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The Statistic for the Rest of Us

There is a lot to learn about advanced statistics such as Corsi, Fenwick, PDO and such. In the meantime let's hear it for the under-appreciated shooting percentage stat, a surprisingly accurate indicator of individual offensive success.

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Quick, what do Jeff Skinner's rookie campaign and his 2013-2014 season have in common? If you guessed that he had a shooting percentage above his NHL career average, you win the prize. Skinner has a career shooting percentage of 10.5%. During his rookie year he shot at a 14.4% rate.  When he next potted in excess of 30 goals, he was shooting at a rate of 12%, still a good 1.5% above his mean. What about Eric Staal's two best scoring years? Yup, you guessed it. His shooting percentage was well above his career average too.

When conducting research into shooting percentage it is easy to make some assumptions and some generalizations. They sometimes just don't hold water.  However, increases in shooting % generally lead to improved offensive years. More specifically, when a player shoots above his career average, he tends to have a year of high offensive output. Conversely, when players shoot below their career average, their offensive output can be characterized as "disappointing". Another generalization is that players that shoot over the average league shooting percentage tend to be better scorers. There are also some other takeaways that can be inferred from this statistic, but more on that later. Note that when calculating the statistics used in this article, the strike shortened year was omitted as were partial years with 25 or less games played.

Skinner and Players like Skinner

Getting back to young Jeff, much can be concluded about the "what", but not as much about the "why". That is more based on educated guesswork. Consider a couple of extrapolations. Last year his shooting percentage was a dismal 7.7%. For the last two years, the league average was about 9.1% (which includes the historically lower percentages of the blueliners). If Skinner merely returns to his average, he likely scores 25 goals. With his lifetime assists to goals ratio of .88, one can estimate that Jeff ends up with around 47 points. That is a significant improvement over last season's 31 points. Another important and related statistic is the number of shots taken. Simply put, scorers need to be taking a lot of shots. Skinner's NHL average in this area is 234. In 2013-14, he took 275 shots and, of course, he scored 33 goals that year. His rookie year he only took 215 shots but some of that can probably be attributed to "new kid" nerves and, frankly, he was making the most of his high quality opportunities.

What about those guys that would be considered comparable to Jeff Skinner? Again, normalizing for partial years and extracting the strike shortened season, the same assumptions seem to hold true for them.  Consider these three players: Tyler Seguin, Logan Couture, and Kyle Turris.  All 1st round draft picks, all in the league about the same amount of time, and all considered goal scorers.  Here are the comparisons:

First, let's look at Tyler Seguin. He's got a career shooting % of 11.7% and averages 237 shots per season. His best years were 2013-14 and 2014-15 when he had 84 points, a shooting percentage (SH%) of 12.6% and 77 points with a SH% of 13.2% respectively. Logan Couture's lifetime average is 11.7% with an average of 249 shots per season. His 2nd and 3rd best scoring years had him shooting at nearly a full percentage point above his career average. In 2013-14, shooting well below his average led to his lowest goal scoring output (23). Last year was one of those outliers where he shot below his career average (10.3%) but still saw him put up a career best 67 points. Those point totals did include a higher proportion of assists however. Lastly, Kyle Turris, historically not a high volume shooter, exceeded his average shots per season in the last two years by nearly 60 shots (215 vs. 158). Accompanying this his shooting percentages of 12.1% and 11.2% easily bested his 10.2% career average. His point totals were clear beneficiaries at 58 and 64 points in those last two years. In each case these young scorers seem to confirm that an improved shooting % leads to better scoring performances.

Eric Staal and Veteran Scorers

Does this same pattern hold true for more veteran scorers? The research does indeed show a similar correlation.  Using the Eric Staal examples mentioned above, he has a SH% of 10.9%. His best years he shot 16.1% and 12.3% scoring 100 and 82 points respectively. Last year he underperformed in this category with a 9.4% rate. If Staal performed at his career average and using the same extrapolation that was used with Skinner earlier, he scores around 64 points. To add to last year's woes for Eric, he shot nearly 30 less shots than his career average of 272.

What about players comparable to Staal? Two of Rick Nash's three best offensive years had him shooting at a 15.2% and 13.8% clip, well above his career 12.5% mark. Corey Perry, a career 13.4% shooter, posts 98 and 82 point seasons when he shoots at a rate of 17.2% and 15.4%, well over his 13.4% average. Similarly, Joe Pavelski's two best offensive seasons came when he shot an incredible 18.2% and 14.2% (79 and 70 points). Again, this was well above his lifetime NHL average of 11.5%. To reiterate, players, especially goal scorers, who exceed their historical shooting percentage averages tend to have excellent overall offensive years.

There are, of course, the Jiri Hudler's of the world whom are emblematic of the SH%/scoring relationship. This past year he had one of his best, shooting at an incredible 19.6% clip, scoring 76 points. Sporting a 15.1% career average, Hudler is clearly either a sharp-shooter or a "right place/right time" kind of player. Another mold breaker is Alex Ovechkin. He led the league with nearly 400 shots, scored 53 goals, while sporting an impressive career SH% of 12.4%. The other "superstars" like Crosby (14.4%), Malkin (12.8%), and Getzlaf (12.4%) all exceed league averages by a large percentage.

Without a doubt, there are those scorers, often higher volume shooters, where this relationship is more tenuous. Take Henrik Zetterberg for example. In a number of years he has shot well below not just his personal career shooting percentage but also below league average and still posted 70, 80, 69, and 66 point seasons. Just this past year Claude Giroux had a pretty successful 73 point season shooting at 9%. Even Pavel Datsyuk is a bit of a riddle with his career SH% of 14.4%, but his two best years he shot below his career average at 11.7% and 12.9% (hitting 97 points in both of those years). He was, however, well above league averages.

Tying it All Together

The shooting percentage statistic seems to be a pretty fair indicator of individual success but less a measure of team success.  Take the Hurricanes two most recent post-season years. During the Cup run they had the second highest shooting percentage in the league at 11.2% while the league was averaging 10.3%. However during the 2008-09 season the Canes shot a mere 8.8% vs. a league average of 9.6% (good enough for 25th in the league). Yet, in the last 10 years the Hurricane's team shooting percentage has only been in the NHL's top 10 twice, the previously mentioned Cup year and 2009-10 when the Canes were 10th. Could there be a correlation to team success there?

Another interesting point is that SH% seem to be dropping. League average in 2005-06 was 10.3%. Last year it was 9.1%. The years in between have shown a steady decline. There are a variety of reasons why this may be happening.  Defensemen are better skaters. They are faster and better athletes. In fact, the overall athletic ability of all of the players has improved. Goalies are bigger and more technically sound. And, yes, there is a bit more obstructing, clutching, and grabbing that is being overlooked.

So what does all of this mean for the Carolina Hurricanes in 2015-16? Shooting percentage can indicate a lot of things: the quality of the chance, the accuracy of the shot, the movement of the puck, the quality of the playmakers, and the overall creativity of the team. If the shooting percentage is high (or higher than last year), it likely indicates an improvement in one or more (or all) of those things. Why does Jiri Tlusty sport a 13% shooting %? He gets in good shooting position and has an accurate, quick shot. Can Chris Terry maintain his career 14.1% rate? Will that lead to overall higher point totals for him? He can and it will if he continues to get into shooting lanes while getting off his accurate, rocket of a shot.

Here is one final set of thoughts to ponder. If Jeff Skinner and Eric Staal merely performed up to their historic career shooting percentages, they would have posted an additional 26 points between them. If Riley Nash hits his career average, he's a 30-35 point player. More importantly if Jordan Staal comes close to his career shooting % rate, he's at or around the 50 point mark. Those performances alone won't likely get the Canes into the playoffs, but it will make a big difference. Add in moderate improvements from Rask, Lindholm plus a full year of Nestrasil and this team can be offensively competitive. In the best Jim Mora voice that can be mustered, no promises were made about "Playoffs".