Are There Players Who Drive Shot Quality

Scott Reynolds
October 04 2012 08:45AM

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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#1 Kent Wilson
October 04 2012, 10:54AM
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David Johnson (who shall arrive in the comments any moment) will ahve something to say on this.

I believe Tyler has done some work in this area as well. Eric's own look at the effect of linematesa has implications here as well.

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#2 David Johnson
October 04 2012, 12:46PM
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@Kent Wilson

How did you guess that I'd arrive so quickly. To me the evidence is clear that players can drive shooting percentages (and probably suppress opposition shooting percentages but far more difficult to show/prove) but I am tired of the debate (and to be honest, somewhat dismayed that there is still a debate going on).

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#3 David Johnson
October 04 2012, 01:29PM
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@Kent Wilson

"Perhaps more importantly, I think that this kind of grouping of like players could be a useful tool for research going forward."

I will say this though since the subject of "grouping" came up. Over the past 5 seasons there have been 189 forwards with 2000 5v5close zone start adjusted minutes. The top 10 in on-ice shooting percentage are:

Alex Tanguay Jonathon Toews Henrik Sedin Sidney Crosby Pavel Datsyuk Steven Stamkos Nathan Horton Andrei Kostitsyn Marian Gaborik Alex Ovechkin

The bottom 10 are:

Daniel Winnik Samuel Pahlsson Travis Moen Jerred Smithson Martin Hanzal Tom Kostopoulos Marty Reasoner Gregory Campbell Sean Bergenheim Vernon Fiddler

All of the top 10 have 5 year 5v5close zone start adjusted save percentages of 11.26% or better and the bottom 10 are 7.07% or worse. Top 10 are considered very good or elite offensive players while the bottom 10 are primarily defensive third line players. To me the only question is how much of shooting percentage is talent and how much is playing style.

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#4 Kent Wilson
October 04 2012, 04:14PM
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@David Johnson

I think the debate is only now getting interesting.

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#5 David Johnson
October 04 2012, 05:19PM
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@Kent Wilson

Sadly, that's because only now are people actually becoming open to the idea. For me the debate is over. The evidence has been around for a couple years, and not just from me. Two years ago Tom Awad concluded (http://www.puckprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=625) the following:

"The unmistakable conclusions from this table? Outshooting, out-qualitying and out-finishing all contribute to why Good Players dominate their opponents. Shot Quality only represents a small fraction of this advantage; outshooting and outfinishing are the largest contributors to good players' +/-. This means that judging players uniquely by Corsi or Delta will be flawed: some good players are good puck controllers but poor finishers (Ryan Clowe, Scott Gomez), while others are good finishers but poor puck controllers (Ilya Kovalchuk, Nathan Horton). Needless to say, some will excel at both (Alexander Ovechkin, Daniel Sedin, Corey Perry)."

(Shot quality=shot location, out-finishing=shooting percentage)

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#6 Eric T.
October 04 2012, 11:36PM
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@David Johnson

Sadly, that's because only now are people actually becoming open to the idea [that players can drive shooting percentage].

I think you misrepresent things here.

Hawerchuk laid out the argument against focusing on shooting percentages a year ago (http://www.arcticicehockey.com/2011/10/27/2517739/with-apologies-to-the-weakerthans-i-hate-shot-quality )

Now I'm not rejecting finishing and defensive/goaltending talent - they all exist. But I'd like to move past shot quality as such a frequent focus of analysis because I don't think it's going to return much for all of the effort. [...] If the Edmonton Oilers called you up and offered you their general manager job, what would be your first piece of advice? Would you tell them to chase after players who've had high on-ice shooting percentages over the last few years or who've exceeded their expected shooting percentages given their shot locations? I think you know the answer. Even though we're nowhere near the level of confidence that baseball analysts have come to, hockey analysis has turned up value in a number of places. There are dozens of things an NHL team should chase before they start looking for finishing talent.

He's not saying players can't drive shooting percentages; he's saying it's not the majority of what drives team outcomes and not the place to look if you're trying to find value.

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#8 David Johnson
October 05 2012, 05:10AM
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@Scott Reynolds

Yes, there may be more to learn about shot quality but in my mind the debate regarding whether it exists (it does) and whether it is significant enough to want/need to consider in player evaluation (it is) is over.

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#9 Cam Charron
October 05 2012, 05:10AM
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Frazer McLaren was a WHL supergoon.

Never thought he'd turn into the PDO record-holder.

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#10 overpass
October 09 2012, 06:42PM
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@Eric T.

If shot quality is real but takes some time to manifest, it still has value to analysis.

First, using available data for past seasons, we can estimate the distribution of shot quality talent - both for established NHL players and among players trying to break into the NHL. Second, available statistics and scouting could be used to estimate where a given player's true talent lies within that distribution. This would move beyond a simple shot-based analysis where all players are assumed to have equal shot quality talent.

We outsiders could use information like the amount of power play time a player receives to inform estimate of his shot quality talent. For insiders and decision makers for whom power play time is not exogenous, they would presumably have more scouting-based information to inform the estimate.

The downside of failing to consider shot quality talent when "trying to find value" is that you will be more likely to acquire players with below-average shot quality talent. This follows if other teams rate players on a combination of outshooting ability and shot quality ability and you select only for outshooting ability.

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