In light of the Brendan Gallagher injury, there might be more downside than gain in blocking shots.
To block or not to block? That is the question that is posed by Michael Grange of Sportsnet. Well, not quite. The question is altered slightly a few times throughout his article.
There is, “What value do blocked shots actually provide?” and “Does actually blocking any given shot (outside of goal mouth scrambles and the like) really help the cause of winning?”
A secondary problem is then defined as if is it worth the risk of injury to presumably hard-to-replace talent.
Through the submitted data and the linked video of Brendan Gallagher’s broken fingers, the implied answer is that blocking shots are not all that useful and especially not worth the risk of injury to talented players.
Teams with fewer total blocked shots still average the same number of points as the teams that block the most shots.
How can we explain this article from Kevin Allen in USA Today then where he claims that shot blocking is important?
You have the empirical evidence from players.
“It is hard to get the puck to the net.” – Oliver Ekman-Larsson
“It can galvanize a team.” – Kevin Bieksa
“Can be as important as scoring a goal.” – Victor Hedman
“I’m all for sacrificing your body if that is what you need to do to win.” – Wayne Simmonds
“When you see a block it motivates you as a player to make sure you are doing your part.” – Ryan McDonagh
In this article on NHL.com from last year’s playoffs, Brian Boyle talks about Cedric Paquette’s block of a Brent Seabrook shot. “You see Seabrook winding up and you're about 25 feet away, it's a little easier to block when you're 10 feet away. He's winding up and [Paquette] stands right in there and eats it right after he scores a big goal for us. I mean, that sums it up in about two minutes time what kind of player he is.”
That is the type of story that people use to encourage the practice.
Coming back to Grange, he blocks that argument with a feet-first slide of his own, arguing that the myth of blocking shots and the importance it holds is akin to the same argument we use to have for the fourth-line tough guys who fought to rally their teams.
He refers to a conversation where “Randy Carlyle explained to [Grange] that when someone like Colton Orr was willing to trade punches with John Scott, it was a handy example to use when demanding other players to make physical sacrifices in different ways.”
It is right to point out that this train of thought with regards to fighting has been stopped in its tracks, but the linkage to shot blocking is weak.
An attempt is made by Ari Yanover at FlamesNation.ca to try and quantify the value of shot blocking.
He categorizes the values into two main categories, shots that were allowed and shots that were blocked from getting to the net. Then there are four sub categories, another shot was generated, the play stopped, possession of the puck did not change and possession of the puck did change.
Unfortunately, he eliminates the last two sub categories immediately, and it would have been great to see how many goals were scored. He could have even marked minus-one for teams that blocked a shot and scored.
Still, he puts the time in to collect the data (as of mid-November) and compares the Calgary Flames to the New Jersey Devils.
It is valuable to note that Calgary is worse at allowing a second shot attempt regardless if the first attempt was blocked or not. This is a difference in favor of the Devils (12.2 percent) even though they blocked 80 fewer shots than the Flames.
A-ha, this would strengthen Grange’s argument, except there is a right way and a wrong way to block shots. There is also the fact that the stats are based only on two teams as well.
Blocking shots is effective. Guess how many of the 1793 goals scored this year (as of the time of my writing) were by slap shot? There were 208 slap shot goals, which is slightly under 12% of all total goals.
Guess how many were by deflection or tip? There were 213.
Almost two-thirds of all goals were by snap shot (289) or wrist shot (878).
Players have to shoot quickly (not hard), with little windup in order to get through the blocks and score.
If shots do not get to the net, they cannot become goals. That’s as long as teams do not let their opponents keep shooting because a shot will eventually go into the net. If a team blocks without regaining possession, then their job is half done and poorly at that.
What he wants his teammates to do is, “Just stay in the lane and try not to play goalie. A lot of times when you try to stop it like a goalie, you open up holes and screen the goalie even more.”
Go back to the Gallagher video. Looks to me like he was trying to play goalie. He even crouches down.
Rask understands that forwards have to challenge the point men. He indicates that even if he is prevented from seeing the shot, there is still enough distance between the shooter and him to pick out where the puck is.
Where was Gallagher? Was he near the point? No, he barely got past the top of the faceoff circle. He is in no-man’s-land. Too far away to make Johnny Boychuk rethink his attempt or to cut off the angles and force him to shoot wide.
It was too late to rush Boychuk, and Gallagher would not flamingo or step out of the way because everyone would have gushed at his perceived selfishness if he did so. It was a poor block attempt and he paid for it by getting injured.
In a Charlie Brown-esque way, I could imagine a comic strip bubble appear above Carey Price’s head as Gallagher took the hit that would read, “You blockhead!”