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.Tags: Statistics, Stats