Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Out of Time: Put the biscuit in the basket

[NOTE: I greatly apologize for the delays in getting this series moving along.  I'm in my final quarter at school, and the classload is terribly time-consuming.  I graduate in a few weeks, and hopefully the floodgates will really open after that point.  Until then, enjoy this piece.]

There are many ways in which one can break down a team and their season.  Being a little late to the "season in review" dance, I'll point out that the crew at The Cannon has done a bang-up (pun intended?) job on their exit interviews - which puts me in the position of not wanting to duplicate efforts.  Go read their work...good stuff.

Thus, my mind wanders away from the individual players to larger team issues.  At the risk of over-simplifying the game, I'm going to suggest that there were two overarching issues that the Columbus Blue Jackets absolutely MUST address in the 2011 offseason:
  1. They need to score more goals. 
  2. They need to stop other teams from scoring on them.  
Yeah, I told you this was simplistic.  Such is life when you finish in 13th place in the Western Conference.  When your team is (league-wide) 25th in goals scored for and 26th in goals scored against , however, you're not going to get far when only the top 16 teams make the playoffs.

I'm going to tackle the goals scored issue first, because I sense this issue to be a little counter-cultural for the Blue Jackets fanbase.  So much ire has focussed on the goalies and defensemen that there's little oxygen left to talk about forwards and, more importantly, scoring.  But the numbers don't lie: The scoring basically was just as bad as the defense this past year.  So let's dig in and see what we can divine.

The first thing I think is appropriate in such an investigation is the development of a baseline.  Comparing the Blue Jackets against themselves with no comparison to the rest of the National Hockey League is pointless in my book.  We need to understand what's commonly acceptable, what's good and what's elite.  We need to get an understanding of what's playoff caliber...and what won't do the job.

With a lot of help from En4cer45 (who harvested the stats for me, nice guy that he is), I'd like to present to you some team stats from the 2010-11 regular season.  The three main categories are 1) Goals, 2) Shots recorded and 3) Shooting Percentage.  Goals and shots are fairly self-explanatory, but let's make sure everyone's on the same page with shooting percentage.  About.com defines the shooting percentage calculation as "[Dividing] the number of goals scored by the number of shots taken."  Again, this is pretty simple stuff, so don't be intimidated by the numbers.

There's also an argument that shots recorded aren't as valid as "scoring chances".  My only response to that is that the NHL tracks shots, subjective as they may be.

With that out of the way, check out the NHL's shooting and scoring tallies for 2010-11:

The first big takeaway is perhaps the simplest of all.  If you score more, you're more likely to do well in the standings (and playoff qualifications).  Of the top ten scoring teams in the NHL, only Calgary and St. Louis missed the Stanley Cup playoffs cut.  Of the bottom ten scoring teams, only Montreal, Nashville and Los Angeles made the cut - and only Nashville, with a system predicated more on defense than offense, made it out of the first round.

The Blue Jackets were 25th in scoring.  So unless Scott Howson is going to retool the defense and (re)try the Hitchcock/Lemaire/"pre-lockout" trap scheme to shut opponents down to compensate for lack of scoring, the team MUST score more.  Biscuit, meet basket.  Period.

Here's where it starts getting squirrely.  The law of averages says that if you shoot more, you'll score more goals.  That doesn't entirely hold up, though, when looking at the numbers.  Consider the Montreal Canadiens, who took more than 200 additional shots than the Blue Jackets yet scored one measly additional goal.  Or the Anaheim Ducks, who scored 25 more goals on 60 fewer shots than the CBJ.  Or Todd Richards' Minnesota Wild, who took 150 fewer shots than the CBJ and only had 9 fewer goals.

It's the shooting percentage number, where the CBJ are ranked 21st in the NHL with 9 percentage of their shots getting past the goalies, that I find most interesting.  The differential between the best shooting teams (Chicago, 10.3%) and the middle of the pack (Nashville and Phoenix, 9.3%) really isn't that great.  If the Blue Jackets had a top 10 shooting percentage (9.5%), that would add just under 12 goals a season...into a tie for 17th with playoff-qualifying Dallas and late-season collapse Colorado.  So even approaching average shooting percentage puts the CBJ equal to or better than five playoff qualifying teams.  And equalling Chicago's 10.3% adds 31 goals and puts them in 8th.

I so desperately want to say that it's not enough to declare, "SHOOT MORE!"  I want to advance the theory that the CBJ need to work smarter, not just harder.  That's where shooting percentage comes into play in my mind.  And don't get me wrong, improving the shooting percentage is downright critical as the CBJ cannot afford to let any scoring chance pass them by.  The differential in scoring percentages is so relatively small (with such a relatively small number of additional goals added by a boost to even the best shooting percentage in the league), however, that I am forced to go back to the basics.

The average number of shots taken by a team in 2010-2011 was 2,491.  The CBJ took 2,394.  It's pretty clear: They didn't shoot as much as they needed to, and their shooting percentage wasn't as good as it needed to be.  Therefore, just:

Shoot. The. Puck.
(Just aim a little better, too, OK?)

With that in mind, let's look at the 2010-11 Columbus Blue Jackets, sorted by shooting percentage (I just can't give up on that statistic...):

Remember, the league average shooting percentage for teams is 9.5 percent, meaning that only Rick Nash, R. J. Umberger and Antoine Vermette shot at even an average level and had over 100 shots on goal (100 shots equaling 1.2 shots/game over an 82-game season...not the most aggressive number).  OK, let's be generous and toss in Kristian Huselius with his 94 shots in only 39 games, many of which were not played in good health.  Our other "Top 6" forwards, Derick Brassard (9.3 percent shooter) and Jake Voracek (7.7 percent, lower than Grant Clitsome and Andrew Murray), took lots of shots in compared to most of their teammates - 183 each - but didn't meet the "average" shooting percentage threshold.

On the bright side, you've got Matt Calvert and his awesome 22 percent shot (on 1.2 shots/game - such is the life of a rookie), Scottie Upshall (12.8 percent on 2.2 shots/game - I acknowledge that he was on an early tear and cooled off, but that shooting percentage makes me mull over this unrestricted free agent more than I might have), Derek Mackenzie (11.8 percent on 1.2 shots/game) and Jared Boll (10.6 percent on 0.9 shots/game).  There is some shooting skill on this team, folks, but it needs to be encouraged and given minutes to take more shots.  Shoot more, gentlemen.  LOTS more.

Oh dear lord...am I writing myself into a position where I'm encouraging the CBJ to give Jared Boll the green light?  

And then there's the rest.  Derek Dorsett probably shouldn't shoot as much as he does as he only converts 3.6 percent of them.  Sammy Pahlsson converting 6.5 percent doesn't make me feel any better about the overpaid third line.  And then there's my man, Fedor Tyutin, who proves the law of averages by taking lots of shots (comparatively against his fellow defensemen) to overcome his 5.5 percent shooting to eke out seven goals.  And at 5.7 percent shooting for what was supposed to be our offensive defenseman prospect, when are we finally going to call the Kris Russell experiment a failure?

Elsewhere in this blog, Gallos picks up on Light The Lamp's theme of LOFT (Lack of Flippin' Talent) - and emphasizes goal scoring as well!  I wasn't sure about this premise, but reviewing these shooting stats is pushing me further and further into that corner.  The talent just isn't there, as evidenced by the goals, shots and shooting percentage.  I can't blame R.J. Umberger for playing Missouri on Scott Howson ("Show me!"), and I'd be upset if I was Rick Nash - who signed that long extension after getting sold on a plan by Howson that has not come together.

A thorough review of these stats are helping guide my thoughts about who should stay and who can go from last season's roster and cement my feeling that Howson needs to blow up the roster if he hopes to get the Blue Jackets to the playoffs anytime soon.  As time goes on, I'm sure that it'll help me figure out the free agency market, too.  Point being, the Blue Jackets badly need guys who can find the net.

We'll take a look at the shots against next.  Keeping with the disappointment of the season, I'm not promising any roses on that front, either.  Such was the year we had.


  1. Great work, DBJ, you raise some very interesting points.

  2. Well done DBJ. Shots, and shooting percentages are funny things. How many games did we lose this year when we 'out shot' the opponents? Isn't that something of an oxymoron type statement from Rimmer? 'Well we lost, but we out shot them'. Down the stretch, you helped me find a little half diagram of the ice, that didn't even extend to the top of the circles, but I was able to chart all but one of 5 games worth of our opponents goals on that chart. In other words, their shots counted for more than ours because they were taken from prime real estate (i.e. the slot, or the edge of the crease). I think that is where 'scoring chances' emerges for consideration.

    If we take lots of shots from poor positions on the edge, it should show up in a low shooting percentage. Is that what we are seeing in your numbers?

    The irony of Derek Dorsett is that he does the work to get himself into prime scoring positions, he simply doesn't have the hands to bury those opportunities. Think back to our last playoff game at Detroit. The only player who consistently made it into those areas was 'Doors'. Osgood was credited with being on fire, but realistically, Doors just doesn't have the offensive skills to bury those, even though he was the only player with the heart to get to the good spots. That's just the way it is, and my sweater has "Dorsett" on the back of it, so I am not being biased against him.

    We have seen this a couple of times in the Stanley cup playoffs this year. If a team (think Tampa Bay) is shooting a lot from the edges, you can just watch them and know they are not going to score. One shot from the point, when everyone else has their back on the boards, and it is blocked, or the rebound goes out to the 'D', and the puck goes the other way.

    There is something there DBJ. But I just can't put my finger on it. Did we win all of our games when our shooting percentage was better than the other guys?

  3. Thanks, Pete.

    Gallos, you raise the shooting discussion higher than I could...excellent points on inside shots versus outside shots. (Recall, the second highest shooting percentage on the team was credited to Tom Sestito, whose stock in trade is the "greasy" crease shot.) But yes, the shot quality discussion is a very important one to have...powderpuff outside shots count the same as Rick Nash power moves to the goal - they just don't yield goals as often.

    As for Dorsett, I suppose the question is, "Can we afford to have that type of player?" The one who can drive on net and strike out more often than not? If we want the CBJ to be a playoff team, then ribbons for effort aren't exactly ideal. The numbers tell me that Jared Boll has a greater upside (and I can't believe I typed that).

    As to your last question, I'll have to defer for the time being. It'll take a lot more research than I have time for at present. Maybe later in the summer?

  4. Great analysis article! When evaluating more closely, you find that 9 of the Jacket's top 10 in percentage are those that are willing to "park in front of the net" (Juice is the 10th). It is the same in Basketball - high rebounder's have high shooting percentage - clean up the garbage, so to speak.

    Keep bringing the stats - I love it


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