If you have talked to anyone who has dabbled with in-depth hockey stats before, they will probably tell you that shots are the most debated and controversial topic among statisticans and regular bloggers. Most hockey statisticians use simple shots for/against to judge how effective certain players and teams are at controlling the pace of play, which usually translates to a team winning more often than not. Despite numerous evidence showing that controlling the shot battle usually leads to more victories, there have been detractors to this theory. The usual argument against shots being a predictor of success is that there are some teams who are better at controlling "shots of higher quality" than others. In theory, this makes a lot of sense because shot that comes from close in the slot has a better chance of being a goal than a harmless looking wrister from a weak angle. Thus, the scoring chance project was launched last season where numerous bloggers tracked scoring chances for their favorite teams, myself included. This process has been explained numerous times but if you want a refresher of how we tracked chances, go here.
There have been at least 18 individual team seasons tracked over the last few years and Eric T. of Broad Street Hockey and NHL Numbers discovered a couple months ago that the difference between shot differential and scoring chance differential is minimal. Tracking scoring chances showed us nothing that simple shot data couldn't, so the claim has been made that tracking scoring chances is unnecessary and not more of a predictor of future success. On a team level, I agree but I am still believe that scoring chances have some value, but on an individual level rather than a team level.
Using scoring chance differential doesn't prove to be anymore useful than using shot data, but most fans will tell you that a certain player is better at creating scoring chances than another. These opinions are likely subjective and don't mean much at face value but I've always felt the same way. Whenever I watch a game, I notice that there are some players who are better at getting shots off from dangerous scoring areas and those players could have more value than others. The problems with this belief is not knowing how much of a difference there is between a scoring chance and a regular shot on goal in the long run. You also have to wonder if the number of scoring chances a player records in a year is sustainable over the course of multiple seasons or not.
To see how much of a difference shot location makes for an individual player (if any at all), we can look at where each player shot the puck in a given season and see how many of his shots came from within a dangerous scoring area. This could show us how effective a certain player is at creating offense or how more likely he is to score than a player who is less effective at getting into scoring areas. With help from Greg Sinclair's Super Shot Search web site, I looked at every shot each Carolina player last season and determined whether or not it was a scoring chance. After that, I used this data to see how effective each player was at creating scoring chances.
A closer look at the data is coming after the jump.
My normal preference is to look primarily at even strength data since most of the game occurs there but we are going to start things off here by looking at all situations and then looking at even strength play alone. Were there any players on the Hurricanes last year who were vastly better at creating scoring chances than others? Somewhat.
Chance% = Percentage of shots that were scoring chances, Shooting% = Shooting percentage on scoring chances, Chance/Game = Chances per game, Chance/60 = Scoring chances per 60 minutes.
One thing that sticks out to me here is how good Jeff Skinner is at creating scoring chances compared to the rest of the team. He is the only player to record more than two scoring chances per game and almost 65% of his shots came from a dangerous scoring area. Skinner really took his game to another level last season as he was winning the possession battle at a much higher rate and creating a lot more offense than his teammates. I can only imagine what his numbers could have looked like if his season wasn't derailed by the concussion he sustained in December. Hell, he was creating more chances at a higher rate than Eric Staal, which is surprising when you consider how often Staal shoots the puck.
Speaking of which, the amount of scoring chances Staal was creating was somewhat low compared to some of Carolina's top forwards. He ranked lower than Skinner, Sutter, Tlusty, Ruutu and LaRose in terms of the percentage of shots he took being scoring chances and he was behind Skinner, Ruutu and LaRose in scoring chances per 60 minutes. I would expect Staal to have fewer scoring chances on net because he is a center and centers normally do not shoot as much as someone playing on the wing, but Staal is very different because he does shoot the puck a lot. Staal is always on ice for a lot of chances but according to the data here, he doesn't create as many as some of the wingers on here do. That isn't to say that Staal doesn't play a role in creating chances because as a center, he is the one setting most of them up and his scoring chance differential numbers indicate that he is one of the players who drives possession on this team.
Another center who seems to not get many chacnes on net is Jussi Jokinen and he is someone who really didn't shoot the puck much at all last season. It makes sense when you think about it, though. Jokinen primarily played center this year and he spent most of his ice time with the likes of Jeff Skinner, Tuomo Ruutu and Chad LaRose, three guys who shoot the puck a lot. This likely means that Jokinen was the guy setting up most of those chances but he didn't get that many opportunities to score because he didn't shoot the puck that much at all. A notable observation with Jokinen here is that a good amount of the shots he took were scoring chances and he converted on 16.9% of the scored chances that came off his stick. I'm not sure how sustainable that is since I don't know what a normal scoring chance shooting percentage looks like, but it certainly wouldn't hurt Jokinen to shoot the puck more since he is a decent finisher and we've seen him display some goal-scoring talent in years past.
Chad LaRose is often criticized for "taking too many shots from far away" and not creating enough chances but the data here debunks that rumor. Only Jeff Skinner created more scoring chances relative to his ice time and only three players had a higher percentage of shots that were scoring chances. Oh, and LaRose also converted on 16.4%, so he showed a decent amount of finishing ability, too. Combine this with the fact that LaRose was one of the team's better players at driving possession last season, and it is hard to say that he wasn't a contributing member to the top-six. If only he was a better puck-handler.
Tuomo Ruutu is an interesting case here. He created a good amount of offense and was better than most of the other Carolina forwards at getting into the dirty areas to create chances but he came out on the negative side of the scope when it came to driving the play forward. Why is this the case? Because Ruutu did not play well defensively last year and almost everything he did in the other team's end was negated by his flaws at the other end of the rink. As an offensive threat, Ruutu is one of the team's best players and that is evidenced here, but as an all-around talent, he has a lot of holes.
I am expecting Patrick Dwyer's point total to increase next season. He won't have a breakout season but he should have at least more than five goals and 12 points. Half of the shots he took were scoring chances and he was creating 3 chances for every 60 minutes he was on the ice, which isn't bad when you consider that he was used heavily in a defensive role last season. Also, Dwyer doesn't have that great of and offensive skillset but a shooting percentage of 6.7% isn't going to stay that low forever. I think we could see his boxcar numbers improve a little bit next season assuming that he stays in the top-nine, which is up in the air at this point. Still, Dwyer had more chances per 60 minutes than most of the bottom-six and could have a higher goal total if a few more bounces go this way. One thing I am skeptical about is how much Dwyer relied on Brandon Sutter to create offense. Those two were attached at the hip last season and I suspect that Sutter was the one driving things on that line given his stronger overall numbers.
Even strength play tells a similar story to the overall numbers but a couple things worth pointing out here are Staal's weak shooting percentage on scoring chances and how much Ruutu's numbers dropped compared to the last table. I can't really explain Staal's shooting percentage other than saying it might be just poor luck because his numbers at even strength are similar to his overall numbers. Ruutu's number's, however, took a big drop downward and this is mainly because he did a good chunk of his damage on the powerplay. I mentioned earlier that Ruutu is terrific as an offensive weapon but his play in all three zones was severely lacking and this somewhat proves it. This also makes me a little weary about Ruutu's future success since he did a lot of his damage on the powerplay rather than even strength.
Another observation here is that Drayson Bowman was very good at creating chances during his time in Carolina. I think he is somewhat of a dark horse to make the team out of camp in this coming season because he was also one of the team's better players at driving the play forward and can work on just about any line. Jiri Tlusty was also good at creating chances during five-on-five play and nearly 70% of the shots Skinner took were in the scoring chance area, so it shouldn't surprise anyone that he was the team's leading scorer at even strength. Most of Jokinen's shots were scoring chances, as well but again, he didn't shoot the puck as much. I wonder if this will change if he moves to wing this season.
I am going to need to collect a few seasons worth of data before I can make any conclusions out of this, but something that can be said from the data here is that those who create more chances are likely to score more than others. All but one of the team's top scorers registered scoring chances on at least 55% of the shots they took, the only exception being Tim Brent, who scored on 1/3 of the shots he took (somehow). This is something that is somewhat common knowledge because creating more chances usually leads to more goals but we already know that scoring chances don't tell us anything that simple shot data can not, so does a study like this do anything to predict future success? At the team level, no because it doesn't indicate whether or not a player is driving possession which usually leads to more wins. However, I do think that this shows some value on the individual level if a team is looking for a goal-scorer or an offensive threat. The data here shows that a player who creates more chances is likely going to score more than a player who does not, so finding a player who is able to create chances on most of the shots he takes could prove to be very useful for a GM looking for a player to fill a top six role.
The problem with this method is that it doesn't tell you the whole story (i.e. their performance at the other end of the rink) nor does it show the overall value of a player, but I think it's something that can be taken into account if you're looking to add a player through free agency. There is no definitive stat in hockey but there are a lot of stats that can be useful as a way to evaluate a player, and this very well could be one to add to the list. What needs to be done is measure this stat on a league-wide basis over multiple years to see if there is any consistency or if the percent of chances a player records in a year is completely random.