Which NHLers are Primed to Regress in 2021-22?
Whose stats were helped or hurt last season by sheer dumb luck?
When people ask me what the most important “advanced” stat for hockey fans to understand is, they usually expect me to say WAR or Corsi or expected goal percentage. But I always say shooting percentage and on-ice shooting percentage, because understanding how much the inherent randomness of the sport can mess with player and team results immediately makes you a smarter and more realistic fan. Last offseason, I showed just how significant the effect of these factors can be and how even a full season of results can prove to be totally unsustainable. While some players have the talent to beat the odds year after year, in the vast majority of cases an outlier season is just that.
With all that in mind, here are some players that fans should keep an eye on this season and expect some statistical regression from in 2021-22, whether it’s positive or negative. Stats are courtesy of NaturalStatTrick and TopDownHockey.
Individual Shooting Percentage
The most obvious way that percentage luck screws with a player’s results is if they go on a shooting bender where it seems like every shot they take ends up in the back of the net, or a slump where absolutely nothing is going in. These sudden glow-ups or dry spells can lead to huge changes in those players’ reputations - whether it’s a scorer who has evidently broken out or another who’s obviously washed up. Shooting percentage is a simple stat: it’s the percentage of the shots a player takes that end up in the back of the net.
The most obvious impact that inflated Sh% has is on a player’s goals, but it also affects Wins Above Replacement models like TopDownHockey’s WAR, EvolvingHockey’s xGAR, and Dom Luszczyszyn’s Game Score.
First of all, here’s the list of 500+ TOI players with a shooting percentage above 17% in 2020-21. Bolded are the guys who were also on the list in 2019-20:
In last year’s piece, I predicted based on previous results that 3 or 4 guys would repeat; the shortened season made this list longer and kept a few players on there. But nonetheless, historically you can only expect 3-5 of these guys to appear once again next season - the rest will have some level of regression.
No one’s interested in reading about how Valtteri Filppula is going to regress (other than the thousands who surely picked him in round one of their fantasy pools), so like last year I’m going to focus on some of the bigger names here.
(These players will likely see their goal rates drop in the 2021-22 season.)
The Brown hype was real this past season, as the former cap-dump-throw-in reached career-high 82-game-paces in both goals (30) and points (50). While Brown does contribute well at both ends of the ice, especially defensively, I wouldn’t bet on the finishing touch sticking around like it did in 2021.
Chychrun has established himself as a solid #1 defenceman despite being stuck in a bad situation in the desert. But last year’s Norris hype? Mostly the result of elevated shooting that will probably prove to be unsustainable. Is this the natural upward trajectory of a developing skill, or a one-time hot streak?
Nurse’s sudden reputational leap from “decent #3” to “elite #1” involved a lot of factors, but I think it’s fair to suggest that his scoring frenzy played a part in it. Never known for lighting the lamp, many of Nurse’s goals trickled through five-holes or took odd deflections. While his new-found knack for joining the rush might raise the expectation baseline, this looks like a one-time deal.
I’m a huge Tyler Toffoli fan, but I certainly did not see his scoring explosion last season coming. While he should continue being a strong scoring chance creator for Montréal, everything came together at the right time for the shot-heavy vet.
(These players will likely see a boost to their goal rates.)
Before last season, you could basically set your watch to Kyle Palmieri scoring piles of goals by picking corners in tight and making no mistake in the slot. A stretch of horrible bad luck at the worst possible time might have hurt his UFA value, but I think it’s safe to expect a bounceback.
The Kings desperately need goals, and Arvidsson has been adept at providing them in the past. A down-year hurt his trade value but in a big role in Los Angeles expect him to get back to normal (if not his absurd 48 goal 2018-19 pace).
Palmieri isn’t the only Islander due for a return to form. Parise has been a very efficient shooter throughout his career, and his goal-scoring touch probably hasn’t left him yet. Chasing a Cup on a dirt cheap deal on Long Island, keep an eye on him.
On-Ice Shooting Percentage
A little trickier to understand - but no less important - is on-ice shooting. That’s a team’s shooting percentage when a given player is on the ice. (Ex. When Sidney Crosby is on the ice, the Penguins score 2 goals on 10 shots - he has a 20% on-ice shooting percentage).
This is even more random than a player’s individual shooting percentage - while there are ways a player can elevate his linemates’ shooting through passing or screening, they are much murkier than the direct impact he has on his own finishing. On-ice shooting boosts a lot of stats, like assists, points, +/-, and even some WAR models like EvolvingHockey’s GAR and Dom Luszczyszyn’s Game Score, often leading to unsustainable results and unrealistic expectations.
Let’s start off with a look at every player with over 500 5v5 minutes played whose teams shot better than 11% with them on the ice:
Based on past results, the number of players on that list who will be on the list next season is likely 1 or 2. The three bolded players appeared on it last season, but of course the same short-season caveat applies.
So who’s due to see their point rates rise or fall thanks to regression?
Kapanen endeared himself quickly to Penguins fans with his speedy rush play and penchant for efficiently racking up points, especially next to Evgeni Malkin. But it wouldn’t surprise me at all to see Pittsburghers sour on him this season. His 2.8 5v5 points per 60 ranked 10th in the NHL, and that’s not sustainable at all.
Roope Hintz exploded for a 86 point pace this season, coming completely out of nowhere and apparently establishing himself as a legit #1 centre. As with many of these types of shocking break-outs, we might have to pump the brakes a bit. Hintz definitely has improved in each of his seasons so far, but the two-way centre’s totals are likely inflated.
This is a real interesting one. McCann is primed to receive a more prominent role in Seattle, possibly as the team’s #1 centre. And he certainly performed very well for the Penguins last season in a third line role, scoring at a 61 point pace despite low minutes. These factors combined have many people casting him as the Kraken’s version of William Karlsson, but based on his cartoonishly inflated on-ice numbers I think that those factors will likely cancel out: bigger minutes with lower scoring rates.
I would just like good things to happen for Dylan Larkin, because on top of playing for those crummy Wings teams in the past few years he had to struggle through an awful on-ice shooting slump in 2021. Don’t worry about the 43 point pace last year, he’s still a real solid player.
Forsberg and the Preds had better hope that this slump doesn’t stick around another year, since the pending UFA might be the best trade chip on the Nashville roster and this will be the chance for both sides to cash in. Strong powerplay production kept his totals out of the basement, but expect his 5v5 stats to improve.
The eternally-on-the-trade-block Jake DeBrusk is a bit unfairly maligned in my opinion, and a 28 point pace season in 2020-21 certainly didn’t help things. Previously he had hovered around 45-50 points, and I think he could surprise some people this season based on the absurdly low stock he has right now.