Full of Air

steve laidlaw




Vollman takes a look at some players whose bubbles are about to burst.


Whose Scoring is Full of Air?


Players like James Neal, Jiri Hudler, and Brad Richards may have had their scoring totals temporarily boosted last year, and for three very different reasons. Playing alongside incredible linemates, riding favorable shooting percentages, and being assigned a heap of advantageous ice time can pump a lot of hot air into practically anyone’s scoring totals.


Who got their tires pumped last year? Hockey analytics can help find some those players whose scoring totals had a little bit of air in them, and who are therefore bound to take a bit of a dip once the player’s playing conditions and/or fortune changes.

We’ll look at each of these three aspects one-by-one, including some great examples, and where to get the information as the season progresses.


Who Has Incredible Linemates?


Warren Young scored 40 goals in his 29-year-old rookie season back in 1984-85, but managed only 30 in his career’s remaining 136 games. The secret? Playing alongside Mario Lemieux, of course. It was the same secret that helped Rob Brown score 49 goals and 115 points in just 68 games as a 20-year-old sophomore four years later.


It was well-established long ago how particularly elite players can boost the scoring of their linemates. The only cause for concern is if the lines change. This year, for instance, that will certainly be the case with James Neal, who went from Pittsburgh to Nashville. You don’t need advanced statistics to predict that someone playing with Mike Ribeiro instead of Evgeni Malkin is going to see a dip in his scoring totals!


The advantage of the advanced statistics is to help quantify the advantage the league’s best players provide. Jonathan Willis of Sportsnet recently figured out that Malkin can boost his linemate’s scoring by around 25%, and Sidney Crosby by 36%. Quick – draft Patric Hornqvist!


How did Willis figure this out? He went to a website like Hockey Analysis to see how much time each player was getting with each of Pittsburgh’s stars, and compared their scoring rates both with and without those franchise players.


You can also go to Hockey Reference and look at each player’s scoring logs last year. There I found that one of those two names (Crosby or Malkin) was on the scoresheet for 77% to 78% of all the goals Jussi Jokinen and Chris Kunitz were involved in last year. While that can certainly continue for Kunitz, assuming he keeps playing with Crosby, it definitely won’t be the case for Jokinen in Florida. As for Neal, 69% of his points involved at least one of those stars. And how about defensemen Brooks Orpik (64%) and Matt Niskanen (54%)? Losing Crosby and Malkin would normally take a big bite out of their scoring, but not if it’s fully replaced by someone like Alexander Ovechkin.



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