Projections for Rick Nash on the Rangers

Eric T.
July 30 2012 07:23AM

Rick Nash
By 5of7 (Rick Nash), via Wikimedia Commons

Corey has already laid out some Rick Nash facts. Now that we know where he'll be playing next year, I'm going to take a stab at projecting how his production might change if he is on a line with Brad Richards. 

To do that, I'll make estimates at how much the following factors might adjust his performance up or down from last year:

  • How much more (or less) ice time will he get? (Affects goals and assists)
  • How many more (or fewer) shots will his new line generate? (Affects goals and assists)
  • How did last year's shooting percentage compare to his established career performance? (Affects goals)
  • How should we expect his new linemates to affect his shooting percentage? (Affects goals)
  • How much better (or worse) are his new linemates' shooting percentages? (Affects assists)
  • How will his power play production change? (Affects goals and assists)

Obviously this will require some guesswork, and I'm not arguing that the season will play out exactly according to my arithmetic, but working through the results in this manner gives us a good baseline expectation for what is reasonable and for how important each of these factors is. Let's see where it takes us.

The factors

Ice time: Last year, Nash got 14:20 of 5v5 ice time per game. Richards got 15:13 last year, so if Nash gets boosted to that, we can expect a ~6% increase in his 5v5 production from ice time. 

Shot rate: Last year, Nash's team got 46.9% of the shots when he was on the ice. The Rangers got 49.1% with Richards on the ice, so we can expect a ~5% increase over last year's 5v5 production from being on a line that generates more shots. (Note: there's no particular reason to assume Nash's presence will raise this number, since as Corey has shown, he hasn't appreciably improved his linemates' shot differential in the past.)

Shooting percentage regression: Last year, Nash scored on 7.3% of his unblocked shots at 5v5, continuing a steady decline in recent years from 10.5% to 9.3% to 8.4% to 7.3%. Some of this might be due to aging, but a significant fraction is likely just bad luck; let's assume his true talent at this point in his career is something like 8.5%.

Linemates impact on his shooting percentage: Richards is one of the elite playmakers in the league, the rare player who appears to boost his linemates' shooting by 1%. That assessment didn't include missed shots; factoring those in, the impact is about 0.7%. If we assume Nash will be with Richards most of the year, we might put him at about 9% -- good for almost a 25% boost on his 5v5 goals over last year.

Linemates shooting percentage: Nash's teammates shot 8.4% last year when he was on the ice, and the Rangers shot 8.7% when Richards was on the ice. That difference might be good for a ~3% increase on Nash's assist total.

Overall at 5v5, last year Nash had 21 goals and 16 assists. With all of these factors working in his favor, we might project a total for the coming year of something like 29 goals and 18 assists. Most of these gains come from a projected improvement in the notoriously variable shooting percentage, but a small boost comes from just playing on a better team.

The power play is even more fickle, but if his 3:20 of 5v4 ice time per game goes up to the 3:53 that Richards got last year, that's a ~16% increase. His shooting percentage at 5v4 the last two years has been terrible (4/53 and 5/54, and we're excluding missed shots now), as has his team's shooting percentage with him on the ice (8.59% and 8.53%). But if we assume that is just variance, we might guess that he'll rebound to his career ~13% 5v4 shooting and his teammates will also shoot better. Between the extra power play time and the improved shooting, we might see his 4 goals and 11 assists last year become 8 and 15 this year.

Finally, we need to factor in his health. Nash played 82 games last year, but it was just the first time in his career. He's averaged about 78 games per season in recent years, so let's shave 5% off for missed time.

The results

We're left with projections of 35 goals and 31 assists in 78 games played. That might be a bit optimistic, since it assumes his ice time increases significantly and some troublesome trends in shooting percentage at both 5v5 and 5v4 reverse themselves, but it's a believable figure.

Since every step of this process involved some assumptions and guesses, let's look at how the answer would change if any given one of those assumptions turns out to be wrong:

  • Same ice time per game as last year instead of what Richards got: 33 G, 28 A
  • Rangers get 51% of shots with Nash on ice instead of 49%: 36 G, 32 A
  • Nash shoots 8% at 5v5 (including missed shots) instead of 9% (still up from last year's 7.3%): 32 G, 31 A
  • Nash stays healthy for 82 games instead of 78: 37 G, 33 A
  • Nash continues to underperform on the power play: 32 G, 28 A

Of course, all of this assumes there's no significant talent decline this year. Given his age, there will probably be a small decline, but for the most part, it seems reasonable to put him at around 65 points.

I've seen people argue that playing with a good team for the first time will make him an 80-point player, but I don't see how to get to those numbers without some extremely optimistic assumptions -- he'd have to match the best shooting percentage of his career and turn a line that got 49% of the shots last year into one that gets 55% this year. It's possible, but it's certainly not the midpoint of the possible range, which is what a projection is meant to capture.

So what do we learn from this exercise? Nash had 67, 66, and 59 points the last three years in Columbus, but we project that playing with an elite playmaker on a top team will only get him to 65 points in the coming year. In the end, team effects turn out to be small -- his line might push play forwards 5% more, but that's negligible when his shooting percentage is down 44% from its peak.

In other words, players make the team good, not the other way around.

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Eric T. writes for NHL Numbers and Broad Street Hockey. His work generally focuses on analytical investigations and covers all phases of the game. You can find him on Twitter as @BSH_EricT.