Do the Canucks need more legitimate snipers?

One criticism of the Canucks that I have frequently heard, either in the comments section here, on Twitter, or from fans I know offline, is that the Canucks don’t have enough legitimate snipers. Great scoring chances were wasted, these fans say, by players who just weren’t able to finish them off. They stop short of calling them illegitimate snipers, because it’s rude to question someone’s parentage like that.

Golden opportunities that end up hitting the goaltender’s logo tend to loom large in people’s memories, particularly if they come at key points in a game. So I wanted to take a look at the statistics and see whether the Canucks actually are below average when it comes to finishing their chances.

Turns out they may have a point.

Shooting percentage tends to fluctuate wildly from season to season. Take a look at Ryan Kesler, who two seasons ago scored a career-high 41 goals on the back of a 15.8% shooting percentage, then saw his goals drop to 22 the next season when his shooting percentage went down to 9.9%. Is either percentage more reflective of his “true talent” or does it lie somewhere in the middle?

A larger sample size should be more reliable, so when we look at Kesler’s career shooting percentage and see that he is a career 11.9% shooter, suggesting that he should score between 25-30 goals in a season if he records 220-260 shots. That sounds about right for someone like Kesler.

Looking at career shooting percentage instead of season-by-season should give us a more accurate view of a player’s finishing ability.

I took a look at every NHL player who has appeared in at least 164 games in his career, the equivalent of two seasons, so that each player would have a decent sample size to draw from. Then I looked at their career shooting percentage and took the average of the entire league before splitting them up into forwards and defence.

The average career shooting percentage league-wide is 8.59%. That includes everyone from top-end snipers like Steven Stamkos to no-offense defencemen like Rob Scuderi.

How does that compare to the Canucks? As a whole, the current roster is slightly above average at 8.69%. That does include, however, trade deadline acquisition Derek Roy, who, with a career shooting percent of 12.39%, skews things upwards. Without Roy, the Canucks fall to 8.07%, decidedly below average.

Looking at just forwards, the Canucks don’t fare much better. The league-average career shooting percentage for forwards is 10.57%. With Roy, the Canucks are a tick above that average at 10.89%. Without him, they fall all the way down to 9.86%. Other than Roy, the Canucks have just four forwards who have career shooting percentages above league-average: Alex Burrows, Daniel and Henrik Sedin, and Ryan Kesler, with Chris Higgins coming in just below at 10.51%.

The list didn’t include Zack Kassian, whose career shooting percentage is a shade above average at 10.68% but has only played 83 games.

Canucks’ defencemen, however, are a bit of a saving grace. League-average shooting percentage for defencemen is 4.92%, while Canucks’ defencemen come in at 5.39%, with Jason Garrison leading the way at a whopping 7.71%, which places him 8th among NHL defencemen. Only Dan Hamhuis and Andrew Alberts fell below the league-average 4.92%, though it’s worth noting that the list included Keith Ballard (5.89%), Cam Barker (5.45%), and Jim Vandermeer (5.33%) and not Chris Tanev (4.00%).

That last list of defencemen should make you pause, however. Clearly, shooting percentage isn’t everything if Ballard, Barker, and Vandermeer are above average and defencemen like Hamhuis and Tanev are below.

It certainly makes sense to say that the Canucks should seek out excellent finishers, either in free agency or in a trade. But it’s also worth noting that having the best finishers in the league does not lead to having the best team.

The top 10 players in the league by career shooting percentage are Alex Tanguay, Steven Stamkos, Sergei Kostitsyn, Brenden Morrow, Tyler Bozak, Colin Wilson, David Desharnais, Thomas Vanek, Brad Marchand, and Teemu Selanne. Of those 10 players, six player for teams that did not make the playoffs, including Morrow, who was traded from the Dallas Stars to the Pittsburgh Penguins at the trade deadline. Of the four whose teams did make the playoffs, three of them were out in the first round.

QuantHockey tracked team shooting percentage this season and the results are fascinating. The Canucks finished right in the middle of the league at 15th, with a shooting percentage of 9.037%. At the top? The Toronto Maple Leafs at 11.526%. At the bottom, the Ottawa Senators at 7.079%. One of those teams made it to the second round of the playoffs and can expect to see success next season.

Of the 14 teams that did not make the playoffs, five of them actually finished above the Canucks in shooting percentage, including the Tampa Bay Lightning who finished third at 11.12%. Shooting percentage on its own wasn’t all that reliable as an indicator of success this season. Fenwick Close, which tracks shots on goal and missed shots when the score is within one goal, was far more reliable.

This discussion fits neatly into the “shot quantity versus shot quality” debate, which is a debate that I think is misguided. The reason those interested in advanced stats track shot quantity is not because shot quality doesn’t matter; they do so because the same processes that lead to shot quality also lead to quantity. Teams that do a good job of creating quality chances also tend to take a lot of shots. Tracking the latter ends up being a good way to track the former.

I’ve said it before: ”We count shots not because they’re the result of the process, but because they’re the most numerous by-product of the process.”

I don’t think it’s a particularly good sign that the Canucks forwards are below average when it comes to career shooting percentage and I do agree that it makes sense to acquire better finishers, but not at the expense of puck possession. Players that can finish scoring chances are all well and good, unless they’re giving up even more scoring chances in their own end.

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24 comments

  1. PB
    May 24, 2013

    I suppose any team can use more snipers (well as long as they’re not defensive liabilities, as you say, hello Grabner and Hodgson). But I think this focus that so many people seem to have on an admitted lack of scoring continues to miss the point that losing your entire 2nd line to injury for most of the season and a VERY poorly coached powerplay where you’d expect to get a lot of your offense from has more to do with it than a lack of snipers.

    I continue not to understand the over-reaction of MANY to what has befallen the Canucks these past two years. Still a very good team, with some serious issues to address. Too many bandwagoneers who don’t remember the “glory” days of losing to the Oilers 13-1

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  2. Blueliner
    May 24, 2013

    “.. I do agree that it makes sense to acquire better finishers, but not at the expense of puck possession.”

    Funny you should mention that.. personally I think a big factor why we lost against SJ was due to our lack of puck possessions. From what I can remember, we lost the majority of faceoffs because every centre except henrik was always waived out of the faceoff circle. How can we win faceoffs to be a puck possession team if our centres aren’t taking faceoffs..?

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    • Origamirock
      May 26, 2013

      Sorry but the stats disagree with you. The Canucks actually led (and at times dominated) the sharks in possession for (I believe) every single game of the series. Where they did get trounced was the scoring chances. This was a season long problem. I’m still waiting for the stats guys like Drance and Charron (or maybe Daniel?) to figure out why that was the case this year.

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      • Blueliner
        May 27, 2013

        Hmm.. I can’t say that you’re wrong because I didn’t look at stats (and I’m not going to.. Still too painful). But this is just my personal opinion that the sharks had quality chances and had cycled better than us. Unlike them, we threw bad angle shots and made hasty decisions with the puck instead of being patient. I’m quite skeptical of your claim that we led in possession until I see some stats posted here. Sorry

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  3. akidd
    May 25, 2013

    i’m not worried about the canuck forwards’ shooting %. like you said sedins, burrows, kesler, higgins…fine. dmen above average. i wonder who could be dragging the team % down? booth and raymond(and hansen and lappy, i’m guessing). that’s who. they won’t be around next year so problem solved. addition through subtraction.

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    • Origamirock
      May 26, 2013

      I’m sorry but I think you missed the entire point of this article. From above:

      “I don’t think it’s a particularly good sign that the Canucks forwards are below average when it comes to career shooting percentage and I do agree that it makes sense to acquire better finishers, but not at the expense of puck possession.”

      David Booth is one of the super elite possession players of the league. You’re literally saying that losing him will improve the team’s shooting percentage, when the conclusion of the article was that we should NOT do that.

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      • akidd
        May 27, 2013

        thanks for trying to clarify, origamirock. i did feel though that i was able to grasp the gist of what daniel’s article was about. i think it goes into the the ‘thinly-disguised-defense-of-booth’ category along with other beauties like ‘how many points should a 2nd-liner score’.

        basically daniel is pretty invested in this booth guy. he’s got the farm, kitchen sinks, locks, stocks and barrels bet on him. it’s to the point where part of me kinda wants booth to stick around a bit just to see what happens. if it doesn’t go well daniel may well have to change his name to ‘spaniel’ and move to wales:)

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        • tom selleck's moustache
          May 27, 2013

          It could be. I personally agree with Wagner’s take on Booth though, as I think that when you consider his extremely low shooting percentage over a very short period of games (while still putting up high possession numbers as he’s done in the past) and then compare that to his past history, I think it’s very reasonable to expect that this year was an anomaly from a finishing perspective and that next year should be much better, point production-wise (assuming a reasonable level of good health, of course)

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  4. PB
    May 25, 2013

    I don’t think Booth will be gone (Ballard yes) and I think he’s bound to have a better year than the last two — he’s strong, fast, and I don’t think will have as much bad puck luck and injuries as these past years. The problem with faceoffs is a bigger one though — I don’t know who’s waiting in the wings to take the pressure off of Kesler (Hank’s not really a big faceoff guy and can’t be relied on too much). The scouting report on Gaunce is that he has top-six offensive skills but bottom-six speed, but with excellent faceoff and defensive capabilities. Not sure he can make the jump up this quickly

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  5. Chinstrap Joe
    May 25, 2013

    Do the Canucks need more legitimate snipers? Is a frogs ass water tight?

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  6. Dan Cohen
    May 25, 2013

    Main themes of this article in my eyes?
    Canucks need more depth scoring.
    We should keep booth because of his positive possession.

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  7. Tom 1040
    May 26, 2013

    Actually, the Canucks need a legitimate GM before anything else.

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    • akidd
      May 27, 2013

      tom, when you think of it, most of gillis’ big mistakes have been about evaluating hockey players. maybe the guys who vouched for booth/ ballard etc. should take some heat. with better hockey advice it would roll a lot smoother.

      i’m not sure what you expect from your large organizations but it could be a whole lot worse. a lot of gm’s do some crazy stuff under heat. they can gut a team in an instant to appease fans and media. take the first name that floats by. you want to be flames fan or a leaf fan? i didn’t think so.

      so ya, he makes mistakes but he could make a whole lot more. i like a lot of what he does but ya…he probably needs better hockey advice. let’s see how this summer goes. some defining moments upcoming. big huge hockey brain stuff. got my popcorn right here.

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      • Tom 1040
        May 27, 2013

        Hi akidd,

        Actually, I agree with a lot of what you have said.

        But, this means that you have argued for my point very well.

        I agree that Gillis has received some bad advice, wholeheartedly.

        Unfortunately, it is Gillis’ that doesn’t know what good advice or bad advice is, which is partly why he isn’t a legitimate GM. This extends to both trades and drafting.

        Hence, very few (if any) changes to the Burke/Nonis scouting team to my knowledge save for more focus on US Colleges, which is questionable given the Canucks lack of toughness.

        Why?

        Because he has no experience in this area before and he, obviously, must rely totally on others to make decisions.

        You can also say this about keeping AV for so long. With such a stacked team losing in the 2 round twice to the same coach, he should have been canned.

        These so-called division championships mean very little in the pathetic NW. Just look at the past playoff exist. The NW champs lost to the 3rd seed in the Pacific Division in a sweep!

        Further, he kept AV as coach even after their implosion the year Nonis got fired. Nobody seems to recall that this so-called ‘non-playoff’ team was a shoe-in for the playoffs up the last 10 games of the year.

        Luongo foreshadowed his ineptitude when the going got tough and the Canucks were done. So, should AV have been, and I believe would have under Nonis (who canned Crawford).

        But, Gillis has never hired a head coach before – he has had zero experience, so he would have had to rely on the advice of others to a large degree. Safer to be ‘very patient’.

        And ‘very patient’ Gillis has been. Another narrative of that could say that it is safer for him to continue to ride the Burke/Nonis core as long as he can – which he has done.

        He just doesn’t really know. He’s not a legitimate GM.

        I think he might be better suited as PR department manager (assistant mgr. perhaps), or certainly Chief of Excuses.

        I haven’t seen any GM match him in that area of specialty which he can call his very own.

        akidd, I have more, but no one wants to read this much in a blog post, so I will conclude with this.

        The GM and president of hockey operations needs to know what good and bad advice is as well as make the necessary changes upon receiving bad advice.

        Gillis can’t.

        Hence, the Canucks need a legitimate GM and not a used-car salesmen.

        Anyway, take care, akidd. An interesting summer indeed, I agree.

        Sincerely,
        T.

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        • akidd
          May 27, 2013

          thanks for the response, tom. it’s a tricky thing. if a person needs advice in the first place how are they to distinguish between good and bad advice? it’s all so specialized now that i don’t think we can expect the manager to be an expert of all the fields that he’s managing. gillis needs to make a decision on who to trust about hockey and work with that person/team.

          whoever told him that booth, ballard, roy etc were good ideas should be gone. in general i think trading with the eastern conference is a bad idea. that conference is a step below. i’m racking my brain for an example of an eastern conference player who came over to the west and lit it up and i can’t think of anyone.

          i do think gillis is a good manager though. i like his innovations. i like his patience. i like the way he’s been able to give himself options up until now(although i conceed he may be running out of wiggle room.) and i do think that he has raised the profile of the canucks and made vancouver a preferred destination for free agents.

          i disagree about AV. this is definitely the time to let him go. if he had been fired after the second chelseas daggering we would have missed the wonderful 10/11 season where AV had his team purring like no other canuck team in history. at this point i’m pretty bored of watching av’s systems so am happy for a change, even just from an entertainment perspective.

          like i said, what gills does this summer will define him as a gm. let’s see what he does before we judge him.

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          • Tom 1040
            May 27, 2013

            Hi akidd,

            Let’s end on a positive.

            I completely agree with you about trading with the Eastern Conference.

            Best,
            T.

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    • Inknown Comic
      May 27, 2013

      With whom would you replace Gillis?

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  8. PB
    May 27, 2013

    Tom, that’s a pretty long axe you seem to have to grind against Gillis. He has made mis-steps no question. But I can point to an equally lengthy list of poor choices, dumb trades, crazy signings and flaws in any number of GMs across the league. None of them makes them “illegitimate” and Gillis — a former high draft pick whose career was derailed by injury, a coach at the university level, a trained lawyer, an accomplished player agent — seems eminently more suitable as a GM than any of us in our armchairs and I’d daresay a whole lot more than some who have the jobs. Unlike Milbury he didn’t make disastrous trade after another — Booth and Ballard is not Luongo for scrubs, Yashin for Spezza and Chara or any others. He’s not Jay Feaster in Calgary driving that club into the ground, he’s not Tambellini in Edmonton unable to ice a competitive team despite numerous high picks, he’s not Burke trading Kessell for Seguin, Hamilton and Knight, he’s not Sather signing Redden and Richards to huge deals. Gillis is not infallible by any means but this cherrypicking is pointless. Whether he is the right GM or not remains to be seen and if he’s not able to help keep the team competitive then he should go but these types of hypercritical and poorly evidenced arguments add nothing to the debate.

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    • Tom 1040
      May 27, 2013

      Poorly evidenced?

      Pot-kettle-black.

      First, nowhere did you reject any of my argument points. Go ahead, try.

      Next, get your facts straight. Feaster took over the mess from Sutter. There is only the long route out for that team as will be the case for the Canucks very soon. Feaster took over in 2011.

      Yeah, it’s all Feastor’s fault. Who by the way was an assistant GM and groomed by Jacques Demers. He also has a Cup to his credit.

      Unlike Gillis who had zero executive training – none.

      And, yes Gillis has made one poor trade after another as well as obviously poor decisions like the Luongo contract – very DiPietro-esque.

      Talk about poorly evidenced.

      And, I am glad you brought up Milbury and compared him to Gillis. They are worthy of mention in the same breath.

      Indeed Milbury was a bonehead. So? How does that make Gillis less of a bonehead. They are both boneheads.

      Finally, if you want to really compare Gillis to another or other GMs, then maybe you could you establish others with similar context.

      Hard to do. Go ahead and gather some evidence. Your previous post is lacking.

      And, either way, time will indeed tell.

      Gillegitimate will quit after the Canucks fail to make the playoffs next year with the same old aging core, whom he inherited as they entered their prime, and extended beyond their ‘Best before date’ with NTC’s..

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    • Aaron
      May 27, 2013

      Well Said PB. Gilles isn’t Perfect but its very easy to make decisions in hind sight, or when at the end of they day they have no true impact on your life.

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      • Tom 1040
        May 27, 2013

        What a silly comment.

        It’s pro sports, he gets paid millions as an executive (so-called), he’s the GM and President.

        Okay, give him a pass because he could be nervous when making decisions.

        Nice.

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  9. ian
    May 27, 2013

    Gillis as GM has been learning on the job. No problem with that…all new GM’s operate that way. From the beginning of his tenure, Gillis has emphasized that his management is a team effort. Lots of voices influence decisions. I, too, am a bit disappointed with him being over-patient with his scouting staff. He has made some changes – more amateur scouts for the OHL as well as Europe. But seems stuck with his same pro-scouts (Crawford), as well as the guys who scout the WHL. He has kicked Ron Delorme upstairs, and then has promoted Sundstrom to be Chief (Amateur) Scout.

    The problem with assessing the quality of your advisors is the time it takes to do so. You need to look at their track record (under your direction) to judge their effectiveness. Takes time. But, certainly enough time has elapsed by now that Gillis should be handing out more pink slips!

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    • Tom 1040
      May 27, 2013

      ian,

      Good post.

      Your information is good.

      I have to say though one comment sticks in my craw: GM learning on the job. No problem with that.

      Really?

      It only cost the team a SC! He was gifted a team coming into its prime and he blew it.

      And, now, thru’ Gillis’ learning on the job/mismanagement, it will be years before they are close again.

      I have a problem with that and so do many others.

      What’s more, I disagree – GM’s don’t just come out from under a rock with no experience running anything. Usually, they have been an assistant GM for some time though there are a couple of exceptions (Garth Snow for one).

      Anyway, liked the info. you had on the scouting team.

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  10. ktownfan
    May 27, 2013

    It’s interesting looking at the shooting percentage of the Leafs, they were also very high on the PDO list, which should indicate problems for them over a longer stretch of games. This year if over a 82 game season the Leafs PDO went back to avg, they probably missed the playoffs.

    I think the Canucks do need an improvement on the finishing abilities of the forward crew. I would give up a bit of puck possesion to increase the finishing rate. Eventually it matter not how much mor eyou have the puck if you can’t eventually produce as well. Even if by Fenwick the Canucks were a pretty good possesion team shots wise, if you go back through the Canucks army game summaries from last year, they were out chanced almost ll the time.

    That is the problem the Canucks have right now. Turning possession into legit scoring chances that produce goals.

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