Ordinary people dream of doing extraordinary things. It’s the foundation for almost all forms of human entertainment. People enjoy reading a book or watching a movie and imagining what it’d be like to save the day or be the hero. The more compelling the character or story, the more people are drawn to it.
Alex Steen isn’t exactly Batman, but he has been creating a buzz this season by doing unexpected, extraordinary things on the ice that are causing fans to take notice.
The casual hockey fan probably wouldn’t know it if Steen showed up at their front door holding a pizza. He has spent nine seasons in the NHL, the past six with the St. Louis Blues. He has never scored more than 24 goals in a season and will turn 30 in March. He missed nearly half the 2011-12 season with a concussion and has had assorted shoulder, wrist and ankle injuries throughout his career.
The circumstances make Steen’s 19 goals in 23 games this season a storybook tale that Hollywood wouldn’t believe, assuming anyone would pitch a movie to Hollywood about a guy having a great seven weeks while playing a professional sport.
The question isn’t will Steen’s goal-scoring run last—it’s will Steen continue to perform at anywhere close to this level over the rest of the season.
The evidence shows that this story very likely won’t have second and third acts.
When Steen scored his 18th and 19th goals Monday night, he did so on just two shots—his 74th and 75th of the season. That gives Steen an otherworldly 25.3 shooting percentage; entering this season, Steen’s career shooting percentage was 9.1 percent. Steen is currently shooting at a rate reminiscent of a bygone era of run-and-gun 1980s hockey.
Since 1997-98, the only player to have a shooting percentage of at least 25 percent over a full season was Mike Ribeiro of the 2007-08 Dallas Stars. Ribeiro, however, isn’t a prolific shooter and scored his 27 goals on 107 shots.
It’s not as though Steen is a volume shooter, either. He’s averaging 2.92 shots per game, which is only slightly above his career average.
Everything about Steen’s numbers scream unsustainable. Should he regress to career averages in shots and shooting percentage over the rest of the season—and play a full 82 games, something he hasn’t done since 2006-07—he will score another 16 goals the rest of the way.
It’s not as though Steen and the Blues wouldn’t have signed up for 35 goals at the start of the season, but relying on Steen for a 50-goal season would be foolhardy.
What do the underlying numbers say about Steen’s future? Again, expect a return to earth.
My colleague Jonathan Willis looked at Steen a few days ago and pointed out the obvious—this just can’t last. As of Tuesday, Steen’s individual on-ice PDO is 1048, per Extra Skater, about 30 points higher than it was last season. Steen has always been a solid possession player, but again, nothing suggests he is now the most accurate shooter in the past 16 years.
A 23-game, goal-scoring outburst is nothing special for Alex Ovechkin and Steven Stamkos, but has anything like this happened in recent years with an average player? Since the rule changes before the 2005-06 season, the two most similar examples I could find were during the 2006-07 season which were Chris Clark of the Washington Capitals and Kristian Huselius of the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Clark was a 30-year-old forward who was coming off a career-high 20-goal season that followed three straight 10-goal seasons. The first 24 games of his 2006-07 season were nothing special, as he posted a ho-hum seven goals. Clark, however, caught fire over the next 23 games and scored 13 goals on 53 shots, a 24.5 shooting percentage.
Clark scored 10 more goals over his final 27 games to finish with 30 for the season.
Huselius was 28 that season and, just like Steen, was a consistent 20-goal scorer throughout his career. Huselius scored a career-high 34 goals in 2006-07 on the strength of 14 goals in 23 games over January and February. His 14 goals came on 63 shots, a 22.2 shooting percentage.
Both Clark and Huselius eventually cooled but clearly were never anywhere near as hot over their 23-game stretches as Steen.
That’s not to say Steen can’t ride a wave of luck and play slightly above his head all season and maybe even find himself with 40 goals at the end of the season. But more likely, a correction is coming, and could hit Steen like a brick wall.
It doesn’t mean fans shouldn’t enjoy this story. But the enthusiasm should be tempered. After all, Steen is not Batman.
Here are some stray thoughts about hockey:
• One of my favorite ongoing things this season is the saga of Buffalo Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller, who is playing very well, despite doing so behind the NHL’s worst team. In 18 games, he has a 3.11 goals-against average and .919 save percentage. How rare is it for a goaltender to have a GAA and save percentage that high? Very.
Only 10 goaltenders have ever pulled off the feat, none of which played in more than six games, according to Hockey-Reference.com. As of now, Miller is the only goalie in NHL history to have at least a 3.10/.918 with more than two games played, also per Hockey-Reference.com. If he doesn’t get traded, Miller could set an unbreakable record no one cares about but me.
• This caught me off-guard, although it shouldn’t have, but Ondrej Pavelec of the Winnipeg Jets would have to fall into a sinkhole to not be the No. 1 goaltender for the Czechs at the Sochi Games. When you look at the Czech goaltending leaders, there’s really no competition.
Following his 25-save, 3-1 win against the New Jersey Devils on Monday, Pavelec laughed off a question about the Olympics, saying they were too far away to think about. Unless Dominik Hasek steps off a time machine, there really is nothing to think about it—Pavelec is the starter.
• Anyone who saw Steven Stamkos’ leg snap as it collided with the goal post in Boston two weeks ago got a very good look at the horrific injury. Stamkos writhed around the ice in a way few athletes do when they’re in pain. Two weeks later he was walking—WALKING—around the Tampa Bay Times Forum telling reporters rehab is going well, and he hopes to be back soon.
It begs the obvious question—is Steven Stamkos a member of the X-Men? Is he Wolverine? Does he have a mutation that allows his bones to heal instantly, but to avoid scrutiny from the medical community, is pretending to rehab his leg? If the answer is yes to any of those questions, I consider them believable explanations for Stamkos’ amazing healing powers.
• I just wanted to offer my best wishes to everyone at TSN, which could be going through some changes now that Rogers signed a new 12-year TV deal with the NHL, as discussed by Dan Rosen of NHL.com.
During many weeks and months of travel during the postseason, there was usually a TSN correspondent covering a series. I never met a bad one. I don’t know what TSN has planned to fill its NHL hole, but I hope the talented and nice people over there all land on their feet.
• On Monday, 10 former players filed a class-action lawsuit against the NHL, alleging the league didn’t do enough to protect them from head injuries.
This train had been on the tracks for years and once the NFL agreed to pay $765 million over a similar lawsuit, Gary Bettman and the NHL began bracing for this. This lawsuit against the NHL is going to drag for quite some time, as other players will join and information will leak from both sides.
As much as I love to slam my fist on the table and shout my very important opinion about everything, there’s nothing to say here. I am neither a doctor nor a lawyer. I am sure both sides have information on their sides that makes the other look culpable none of us know about yet.
This story is still in its cocoon stage, so let’s all try to give it some time before we come crashing down on one side or the other.
(If you’d like to ask a question for the weekly mailbag, you can reach me via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or fire your query at me via Twitter at @DaveLozo or leave a question in the comments section for next week.)
I was wondering if you can answer my question. How do you fix the Islanders?
Billy, thanks for the letter. The Islanders are broken for sure, but they’re not shattered. But if you were hoping for this team to morph into a 90-point squad after a fluky 48-game season that shouldn’t count in the NHL’s record books, you set yourself up for heartbreak.
The Islanders need a goaltender and a No. 1 defenseman. Those two things aren’t just lying on the street outside Nassau Coliseum, but they’re available if you have a team that’s willing to spend or make trades that will take on salary. The Matt Moulson-Thomas Vanek trade remains confounding, as it addressed none of the Islanders’ needs and dealt away their most reliable forward besides John Tavares.
Once the Islanders get to Brooklyn in 2015, you have to hope owner Charles Wang starts spending money. A team that scrapes just above the salary cap floor every year will never contend for a Stanley Cup. Maybe they will contend for the occasional playoff spot in a shortened season, but as of now, all the Islanders are doing is wasting the best years of Tavares.
Well, "Marty," I’d say the three locks are the Rangers, Capitals and Penguins. Maybe, just maybe, a fourth team finds its way in, but I’d wager five teams represent the Atlantic when the playoffs start. The Metro is a bad, bad division.
Martin Erat for Filip Forsberg was a weird trade last year when it happened. If Erat scored 30 goals over the final two years of his contract with the Capitals, it’s still a weird deal. The Capitals clearly weren’t as high on Forsberg as they were when they drafted him with the 11th pick in the 2012 draft, but it was at least worth it if Erat was productive.
Clearly, Erat has not been productive. He has zero goals in 23 games and now wants out of Washington. The problem for Erat is teams generally don’t trade for a player with a $4.5 million cap hit this year and next year when he has five goals in his past 68 games.
As long as Forsberg turns into a third-line contributor for the Nashville Predators, it’s a monumentally bad deal for the Capitals.
(Note: I asked people to use the hashtag #FlarnBox to make it easier to find. I got two questions. It was pointless and dumb.)