What can advanced stats tell us about predicting comeback seasons? The numbers suggest these five players were unlucky in 2014-15 and should rebound in a big way.
“I’m just not getting the bounces” often sounds like a lame excuse for a struggling player. Sometimes, though, the numbers tell us that player is right.
Underachievers fall off statistical cliffs year to year because of anything from age (Patrick Marleau) to injury (Zdeno Chara) to changing environments (James Neal). Once in a while, though, a bad season is more the result of poor luck than anything else. Advanced statistics can tell us who didn’t “deserve” his struggles as much as it may seem and who is poised for a major rebound season as a result.
Here’s a short list of players who should return to respectability in 2015-16.
Duchene’s 21 goals and 55 points marked three-year lows in per-game offensive production, however. The strange thing with Duchene is his 2.52 shots on goal per game also marked a career low despite him ranking so highly in shot attempts (which include blocked chances).
The big gap last season: power play production. Duchene had just two goals and seven points with the man advantage in 2014-15 after five goals and 17 points the year prior. He averaged 2:18 of power play ice time per game, ranking seventh on the Avs after ranking third, second and first the three seasons prior. He slipped to the second unit. This year, with Ryan O’Reilly out of the picture, Duchene should see an increase in power play opportunities and high-percentage shots that actually hit the net. The advanced statistics tell us he still generates even-strength scoring chances just fine, so a half-minute uptick in power play minutes should boost him back to his 2013-14 production.
Weber didn’t struggle last year at all. He was great, as always, finishing fourth in Norris Trophy voting. Weber’s offensive production wasn’t quite up to his lofty standard, however. His 15 goals marked his lowest full-season total since 2007-08. Not to worry. Weber’s slip from 23 to 15 goals was primarily because he converted 11.8 percent of his shots on net in 2013-14 versus 6.3 percent in 2015-16, his lowest accuracy rating in seven years. Weber still had the fifth-most shot attempts in the league in 5-on-5 close situations, and he has a stud partner in Roman Josi. If Weber returns to his career shooting percentage of 7.8 and shoots as often as he did last year, he should flirt with a third career 20-goal effort.
Lucic ranked directly behind Duchene in shot attempts by forwards in close situations last season. In his past three full seasons prior to 2014-15, Lucic scored 30, 26 and 24 goals. His shooting percentages: 17.3, 17.4 and 15.7. Lucic’s production dipped significantly last season. His goal, assist and point totals were his lowest in a non-shortened campaign since 2009-10. A prime culprit: his slide in shooting percentage to 12.8. There’s more to his story, though. Lucic averaged a four-year low in ice time. He also posted the worst possession numbers of his career, which were indicative of the Bruins’ missing the playoffs for the first time since he broke into the league in 2007-08. He had one of the worst Corsi Close ratings on the Bruins relative to the rest of his teammates.
In Los Angeles, however, Lucic is slated to join Anze Kopitar and Marian Gaborik on the top line. Gaborik was 22nd in the NHL in Corsi close relative to his teammates last season, and Kopitar was 68th. The Kings as a whole are a dominant possession team year after year. They led the league in 5-on-5 shot attempts last season. Lucic replaces Justin Williams in a plum spot on a team that consistently peppers opposing goalies, and Lucic’s shooting percentage should correct itself to boot. Despite Lucic’s reputation as a guy breaking down because of his vicious physical play, he’s missed one, one, two, one and three games in his past five seasons. He just turned 27. The numbers point to a major comeback and perhaps even a career year in 2015-16.
Kessel has long been one of the game’s best at pounding pucks on the other team’s net. He cracked the NHL’s top 10 in shots on goal all six of his seasons in Toronto. During a disastrous 2014-15, his shooting percentage dropped to 8.9, his lowest since 2007-08, and the perennial 30-goal man mustered just 25 goals.
It doesn’t take a genius to realize Kessel was emotionally checked out and taking too many low-percentage shots from the perimeter late last season. A change of environment should help him dramatically, but we could also see a yo-yo to better production than ever. Puck possession is a team dynamic more than it is individual, and Kessel will play with linemates in Pittsburgh who have the puck far more than his Toronto teammates ever did. Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin’s playmaking wizardry should set Kessel up with higher-percentage attempts, too. It wouldn’t be remotely surprising if he set personal bests in every major stat category this season.
The $7.5-millon man is among hockey’s most likable and charitable players, no doubt. He’s been a disappointment in Ottawa, however. He sniped 30 goals four straight years in Anaheim from 2008-09 to 2011-12 yet has just 41 goals in 148 games as a Senator. Even if Ryan looks like he’ll never quite match the promise of going second overall in the 2005 draft after Crosby, though, last season’s tumble to 18 goals was misleading. To beat the dead horse, shooting percentage is the cause, and Ryan’s statistical anomaly is the biggest of any guy on this list. He scored on just 8.1 percent of his attempts in 2014-15 and converts 12.9 percent for his career. There’s a major statistical correction in store here, and he’s sure to get plenty of scoring chances on a productive line with rising Mika Zibanejad and Mike Hoffman.
Matt Larkin is an associate editor at The Hockey News and a regular contributor to the thn.com Post-To-Post blog. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Matt Larkin on Twitter at @THNMattLarkin