Will Nick Bonino score 20 goals next season?

After a nearly-historic level of offensive ineptness last season, one of the biggest questions Canucks fans had for the new management regime was where the goals were going to come from next season. That became even more of a concern when the Canucks traded their leading goalscorer, Ryan Kesler.

The Canucks certainly had little choice in the matter and Kesler will likely never again reach the 40+ goal heights of 2010-11, but he’s consistently scored more than 20 goals since 2007, apart from the lockout and injury-shortened 2012-13 season. As much as the Canucks appear to be glad to see him on his way out, they’ll still miss the 20-25 goals he’d have likely contributed next season.

Jim Benning took some steps toward adding scoring, signing Radim Vrbata, who has 140 goals since 2007, 24 fewer than Kesler in that time. There’s hope that with Vrbata joining the top line, he could revitalize the Sedins and help them to a bounce back season. In addition, Alex Burrows can’t possibly have a worse season than last year, Zack Kassian looks poised to breakout, and Nicklas Jensen has shown signs of being ready to put the puck past NHL goaltenders.

Benning, however, is also expecting goalscoring from another source: Nick Bonino, the centrepiece of the package the Canucks received from the Anaheim Ducks in return for Kesler. Specifically, he thinks Bonino will score 20 goals next season.

We know what Benning is hoping for or expecting from Bonino, because the Canucks shared a brief behind-the-scenes clip of Benning discussing the Ryan Kesler trade as part of their “All Access” series.

While I don’t want to read too much into what is clearly just a small part of a larger conversation, what he has to say about Bonino is very interesting.

We’re going to get Bonino…he scored 22 goals last year, so if he can get 20 for us, he gives us goals next year.

The other thing is, our coach wants Bonino. Our coach really likes Bonino and wants him. Bonino is a distributor. He makes players around him better because he can get them the puck.

The first comment is the most troubling one. The argument is, essentially, if a player scores 20+ goals in one season, he’ll likely score 20+ goals in the next.

Again, I don’t want to read too much into this. After all, we don’t know the entire context of this conversation. This could be Benning saying, “Look, this is the best we’re going to get and, if Bonino can score 20 goals next season, we’ll be all right.” Perhaps it’s not an expectation so much as a hope.

It’s still concerning to hear that type of reasoning from the Canucks General Manager. That’s the type of thinking that gave the Canucks Jan Bulis: Top Six Forward.

Bulis scored 20 goals for the Montreal Canadiens in 2005-06, just before Dave Nonis signed the winger in free agency, something Nonis made sure to mention multiple times when it became clear that he was signed to play on one of the top two lines, possibly as a replacement for the departing Anson Carter.

Here’s the problem: that was the first and only time Bulis scored 20 goals, with a career-high of 16 prior to that. Bulis’s career-high 20 goals happened to coincide with a career-high shooting percentage: 15.3%.

Bulis’s agent at the time claimed that his client didn’t score more because he was placed in a more defensive role in Montreal, hinting that Bulis could score 70 points given the right opportunity. It’s possible that Nonis was swayed by this argument as well. At the very least, he hoped for another 20-goal season.

Instead, in a more offensive role in Vancouver, Bulis’s shooting percentage regressed to 9.8% — more in line with his career numbers — and he scored just 12 goals.

Now, Nick Bonino certainly isn’t Jan Bulis — for one, Bonino has hair — but Bulis demonstrates the danger of expecting a player with one 20-goal season under his belt to repeat the feat. In Bonino’s favour is the fact that last season was his first full season in the league, but there are still warning signs, like his career-high 13.8 shooting percentage.

If Benning is expecting Bonino to replace Kesler’s 20+ goals, he could be seriously disappointed. Bonino could get more offensive opportunities with a consistent spot on the second line and significant powerplay time and still fall short of 20 goals if his shooting percentage regresses to below 10%.

It’s certainly possible that Bonino will score 20 goals again, but it will require one of two things from the centre: a massive uptick in shots on goal or another season with a well-above-average shooting percentage. Perhaps Bonino is one of the rare players able to sustain an above average shooting percentage, like Alex Tanguay, Steven Stamkos, or Patrick Marleau, but the odds are against him, particularly since, as Benning points out in his second comment, Bonino is more of a distributor than a finisher.

To a certain extent, that’s the appeal of Bonino over Kesler. As good as Kesler was and is, he liked to carry the puck and shoot the puck, but he didn’t care too much for sharing the puck. The scouting report on Bonino, on the other hand, is that he is a playmaker who can recover the puck with hard work along the boards and find his linemates with his passing ability.

Benning makes an additional claim, however, that he makes the players around him better. That’s a trickier claim to deal with because a player can be good at distributing the puck but have enough deficiencies elsewhere in his game that he actually drags his linemates down.

Looking just at Ducks forwards who played at least 100 minutes with Bonino at 5-on-5, we can look at both their Goals For Percentage and Corsi Percentage with and without Bonino. Let’s start with the goals.

So far, so good. When Bonino was on the ice, the Ducks outscored their opposition with every linemate but Emerson Etem and Corey Perry, who had the smallest sample size of ice time with Bonino. And, except for Etem and Perry, each of these forwards did better with Bonino by this measure than they did without him.

Goals, however, are dependent on percentages that may not reliably repeat from year to year. How did the Ducks forwards do in regards to puck possession with and without Bonino?

Here is where things begin to look a little more shaky. While four of these players had better possession rates with Bonino than without him, three of them are the players with the smallest sample size of ice time with Bonino. His two most common linemates, Matt Beleskey and Kyle Palmieri, carried possession far more effectively without Bonino.

The one caveat here is that these statistics lack context. We don’t know if Beleskey and Palmieri faced weaker competition or easier zone starts when apart from Bonino, leading to a better Corsi percentage. We also don’t know what effect playing with a strong possession player like Alex Burrows will have on Bonino.

It’s even possible, though unlikely, that the Ducks outperformed their possession when Bonino was on the ice because of his playmaking abilities. All we can say with any confidence is that the statistics don’t necessarily support the claim that Bonino makes the players around him better.

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  1. Marcus the Philosopher
    July 25, 2014

    Very thorough and interesting! Another awesome article

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  2. Jacob
    July 25, 2014

    Pass it to Bonino!

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  3. Vincent
    July 25, 2014

    I wonder how Anaheims above average shooting percentage comes into play with Bonino. I’d like to know how the ducks played which affected their stats the way it did.

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    July 26, 2014

    A really solid attempt at a prediction. For me, there are far too many uncertainties heading into next season. You mentioned that Burrows is a strong puck possession player, will he be ‘strong anything’ next season I wonder? I guess most fans are thinking that Bonino will have Kassian and burrows as wingers – is that right? I would think that’s a good first thought, but what happens if someone like Vey outplays Bonino and moves up the depth chart, or they decide to put Vanek on Bonino’s wing (unlikely), or one of the young players shines at camp. Now that I think about it, this is quite a fascinating time to be canucks fan- so many possibilities with so much unproven potential = interesting times indeed I think.

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    • Dissin' Terry
      July 26, 2014

      I wish we really did have Vanek for Bonino’s wing. Now that would be a second line to fear.

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  5. Neil B
    July 26, 2014

    I find it highly unlikely that Bonino will ‘regress’ to much below 10%.

    With a player with under 1,000 shots, there is really no statistically reliable way top say what kind of a shooter they are at the NHL level, we would have to compare him to the NHL player average.

    From what I’ve found online, over the span of the prior CBA forwards have had an average shooting percentage of 10.82% and defencemen 5.23%. (I suspect that variance in year-to-year NHL shooting percentages are more dependent on the forward/defenceman shot ratios, but that’s another story). For my calculations, I am assuming that next year’s average for forwards holds to about that range, and that Nick Bonino is an average (no better) NHL player.

    ‘Reverting to the mean’ suggests that his next year’s shooting percentage should fall within a couple standard deviations (0.48%) of 10.8%. If the above numbers hold, then there is a 63% chance Bonino will shoot between 10.34% and 11.3%, and a 95% likelihood that he will shoot between 9.86% and 11.76%. (It is 99% likely that he will shoot between 9.38% and 12.26%.) All things being equal, there is a roughly 2.5% chance that Bonino will shoot appreciably below 10.0%.

    If Bonino can get 180 shots on net next season, and assuming he isn’t a statistical outlier, he is likely to score between 17 and 22 goals, with 19-20 goals being the most likely result. I’d say Trader Jim has a pretty solid grasp on the realities of the situation and the player in question.

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    • nateb123
      July 26, 2014

      I also feel that a lot of the Bonino detractors are also guilty of only watching the Canucks play. Bones has exceptional hands in tight, a heavy wrister, shockingly strong backhand and the vision to use those tools. He has a very rare combination and the people who think he will not be a 20 goal scorer again underestimate how much his game still has yet to develop.

      Bonino will have a 30 goal season within 2 years. Book it.

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  6. Voltage
    July 26, 2014

    Kassian poised to break out?


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  7. Lenny
    July 27, 2014

    That video makes me nervous. Everything out of Benning’s mouth is average TSN analyst talk.

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  8. iain
    July 29, 2014

    let’s also not forget that Kesler is a declining asset – injury-prone and 30 – everything points to him being about to drop off big-time, particularly given the wear and tear that his style of play results in. anaheim got a lot of will to win from this deal, but that is not much use when it is sitting in the press box on LTIR.

    at least Bonino is younger and still reasonably healthy/durable (at least until he catches the Vancouver injury bug off Burrows). for me, jury is out on this deal until we see at least a half-season of Bonino and Sbisa in the lineup.

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