.
Boston Bruins: You’d probably rather have Matt Grzelcyk than Rob O’Gara, just given their skillsets and what needs to be replaced with Torey Krug out a while, right?
Buffalo Sabres: Nah, probably the defense will.
Calgary Flames: Calgary media very dialed in on credulity as to Mike Smith’s capabilities this season. Doesn’t seem like the right tack to me, but hey, have fun out there.
Carolina Hurricanes: Psst, it’s actually the goaltending.
Chicago Blackhawks: They really gotta hope this stuff is precautionary.
Colorado Avalanche: Weird to remember Joe Colborne and Jonathan Bernier are on the Avs, but here we are.
Columbus Blue Jackets: This is one of those things that’s not gonna go away until the Avs just do something about it. Trade him to Columbus or Nashville or the moon. Whatever.
Dallas Stars: Horrible news about the legend Dave Strader. One of the greats. Peace and love to his family.
Detroit Red Wings: We’re still doing this, huh?
Edmonton Oilers: Ya don’t say.
Florida Panthers: Owen Tippett will get his nine games then go back to the OHL. Let’s not read more into this than we have to.
Los Angeles Kings: Yeah I’d still be concerned about Jonathan Quick, given who the backups are.
Minnesota Wild: Ah yes, “momentum” coming out of the preseason.
Montreal Canadiens: Brendan Gallagher looking to rebound? He should have probably had double the amount of goals he actually scored, and only shot 5.4 percent, so yeah, expect a bounce-back year.
Nashville Predators: “They don’t have a real second-line center and Ryan Ellis is out for four months” sums it up nicely.
New Jersey Devils: Not surprised Jimmy Hayes ended up earning a contract. He’s an okay bottom-six guy.
New York Islanders: That time was about five years ago.
New York Rangers: They’re gonna Keith Yandle poor Kevin Shattenkirk, I just know it.
Ottawa Senators: Oh ya think so?
Philadelphia Flyers: Seems like the answer will probably be “too many.”
Pittsburgh Penguins: Calling the Penguins the best team in the league with the best chance to win a Cup again seems crazy but man, they keep doing it, don’t they?
San Jose Sharks: I love Joe Thornton but this should be seen as a huge point of concern.
St. Louis Blues: Uhhh, congrats?
Tampa Bay Lightning: Everyone is healthy open-parentheses for now close-parentheses.
Toronto Maple Leafs: The Leafs used their last game before the end of preseason to give all the borderline players one last chance to impress. They lost to the Red Wings. Cut ’em all, baby!
Vancouver Canucks: This could turn into a weird situation.
Vegas Golden Knights: Is Gerard Gallant actually all that good? I’m still not convinced, and we’re not gonna learn anything with this Vegas team, so … cool?
Washington Capitals: That thing I was saying about the Caps exceeding their expected goals by a crazy amount last year? Yeah.
Winnipeg Jets: They’re gonna hand Mason the No. 1 job. Pretty clear the day they signed him.
Play of the weekend
Carey Price, hello.
Gold Star Award
The regular season starts this week and I am extremely crying.
Perfect HFBoards Trade Proposal of the Year
User “DudeWhereIsMakar” is in midseason form.
To Los Angeles: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins , Kris Russell, Ethan Bear
To Edmonton: Drew Doughty , Jeff Carter
You got the dud! Hey, he looks just like you, poindexter!