Does Shooting Percentage Fluctuate In The NHL?

Moneypuck -Contributor IOctober 11, 2009

One of the common topics of debate around Phil Kessel recently has been the fact that his shooting percentage took a very odd jump last season where he potted thirty-six goals.

In his first two years in the NHL, on 383 shots, Kessel scored at a 7.83 percent rate. In 08-09, he scored at a 15.5 percent rate on 232 shots, a massive jump in shooting percentage.

To illustrate how significant that was, it’s essentially like taking a goalie who has a career .845 SV percentage and then the next year puts up a .922 SV percentage.

Anyone remember that happening in recent years?

While there are expected fluctuations in shooting percentage, due to random luck and variation, as well as possible improvement of quality shots, a eight point jump is normally unheard of.

To look into the matter, I'm going to look at the 07-08 shooting percentage leaders, what their 08-09 shooting percentage was, their career marks and much more.

2007-2008 Shooting Percentage

1. Mike Ribeiro 25.2
2. Brad Boyes 20.8
3. Marek Svatos 18.6
4. Ilya Kovalchuck 18.4
5. Andrew Colgiano 18.4
6. Daniel Alfredsson 18.4
7. Shawn Horcoff 18.3
8. Dany Heatley 18.3
9. Paul Statsny 17.4
10. Daniel Paille 17.3
11. Evgeni Malkin 17.3
12. Brooks Laich 17.2
13. Patrick Sharp 17.2
14. Ryan Malone 17
15. Daniel Briere 17

And here are their shooting percentage numbers the year after:

2008-2009 Shooting Percentage

1. Mike Ribeiro 13.5
2. Brad Boyes 15
3. Marek Svatos 10
4. Ilya Kovalchuck 15.6
5. Andrew Colgiano 15.5
6. Daniel Alfredsson 11.8
7. Shawn Horcoff 9.6
8. Dany Heatley 15.1
9. Paul Statsny 9.3
10. Daniel Paille 15
11. Evgeni Malkin 12.1
12. Brooks Laich 12.4
13. Patrick Sharp 14.1
14. Ryan Malone 21
15. Daniel Briere 20.4

The average shooting percentage of those 07-08 shooting is 18.45; those same players the very next year averaged 14.03 and in their career, their average shooting percentage was 14.46.

For goals per game, which is a less important stat considering it doesn't factor in ice time and other things, I'll do it just for show:

2007-2008 GPG

1. Mike Ribeiro 0.36
2. Brad Boyes 0.52
3. Marek Svatos 0.42
4. Ilya Kovalchuck 0.66
5. Andrew Colgiano 0.22
6. Daniel Alfredsson 0.57
7. Shawn Horcoff 0.4
8. Dany Heatley 0.58
9. Paul Statsny 0.36
10. Daniel Paille 0.25
11. Evgeni Malkin 0.57
12. Brooks Laich 0.26
13. Patrick Sharp 0.45
14. Ryan Malone 0.35
15. Daniel Briere 0.39

2008-2009 GPG

1. Mike Ribeiro 0.27
2. Brad Boyes 0.4
3. Marek Svatos 0.2
4. Ilya Kovalchuck 0.54
5. Andrew Colgiano 0.22
6. Daniel Alfredsson 0.3
7. Shawn Horcoff 0.21
8. Dany Heatley 0.48
9. Paul Statsny 0.24
10. Daniel Paille 0.16
11. Evgeni Malkin 0.43
12. Brooks Laich 0.28
13. Patrick Sharp 0.43
14. Ryan Malone 0.37
15. Daniel Briere 0.38

The average change in GPG between 07-08 and 08-09 was from .42 to .33. Over 82 games, that's a seven goal difference on average per player. Their average career marks were .33 as well.

So what we're noticing here is the phenomenon called the career year, where a player plays much better than he usually does and how he performs the immediate year afterwards. This could be due to just pure randomness/luck, different shot quality due to team strength, line mates and many other factors, but there are some definite aberrations in these stats.

In the shooting percentage, its interesting to note that every player in the top thirteen of shooting percentage in 2007-2008 regressed the next year- every player.

That includes names like Kovalchuck, Heatley and Malkin. Ribeiro dropped twelve points, Svatos nearly nine, and Statsny eight. More importantly, the average player shot a full four points over their career shooting percentage, which shows that some players are due for a regression after these extremely good shooting years.

Players to beware of now who had great shooting percentage years in 2008-2009 are Loui Eriksson (20.2), Kyle Welwood (19.1), Andrew Brunette (18.6) Bryan Little (18.0).

Now back to the original points, Kessel was not way atop the shooting percentage leaders, he was tied for 30th with Andrew Colgiano (who as noted above, was 5th the year before) with a 15.5 average.

However, its his past history that makes his current performance wary of his future projections. However, he is still young and going to be playing with top linemates- (however against top opposition) so its not a huge red flag as much as it would be if Georges Laraque started shooting fifteen percent- but its just something to be of note.

Don't be surprised if Phil Kessel isn't scoring .51 GPG. In my opinion, around .35 GPG are more reasonable expectations when you consider possible luck in the shooting percentage/regression and replacing Marc Savard with Grabovsky.