Are There Players Who Drive Shot Quality

Updated: October 4, 2012 at 8:45 am by Scott Reynolds

Nino Niederreiter (Photo: Andrew430/Wikimedia/CC BY-SA 3.0)

When it comes to saying which players are the very best of the best, and which are the very worst of the worst, there’s often little disagreement between those who follow the game closely and place tremendous value on statistics, those who follow the game closely but aren’t interested in statistics, and even casual observers. But when we start talking about more philisophical questions, there’s frequently a great chasm between those groups.

One of the great defining issues in this regard is shot quality. If you believe that it’s a highly important, repeatable skill, you’re probably not a stathead; if you believe that it exists but that its impact over a long period of time is small, you probably are.

That’s obviously an oversimplification, but I think it’s also fairly accurate. There are, of course, reasons that the statistical community has come to this conclusion, and I thought that it might be helpful to talk about those a little bit. But before going there, it’s important to make a few clarifications.

First of all, everyone acknowledges that shot quality has an enormous impact on the level of an individual shot. A shot from the red line just does not have the same chance of entering the net as does a shot from the slot, and that shot from the slot is more dangerous if it’s a rebound than if it isn’t. Over a small sample — like a game, a playoff series, or even a season from a particular individual — the gap in shot quality could still easily be quite large.

Over large samples — like a full season — this becomes less likely. The research done so far suggests that, at the team level, this can be a repeatable skill. Of course, in the middle of a season, there would be so many false positives (obligatory mention of the 2011-12 Minnesota Wild) that you wouldn’t want to bet on any one particular team sustaining their advantage in the percentages the rest of the way.

And what about the individual level? It’s fair to say that the consensus is that it’s very difficult for us to demonstrate talent statistically. But as a close observer (alright… fan) of the train wreck that is the Edmonton Oilers, I was treated to sixty games of Corey Potter last season. Now, Corey Potter did some things well, but suppressing shot quality wasn’t one of them, especially when he was defending in an odd-man situation. I think it would be understandably difficult for someone to watch Potter all year and figure that he doesn’t have much impact on shot quality.

If we take a quick look at Potter’s five-on-five PDO (on-ice shooting percentage + on-ice save percentage, which generally regresses toward 1,000), we find that it’s quite poor (976), and that the deficiency is coming at the defensive end (on-ice save percentage of 900).

Now, Corey Potter simply doesn’t have enough games for us to be statistically confident that his play is poor. Furthermore, if he continues to play in the NHL, it’s reasonable to expect that Potter’s defense will continue to improve. This led me to approach this question from a different direction: what if, instead of trying to discover specific individuals who do poorly by this measure, we try to identify groups of individuals that should do poorly over time.

The Extremes

For this exercise, I decided to look at the extremes, namely, individuals who played at least twenty games in a given season and had a PDO worse than 950 or better than 1050. I then identified a few groups who should do poorly by this measure, namely, goons (players who had at least 1.5 times the number of penalty minutes as games played in that season), young players or minor leaguers (players who had less than 200 NHL games before the start of the season), and players on the decline (in order to be consistent I labelled anyone who was at least thirty years old to start the season as being on the decline). I then used this criteria to identify players from the 2007-08 through 2011-12 seasons.

So what was the percentage of “suspect” players on each list? 83 of 92 players (90.2%) with a PDO worse than 950 were on the “suspect” list. And if we take a look at the list of players, even the non-suspects start looking pretty suspect:

2008-09 Mitch Fritz 871 M/G
2011-12 Stephane Da Costa 894 Minor
2011-12 Bradley Mills 894 Minor
2011-12 Nino Niederreiter 898 Minor
2007-08 Kris Newbury 904 Minor
2007-08 Ben Eager 905 M/G
2007-08 Marcel Goc 906 Minor
2011-12 Harry Zolnierczyk 908 Minor
2007-08 Kevyn Adams 910 Oldster
2008-09 Vladimir Sobotka 913 Minor
2008-09 Ryan Hollweg 918 Goon
2011-12 Cam Janssen 918 Goon
2007-08 Dan Boyle 919 Oldster
2011-12 Toby Petersen 919 Oldster
2010-11 Marco Scandella 923 Minor
2011-12 David Rundblad 923 Minor
2011-12 Tim Kennedy 924 Minor
2010-11 Jay Rosehill 925 M/G
2008-09 Brian Boyle 926 M/G
2008-09 Andreas Nodl 927 Minor
2008-09 Tom Preissing 928  
2010-11 Marc-Andre Bergeron 928  
2009-10 Andrew Peters 929 Goon
2007-08 Michael Nylander 930 Oldster
2011-12 Marty Reasoner 931 Oldster
2011-12 Jody Shelley 931 O/G
2011-12 Eric Boulton 931 O/G
2007-08 Patrick Thoresen 932 Minor
2008-09 Brandon Prust 932 M/G
2009-10 Rod Brind’Amour 932 Oldster
2007-08 Alexei Semenov 933 Minor
2008-09 Derek Meech 933 Minor
2009-10 Jonathan Cheechoo 933  
2010-11 Adam Mair 934 Oldster
2011-12 Tim Jackman 934  
2008-09 Martins Karsums 935 Minor
2010-11 Mike Mottau 935 Oldster
2007-08 Craig Adams 937 Oldster
2007-08 Wyatt Smith 937 Minor
2009-10 Mike Santorelli 937 Minor
2009-10 Donald Brashear 937 O/G
2010-11 Daniel Carcillo 937 Goon
2007-08 Jeff Tambellini 938 Minor
2010-11 Tyson Strachan 938 Minor
2007-08 Cody Bass 939 Minor
2009-10 Matt D’Agostini 939 Minor
2009-10 Chris Bourque 939 Minor
2009-10 Justin Abdelkader 939 Minor
2010-11 Mike Commodore 939 O/G
2011-12 Mattias Tedenby 939 Minor
2011-12 Colby Armstrong 939  
2011-12 Milan Jurcina 939  
2007-08 Maxim Afinogenov 940  
2007-08 Rick Rypien 940 M/G
2010-11 Tomas Vincour 940 Minor
2007-08 Derek Boogaard 941 M/G
2007-08 Duvie Westcott 941 Minor
2009-10 Raitis Ivanans 941 O/G
2008-09 Freddy Meyer 942 Minor
2008-09 Frantisek Kaberle 943 Oldster
2007-08 Colton Orr 944 M/G
2008-09 Colton Orr 944 M/G
2009-10 Nathan Paetsch 944 Minor
2010-11 Ales Kotalik 944 Oldster
2007-08 Steve Eminger 945 Minor
2007-08 Keith Yandle 945 Minor
2007-08 Junior Lessard 945 Minor
2007-08 Brad Richards 945  
2010-11 John McCarthy 945 Minor
2009-10 Shean Donovan 946 Oldster
2009-10 Derek Boogaard 946 M/G
2010-11 Kristian Huselius 946 Oldster
2011-12 Nate Thompson 946 Minor
2007-08 Brad Winchester 947 Minor
2007-08 Dallas Drake 947 Oldster
2007-08 Tim Jackman 947 M/G
2009-10 Paul Szczechura 947 Minor
2011-12 Paul Bissonnette 947 Minor
2008-09 Mike Brown 948 M/G
2008-09 Paul Stastny 948 Minor
2008-09 Wayne Primeau 948 Oldster
2009-10 Viktor Stalberg 948 Minor
2009-10 Ryan Shannon 948 Minor
2010-11 John Mitchell 948 Minor
2010-11 Tim Stapleton 948 Minor
2011-12 Mikael Backlund 948 Minor
2011-12 Marco Sturm 948 Oldster
2007-08 Matt Carle 949 Minor
2007-08 Alexander Semin 949 Minor
2010-11 Filip Kuba 949 Oldster
2011-12 Andrew Gordon 949 Minor
2011-12 Eric Fehr 949  

There are a couple of very strong players on this list. We’ve got a young Paul Stastny, a young Alex Semin, and Brad Richards in his prime. But several of the players who aren’t marked as “suspects” get out by virtue of the criteria not catching them rather than having a reason for not being there. Eric Fehr and Colby Armstrong were both returning from long injury layoffs, Tim Jackman really should be classified as a goon, and Jonathan Cheechoo got old at a young age.

On the flip side, 35 of the 48 players with a PDO better than 1050 (72.9%) were classified as “suspects”. That number is still very high, but it’s substantially lower than what we saw in the last group, and when we take a look at the list, the difference in player quality is obvious:

2009-10 Frazer McLaren 1097 Minor
2011-12 Eric Wellwood 1086 Minor
2008-09 Aaron Johnson 1078 Minor
2010-11 Mikkel Boedker 1078 Minor
2007-08 Wade Brookbank 1070 M/G
2009-10 Jeff Schultz 1069 Minor
2010-11 Darryl Boyce 1069 Minor
2008-09 Michael Ryder 1068  
2010-11 Jonathon Blum 1068 Minor
2007-08 Luc Bourdon 1066 Minor
2008-09 Alex Tanguay 1066  
2008-09 Derick Brassard 1063 Minor
2011-12 David Van Der Gulik 1063 Minor
2008-09 Krystofer Kolanos 1062 Minor
2010-11 Adam McQuaid 1062 Minor
2009-10 Alex Ovechkin 1061  
2010-11 Matt Halischuk 1061 Minor
2008-09 David Krejci 1060 Minor
2010-11 Ryan Whitney 1060  
2009-10 Mike Green 1058  
2008-09 Phil Kessel 1057 Minor
2008-09 Blake Wheeler 1057 Minor
2011-12 Steve Bernier 1057  
2007-08 David Perron 1056 Minor
2007-08 Ryan O’Byrne 1056 Minor
2007-08 Marian Gaborik 1056  
2011-12 Tyler Ennis 1056 Minor
2011-12 Chris Kelly 1056  
2011-12 Rich Peverley 1056  
2008-09 Matt Hunwick 1055 Minor
2008-09 Derek Boogaard 1054 M/G
2008-09 Patrik Berglund 1054 Minor
2009-10 Daniel Sedin 1054  
2009-10 Mark Fistric 1054 Minor
2011-12 Daniel Carcillo 1054 Goon
2007-08 Sergei Kostitsyn 1053 Minor
2008-09 Kent Huskins 1053 Minor
2010-11 Lauri Korpikoski 1053 Minor
2011-12 Jacob Josefson 1053 Minor
2009-10 Alexander Semin 1052  
2009-10 Eric Fehr 1052 Minor
2011-12 Paul Byron 1052 Minor
2011-12 Sidney Crosby 1052  
2007-08 Kent Huskins 1051 Minor
2007-08 Ville Koistinen 1051 Minor
2008-09 Marc Savard 1051 Oldster
2009-10 Manny Malhotra 1051  
2009-10 Brendan Morrison 1051 Oldster

This list does include its fair share of actual suspects, but we also see several of the best players in the game listed.

I don’t think that this proves anything conclusively, but I do think that it suggests that we shouldn’t always be quick to jump to the “luck” conclusion when a player is under of over performing (although with extreme results like these, luck is playing a part). Perhaps more importantly, I think that this kind of grouping of like players could be a useful tool for research going forward.

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