Drance Numbers: Does Mike Gillis think Travis Moen can suppress shooting percentage?

Since the Canucks’ defeat in the Stanley Cup Finals at the hands of the rough and tumble Boston Bruins, the acquisition of size and grit has become an obsession within the Canucks fanbase. (Obsession might even be under-selling it; the word “fetish” may well be more accurate). According to many, the team needs more of both, especially in the bottom six.

To this end, Travis Moen, who made up one third of the best checking line in recent memory alongside Rob Niedermayer and Sami Pahlsson on the 2007 Cup-winning Anaheim Ducks, has become a favoured object of desire for fans of the team.

Yesterday morning on the team 1040, TSN’s Pierre Lebrun indicated that the Canucks were likely to take a long, hard look at the winger, now with the Montreal Canadiens. “When I look at the Canucks,” Lebrun said, “I think they’d like to add some grit in their bottom-six forward group. I look at a guy like Travis Moen… that’s the kind of guy they have their eye on. He’s a UFA July 1, so he’s your typical rental. A lot of teams like him. But I think Vancouver will be in that mix.”

Canuck fans got excited. As I’ve taken to saying, the Vancouver fanbase at the moment has a raging collective Moener.

Now, a potential Moen trade would be a departure from Mike Gillis’s usual deadline strategy. The Canucks’ GM has already gone on record as saying that he’s not a fan of rentals. Furthermore, according to NHLnumbers.com, the Canucks are right up against the salary cap so the team’s front-office would need to move a contract out to fit Moen’s 1.5 million dollar salary under it. In previous seasons, we’ve never seen Gillis ship salary out at the deadline.

But Moen looks like he’d be a reasonably good fit in the bottom six. He’s a big body and he plays the toughest minutes of any Habs winger. While his possession numbers are ugly, that’s only a qualified drawback seeing as how the Habs, as a team, haven’t been good at possession this season. Moen has scored a percentage-driven 9 goals, two off of his career high, and by all accounts is on a short list of Habs players who can hold their heads high, despite a thoroughly miserable campaign from the league’s most storied franchise.

Something that particularly interests me about Travis Moen is that his on-ice shooting percentage, both ways, is extremely unique. In general, on-ice shooting percentage is extremely stable at the NHL level, and well over 90% of NHL players fall between 7-8.5% on-ice shooting over a large enough sample. Moen, however, is on a short list of “outliers” who buck this overwhelming trend. Not including this season, Moen’s on-ice shooting percentage since 2007 is 5.5%, and his opponents on-ice shooting percentage is 6.3%.

To give you an idea of how rare this is, there are 481 NHL players who’ve been on the ice for more than 1000 shots between the 2006-07 and 2010-11 season and only 46 of them have an on-ice shooting percentage outside the 7-8.5% range in that time. Tyler Dellow produced a list of these players in the comments section of this post in case you’re curious (both Sedins and Burrows make the list).

On ice save% (which is the same as opponents’ shooting percentage) is somewhat less stable, but 72% of NHLers who played at least 2500 even-strength minutes between 2006-07 and 2010-11 still fall within the 7-8.5% range over a large sample.

Now here’s the rub: looking over these numbers at David Johnson’s hockeanalysis site yesterday, I was struck by a couple of things. The first and most obvious one is that the guys who play in front of the best goaltenders have the lowest on-ice opponent shooting percentage. Well, duh.

The second, however, is that a number of the players who have the lowest on-ice opponent shooting percentage are guys whom Mike Gillis has targeted during his tenure in Vancouver. Here are the 25 guys with the lowest on-ice shooting% over that 4-season sample (over 2490 minutes played):

Player On-Ice Opponent Shooting %
Marco Sturm 5.69
Shawn Thornton 5.9
Kent Huskins 5.92
Taylor Pyatt 6.04
Kyle Wellwood 6.08
Marc Savard 6.22
David Krejci 6.24
Tyler Kennedy 6.29
Jeff Woywitka 6.3
Travis Moen 6.34
Sean O’Donnell 6.35
Brendan Morrison 6.4
Mike Weaver 6.41
Manny Malhotra 6.42
Radim Vrbata 6.45
Michael Ryder 6.46
Teemu Selanne 6.48
Radek Dvorak 6.52
Zach Parise 6.59
Keith Ballard 6.59
Gregory Campbell 6.62
Mark Stuart 6.63
Sami Salo 6.63
Cory Stillman 6.68


So of the top-10 players, 3 of them (Wellwood, Sturm and now Moen) are guys who linked to Gillis’s term as General Manager. It goes without saying that Gillis went after Malhotra and Ballard with gusto in the summer of the 2010, and I’d suggest that perhaps Morrison’s camp invite later that fall may have been about more than simply his familiarity with the organization. And might this be part of the reason the team loves Sami Salo so much?

If you’re the type that believes that Gillis makes an offer to Teemu Selanne every offseason, then we can say that Gillis has “gone after” nearly a third of the guys on this list. We can’t know for sure, but there looks to be a suggestive correlation between players the Canucks pursue and players who arguably “suppress shooting percentage.”

For the record, I’m not sure I believe that players can “suppress shooting percentage” (though I do believe they can drive it). But I’d at least be curious to hear one of Gillis, Gilman or Henning asked the question, “Do you pay attention to players who can suppress opponent shooting percentage?” Because if they do, that would put the Canucks on the other side of conventional wisdom in a pretty big way.

Not that it would be the first example of the Canucks management team swearing by something that most people consider hocus pocus.

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  1. Cam Charron
    January 27, 2012

    Lots of Gillis names on that list, indeed. He might want to check Kyle Wellwood’s on-ice save percentage in Winnipeg, where he isn’t playing in front of a Vezina-calibre goalie like Roberto Luongo. It isn’t all that good this year and he was running with a criminally-low PDO for the longest time.

    But, of course, Daniel could tell us all about that.

    Also weird: Marco Sturm, tops on that list. He played a bunch of minutes in front of Tim Thomas post-lockout, the most statistically (and right-wing) crazy goalie in the league. And yet, in Vancouver, he couldn’t buy a bounce.

    I like Johnson’s writing and I think that there’s some value in the work that he does, but I’m inclined to agree with Gabe’s thoughts on shot quality—a player can suppress shooting percentage, but only by suppressing his own shooting percentage as well. Not taking risks or making decisions that lead to 2-on-1s or breakaways.

    Other thing to notice: how many of those players are NHL regulars? Mostly fourth liners or guys who have missed significant time in the last few years, no? There’s less of a sample to judge them with, than by somebody like, say Patrice Bergeron.

    That said, Travis Moen would be an excellent addition to the Canucks, and Sammy Pahlsson should have won the Conn Smythe Trophy in 2007.

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  2. tom selleck's moustache
    January 27, 2012

    Moener. Ha.

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  3. seedvt
    January 27, 2012

    Just a tip for the salary cap numbers – capgeek has the projected cap room for each team at the deadline. The Canucks can afford just about a caphit of about 2 million, and that’s with only Volpatti on LTIR. Possibly another 100k or so if Ebbett is added to LTIR as well.

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  4. David Johnson
    January 28, 2012


    Wellwood’s opposition shooting percentage in Winnipeg this season is 8.21% which is indeed a significant drop off. Sample sizes are still a little small but the 8.21% does put him in the top half of Jets skaters (6th of 16 with >400 minutes 5v5 time).

    “I’m inclined to agree with Gabe’s thoughts on shot quality—a player can suppress shooting percentage, but only by suppressing his own shooting percentage as well. Not taking risks or making decisions that lead to 2-on-1s or breakaways.”

    I actually agree with this (somewhat, I think individual skill is a factor too), I didn’t realize Gabe did. The thing is, players, and even teams, play with different risk/reward equations. Brian Burke frequently talks about wanting an entertaining offensive team that will trade chances with the opposition and he has recently talked about how Lou Lamoriello has a different opinion and that defensive hockey wins games. Similarly Michael Cammallari gets tasked with a different role than Tavis Moen and thus their shooting/save percentages will differ. Some of it is talent though. There is an underlying reason why Moen is given the defensive role and Cammalleri the offensive role. I am pretty sure Moen wouldn’t be as good in Cammalleri’s role and vice versa.

    Bringing this back to Wellwood, the fact that Wellwood has been given a more integral offensive role in Winnipeg may be part of the reason for his rise in opposition shooting percentage (in addition to the goaltending).

    You brought up Patrice Bergeron. He is what many would call a 2-way player so he kind of gets tasked with both offense and defense. In theory we should probably evaluate a players defensive ability when they are up a goal and a players offensive ability when they are down a goal. Bergeron has a 7.47 opposition shooting percentage across all 5v5 situations but when he is up a goal (and presumeably focusing on a defensive role) his opposition shooting percentage drops to 5.32% (10th of 214 forwards with 500 minutes 5v5 up 1 ice time) and his opposition shooting percentage when down a goal (and he is presumably trying to generate offense) is 9.05%.

    How much of shooting percentage is skill and how much is playing style? How can we even begin to test that? Not sure, but what I do know is there is a lot of stuff going on in the game of hockey that we still need to learn about.

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