Which Players are Primed for an Upward Percentage Regression in 2020-21?
Shooting luck goes both ways - who was unlucky last year?
Yesterday I took a look at a number of players whose 2019-20 stats were likely inflated by unsustainable percentage luck. These guys had individual or on-ice shooting percentage numbers that were wildly out of whack with their previous results, to the extent that it would be foolish to expect them to remain steady this year. Today I’m doing the opposite, identifying the poor souls who pulled the short straw last season either by getting snakebitten themselves or watching their linemates miss prime opportunities. While these players aren’t guaranteed to see their point totals shoot back up to normal, it is at least probable that they’ll have to deal with a lot fewer misses (and overbearing media narratives about “struggles”) this time around.
Percentage stats are from NaturalStatTrick, goals above expected are from EvolvingHockey.
When I looked at the highest shooters, it was worthwhile to post a list of every player over 17% to get a sense of who was going to regress. That’s not the case here because - shocker - it’s a lot easier to shoot really badly than it is to shoot really well. Most of the names in the bottom thirty are either fringe players, rookies, or bottom sixers. On top of that, if you’re a C-tier rookie or call-up who has the misfortune of shooting 3%, a lot of the time you’re probably not going to be seeing a lot of NHL time in the near future. Which makes it especially interesting when a more prominent player features on the list. Such as…
Seguin has scored many goals in his time, including 73 in 2018 and 2019 combined. But last season he really didn’t - his 20 goal pace in 2020 was his lowest since his rookie season a decade ago. There were some underlying reasons for this, as his expected goals per 82 games fell from 36 to 27. Seguin, historically a volume shooter (only Alex Ovechkin and Nathan MacKinnon have taken more shots since 2016) was on pace to take 40 fewer shots than he did in each of the previous two seasons. But this reduction in scoring chances was compounded by a 3 point drop in shooting percentage. He would have hovered near 30 again if it hadn’t been.
Seguin’s old draft rival had an eerily similar descent this season, although in Hall’s case there were actual financial consequences. Hall was never an amazing goal scorer save for his MVP season and not typically very efficient either. But this was an especially unfortunate showing and not one I would bet on him replicating.
Kase now knows what it’s like to be two different types of analytical darling: first he got to be the insanely-efficient-5v5-scoring-in-small-minutes type, and this season he got to be the great-underlying-numbers-but-no-puck-luck type. Bruins fans should be aware that the guy they paid a 1st for should not be expected to struggle to this extent this season.
Skinner has seen it all: the insane contract year shooting bump and the upsetting next-year bad luck. Many of his struggles this season were due to deployment; he went from top line minutes with Jack Eichel to spending most of his time with Vladimir Sobotka and Marcus Johansson. But his finishing suffered as well, and in a regular season he would have been closer to 20 goals. That being said, there’s little indication that Sabres coach Ralph Krueger is any more inclined to give his $9M sniper any opportunities this season, so maybe betting on a major return to form would be a bad bet.
Anderson’s injury-shortened season was a catastrophe, as he scored one goal in 26 games, shooting only 1.6%. It will probably not surprise you to know that this is a far cry from his previous goal scoring numbers and he should be expected to at least approximate his earlier performance.
As I mentioned in the last article, on-ice shooting is even more subject to randomness because it’s further out of the player’s control. This has major effects on plenty of stats, and deflates players’ results in terms of assists, points, plus-minus, and EvolvingWild’s WAR model. On-ice percentages also impact the eye test, not only because points create confirmation bias but because there’s nothing our eye responds to and our brain remembers more than goals going in or not going in at either end of the ice.
Here are some guys who saw significant drops in on-ice finishing that should bounce back at least somewhat this season.
It was tough going for Kessel in his first season with the Arizona Coyotes. His playdriving impact at 5v5 did decrease dramatically, as did the quality of teammates he was playing with, so diminished point totals were expected. But his 14 goal, 38 point season was far lower than anybody anticipated, in large part because the Coyotes shot less than 6% at 5v5 with him on the ice.
Athanasiou went from 30-goal golden boy to pricey deadline acquisition to unqualified RFA to “project signing” in the span of a year and a half, and part of that should probably be chalked up to a massive drop in on-ice shooting. Athanasiou matched his awful on-ice shooting with literally the worst on-ice goaltending in the NHL (0.870) to finish second-last in PDO in the league. The goals might not come in bunches in LA but some bounceback is easily conceivable.
I didn’t want to include Seguin on this list twice but I kind of had to. Seguin, Jamie Benn, and Alex Radulov all saw significant drops in on-ice shooting but Seguin’s was the most dramatic by a strong margin. Expect all three of those players to see a boost in points this season from sheer regression alone.
Gardiner, like Kase, saw his analytical darling status sour this season. His deal with the Hurricanes was supposed to be a steal but he was such a disappointment that they felt the need to spend a 1st round pick on Brady Skjei. How much of that was actually his fault though? His underlying numbers did take a hit compared to the previous season, but it absolutely did not help that the Canes simply did not finish their chances when he was on the ice. Even worse, his on-ice save percentage was also awful, leaving him with a brutal -24 +/-. If given the chance to rebound, I expect at some solid improvement.
Trouba was not good in 2019-20, but he also had some bad luck. While it’s probably not fair to expect Winnipeg-esque elevated on-ice finishing numbers from him moving forward, that measley 6.7% on-ice shooting percentage probably had very little to do with him.
It’s worth remembering that (good) regression near the mean with these players should be expected because it’s the most likely outcome, but in a shortened season we could see some really wild stuff. Some of these guys might see their percentages drop even more or get ridiculously inflated due purely to puck luck. Many of these players legitimately did perform worse in 2019-20 than they had previously, and bad luck should not be used to fully paper over that. But I think it is important to be aware of these types of stats to counteract the types of grand narratives that come about when a player “falls off a cliff” in terms of point totals or plus-minus or even the eye test.
There are other players who saw more moderate decreases in individual or on-ice shooting that should expect improvement, like Johnny Gaudreau, Timo Meier, and John Klingberg. What I would recommend generally to hockey fans is to keep an eye on these types of numbers, which can be found for free at NaturalStatTrick. Even by just considering the impact of luck on player results you will be significantly better-informed than if you go by counting stats alone.