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September 22, 2011
Howe and Why
Shooting Percentage And Next Year

by Robert Vollman

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We're not saying that there's a huge luck component to shooting percentage, but there are definitely transient factors that make significant contributions to it. Even if it's not luck that causes someone's shooting percentage to jump ten points from one year to the next, whatever it was rarely lasts long. Unless you can find a concrete reason why such a leap would be permanent, like more power play time, or lining up on Mario Lemieux's wing, you should expect those who jumped to fall, and those who slipped to return.

As part of an ongoing study on how to predict breakout players, we've been studying players with dramatic changes in their shooting percentages. Recent work has shown that there's a strong correlation between players who significantly exceeded or missed expectations, and changes in their shooting percentages, so figuring out who is due for big swings in shooting percentages is one of the keys to finding players both trending sharply up, and trending sharply down.

Consider those with the biggest gaps between their 2009-10 shooting percentage and their career shooting percentage prior to 2009-10, and what happened to them in 2010-11.

Shooting percentage jumps and the year after

Player			Career 	2009-10	2010-11
Troy Brouwer		7.5%	19.0%	13.9%
Tomas Fleischmann	11.0%	19.0%	12.2%
Eric Fehr		7.2%	14.5%	8.3%
Patric Hornqvist	3.7%	10.9%	7.9%
Jussi Jokinen		11.7%	18.8%	14.0%
Gilbert Brule		7.1%	14.0%	9.7%
Drew Doughty		4.8%	11.3%	7.9%
Mikael Samuelsson	7.3%	13.7%	8.4%
Nik Antropov		13.3%	19.0%	15.2%
Steve Ott		9.4%	15.1%	10.0%
Minimum 10 goals in 2009-10

Every single one of them saw their shooting percentages drop, and to very close to their previous career averages. Needless to say, our VUKOTA projections overestimated 9 of the 10. Only Jussi Jokinen met our scoring expectations.

Likewise, look at those who dropped the most in 2009-10, and see if you notice a pattern that will be quite useful when you draft your fantasy teams this year.

Shooting percentage dips and the year after

Player			Career	2009-10	2010-11
Andrew Cogliano		16.8%	7.2%	8.5%
Alex Tanguay		19.6%	11.0%	18.3%
Mikhail Grabovski	15.5%	7.9%	12.1%
Brad Boyes		14.7%	7.1%	9.6%
Bryan Little		14.9%	7.9%	11.4%
Ruslan Fedotenko	13.5%	7.0%	8.3%
Drew Stafford		13.9%	7.7%	17.3%
Dustin Boyd		15.6%	9.8%	12.5%
Daniel Paille		14.0%	8.3%	12.5%
Todd Bertuzzi		14.0%	8.3%	11.6%
Minimum 10 goals in 2009-10

Again, every single one of them improved, and in Drew Stafford's case even exceeded their previous career shooting percentage average. VUKOTA was a little smarter with this bunch. Alex Tanguay, Mikhail Grabovski, and Drew Stafford were the only big whiffs, and even wound up predicting too many points for Todd Bertuzzi and Ruslan Fedotenko.

When trying to identify players who will significantly over- or under-achieve, changes in shooting percentage seem to be a key variable in the equation. If we're correct, here are the players most likely to fail to reach their projections.

Set up for failure by shooting percentage for 2011-12

Player			Career	2010-11
Sergei Kostitsyn	13.2%	24.7%
Lauri Korpikoski	8.4%	18.4%
Andreas Nodl		2.9%	11.0%
Max Pacioretty		4.6%	12.5%
Gregory Campbell	5.9%	13.3%
Rob Schremp		8.5%	15.7%
Michael Grabner		7.9%	14.9%
Mathieu Darche		6.8%	13.3%
Brandon Prust		8.8%	14.9%
Mike Santorelli		4.3%	10.4%
Minimum 10 goals in 2010-11

Maybe they're just lucky, or maybe there's a tangible reason why their shooting percentage jumped up and will stay there. Unless you can think of one, they should be considered high risk to regress.

Here is the list of those most likely to exceed expectations.

Set up to succeed by shooting percentage for 2011-12

Player			Career 	2010-11
Brandon Yip		16.9%	9.4%
Michael Frolik		11.1%	4.4%
Steve Downie		18.6%	12.0%
Ryan Malone		15.4%	9.4%
Benoit Pouliot		15.4%	10.1%
Evgeni Malkin		13.3%	8.2%
Andrew Cogliano		13.0%	8.5%
Ruslan Fedotenko	12.7%	8.3%
Joel Ward		10.8%	6.4%
Martin Havlat		13.6%	9.6%   
Minimum 10 goals in 2010-11

Of course, shooting percentage is just one factor in the equation. For example, yesterday we reviewed the impact of ice time, and took a preliminary stab at trying to identify which were players were due for a big increase or decrease. We're also due to present our data related to changes in the team's on-ice shooting percentage, and changes in the quality of one's linemates.

Even with all these different factors in play, and barring reasonable explanations (injuries, star linemates, more power play time), comparing a player's single season shooting percentage to their previous career level seems like the quickest and easiest way to predict jumps or falls.

Robert Vollman is an author of Hockey Prospectus. You can contact Robert by clicking here or click here to see Robert's other articles.

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